Hillsborough BBQ Company – Hillsborough, NC

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Name
: Hillsborough BBQ Company
Date: 11/22/16
Address: 236 South Nash Street, Hillsborough, NC 27278
Order: ¼ lb BBQ plate with mustard slaw and collards; ¼ lb brisket plate with red slaw and mac and cheese (link to menu)
Price: ~$25 (for two)

Monk: As long as we’ve been writing on this blog (4.5 years and counting!), Hillsborough BBQ Company has been at or near the top of my list of NC joints to check out. After finally getting the chance last weekend, I must report back that I left pretty darn disappointed.

It’s a cozier space than I imagined, nestled in the middle of a row of businesses off Nash Street in Hillsborough but despite a table of 10 being seated right before us, the Monk clan was able to snag 3 spots at the bar. There, we decided that the Mrs and I would each split a plate of different meats.

Mrs. Monk ordered the pork and I found I to be flavorful but on the dry side. Once the eastern sauce was added, it was much better. But still, nothing spectacular.

Brisket is available Wednesday to Sunday but mine did not appear freshly smoked; perhaps it was from a day or two back. It came out barely warm to start and the bark was decently peppery but once the meat cooled the fat congealed into a not-so-appetizing sight. Disappointing.

Between our two slaws, the mustard was the better of the two. The mac and cheese was not baked and seemed very basic – almost easy mac-ish. Mrs Monk didn’t think much of the bland collards either.

Across the board, the theme seemed to be that the ideas were ok but the execution was lacking. Service even fell off as a travelling soccer team and their parents filled the restaurant and our bartender completely disappeared, leaving the manager to have to step in just to take our check. Nonetheless, the food is what I’m judging Hillsborough BBQ Company on and in that respect, I must reiterate that after years of wanting to check it out, I was very very disappointed.

Ratings:
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 1.5 hogs
Sides – 1.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Hillsborough BBQ Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Green River Bar-B-Q – Saluda, NC

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Name
: Green River Bar-B-Q
Date: 6/18/16
Address: 131 US-176, Saluda, NC 28773
Order: Pulled pork and brisket combo plate with collards, bbq slaw, and Green Man IPA (link to menu)
Price: $20

Monk: On the trip from Asheville to Charlotte, the place to stop for barbecue is Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby, one of mine and Speedy’s favorite places ever (the readers of Garden and Gun Magazine and Thrillist also  agree). While I certainly would never get sick of stopping there, in the interest of expanding my barbecue horizons I pinpointed a wood smoking joint in Saluda, NC not far off the I-26 on my latest trip. Side note: Mrs. Monk is a G-D saint for going along with a quick barbecue and brewery tour this past Father’s Day, and I am a lucky, lucky man.

First off, downtown Saluda is a charming mountain town on the banks of the Green River near the NC/SC border and though we didn’t get to spend any time walking around it looked quite lovely. Green River Bar-B-Q is just outside of the main strip not a half mile away. On a beautiful late spring day in the mountains, you could do worse than spending some time on their patio.

There is an off-menu pork and brisket combo plate (the one on the menu says pork and chicken I believe) for $14.99 and that’s what I went with. We were seated right behind parties of 6 and 10 but thankfully the wait to get our food wasn’t too too bad. I will say that our server was great and had an unmistakable laugh that came out a few times during our lunch. So a pleasant day in the mountains drinking a local beer on the patio with good service – can’t get too much better than that. Then the food came out.

While both the pork and brisket had a whiff of wood smoke to them, they were both dry to the point that I didn’t finish them. When it came to the pork, I tried out the table sauces and none really helped all that much. The brisket was bland, dry, and beyond saving.

The bbq slaw was passable, but Mrs. Monk didn’t think the collards had been stewed long enough (they were edible but I agree with her). There was nothing special about the hushpuppies either.

While it has a lovely location and setting to it, I just can’t recommend going out of your way for Green River Barbeque.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Green River Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

‘Cue Barbecue – Alpharetta, GA

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Name
: ‘Cue Barbecue
Date: 6/17/16
Address: 13700 GA-9, Alpharetta, GA 30004
Order: Combo plate with sliced brisket and chopped pork, collards and fries (link to menu)
Price: $14

Speedy: Well boys – I’m checking in with my first review as a Georgia resident. I hadn’t planned on going to ‘Cue Barbecue, but I randomly drove by it on a Friday night and thought some ‘cue sounded good. So here I was.

Monk: I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that unfortunately, Speedy has relocated to Atlanta. On the bright side, that means the Barbecue Bros have expanded to Georgia!  

Speedy: Walking in, I really liked the ‘Cue atmosphere. It had old time decor with wood everywhere, including a decorative barn door, which was a nice touch. There was also a bar and an acoustic guitar player, and overall, it’s just a pretty cool place. I saddled up to the bar and ordered a local beer – Dry County IPA – and a combo plate with pork and brisket. The beer was solid, which was more than I could say about the food.

Monk: And it was off to such a good start, too…

Speedy: The pork was just OK. It had lots of bark, which was nice, but the bark lacked flavor, so I’m not sure the meat was properly rubbed before cooking. The pork was also dry, so it required some of the vinegar based sauce provided. One I liberally applied the dip, the pork was better, but still mediocre. The brisket, however, was plain bad. The slices I was given were served without sauce, but were incredibly dry. I could taste a bit of pepper in the bark, but it also needed more seasoning. After dousing it with some sweet sauce on the table it become edible, but I still didn’t finish my portion.

I don’t have much to say about the sides. The collards were bland and the fries were good, but there was nothing here to salvage the meal.

Overall, my first barbecue meal as a Georgia resident was very disappointing and definitely had me missing North Carolina.

Monk: I hate that this wasn’t a better first barbecue experience for you, but at least there’s plenty of good barbecue in Georgia for you to explore.

Speedy: Well it can only go up from here…

(For another review of ‘Cue Barbecue, check out Marie, Let’s Eat!)

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
'Cue Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Cue Barbecue

Fort Mill BBQ Company – Fort Mill, SC

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Name
: Fort Mill BBQ Company
Date: 1/20/16
Address: 737 Stockbridge Drive, Fort Mill, SC 29708
Order: FMBBQ sampler, small side of hush puppies (link to menu)
Price: $14.80

I had tried to visit Fort Mill BBQ Company once before but had failed to pay attention to their hours and didn’t realize they were closed on Mondays. Finally, I carved out another chance and made the drive out to Fort Mill.

Inside, a slightly dark dining room with a short bar is adorned with racing and car memorabilia and a few tv’s tuned to ESPN. The “FMBBQ Sampler” was an easy way to try just about all of their meats (minus the ribs and chicken), and was a steal at $10.99 even if the portions ended up small. To make sure my entire meal wasn’t meat-based, I added a small side of hush puppies.

What followed was a slightly underwhelming plate. The brisket was dry and stiff with a texture almost that of overcooked bacon. My guess was that it was smoked on a previous day and reheated for lunch on this day.

The “chipotle cheese stuffed beef sausage” was nothing more than a split sausage with shredded cheese melted on it – not really as advertised and quite disappointing.

The turkey was dry and mostly bland. The smoked wings were slightly better than the other meats.

As for the pork, well, I initially didn’t get any and had to ask for it. No big deal, but I’m glad that I did since it ended up being the best of any of the meats (while still not being great). It was moist and had large chunks of bark in it but was still on the bland side without the aid of a table sauce. Still, the overall rating below might have been a bit lower had I not followed up on it.

The hush puppies may have been frozen but at least they came with a side of honey butter. I will say, at least the servers were quite nice.

You know that saying how barbecue writers and editors “try bad barbecue so you don’t have to” (I think I first saw Daniel Vaughn of TMBBQ write this)? Well this day’s lunch was definitely a case of that. Bad barbecue might be a bit strong but Fort Mill BBQ Company was definitely mediocre at best.

Monk

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 2.5 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sausage – 2 hogs
Wings – 2.5 hogs
Turkey – 2 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Fort Mill BBQ Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Big Oak Drive-In & Bar-B-Que – Salter Path, NC

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Name
: Big Oak Drive-In and Bar-B-Q
Date: 9/5/15
Address: 1167 Salter Path Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512
Order: Pork barbecue sandwich with slaw on top and hush puppies (link to menu) Price: $6

Big Oak Drive-In and Bar-B-Q is an institution for folks who visit the Atlantic Beach area and make the short drive to Salter Path. Its a bit of an unassuming building just off the main road dissecting Bogue Banks but routinely has long lines and a crowded parking lot. Even a downpour didn’t deter folks from queuing up to order from the takeout window. They simply started to bring umbrellas or rain jackets with them and braved the elements.

The shrimp burger is really the main attraction at Big Oak and while the barbecue isn’t an afterthought, it’s also not all that great. I’d call the sandwich a slightly below average one with not a lot of smoke and heavily reliant on cole slaw to give it moisture. The hush puppies are a bargain at $0.89 for a bag of six, but unfortunately they weren’t much better than the pork sammy.

I didn’t have high hopes for the barbecue from Big Oak Drive-In and Bar-B-Q and my expectations were more or less met. Next time I’ll definitely just go for the shrimp burger.

Monk

Ratings:
Atmosphere – N/A
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Big Oak Drive In & Bar-B-Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ (food truck)

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Name
: Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ (food truck)
Date: 8/10/15
Order: Pork platter with beans and cole slaw, soda (link to menu)
Price: $12

Monk: Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ is an accomplished competition team from Belmont that has two top 10 finishes at Memphis in May, two top 15 Memphis Barbecue Network (MBN) finishes, and two grand championships at the Charlotte barbecue festival (per their website). They have been catering in the Charlotte area for a while but started a barbecue food truck in the past year or so. Speedy and I had previously tried it out, albeit under different circumstances as a vendor with a limited menu at last year’s Charlotte BBQ Championship, and hadn’t been blown away. I figured I’d give it another shot during a normal lunch service at an office park in west Charlotte.

As was the case then, the pork was pulled in coarse chunks and was a bit bland. It appears that Ranucci’s forgoes a strong rub or smoke flavor on the pork and relies instead upon the three or so sauces available on the side to flavor the meat. Ranucci’s does use a Myron Mixon smoker and there were wood piles in the back of the trailer but for some reason there just wasn’t much smoke in the pork. The one positive this time, however, was that the pork was more moist whereas last fall it was a bit dry. But overall, the pork was still not all that memorable this time around.

Unfortunately, the sides were even more disappointing. The mayonnaise-based slaw was fine but average but the beans tasted as if they were poured straight from the can without any accoutrements or added flavors.

Speedy: I think this is part of the problem with competition barbecue. For competition, you’re trying to come up with one great bite. Obviously that strategy doesn’t work when you’re cooking in bulk. The flavor profile needs to be different (generally less sweet), and you can’t pick and choose just the best meat. This is why competition barbecue champions are hard to trust (unless it’s Tuffy Stone).

Monk: With such an accomplished resume, I would have hoped for more from Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ but likely this second time I tried them will be my last.

Ratings:
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 1 hog
Overall – 2 hogs

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The Dixie Pig – Rock Hill, SC

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Name
: The Dixie Pig
Location: 2007 Celanese Rd, Rock Hill, SC 29732
Date: 7/20/15
Order: Pork platter with hash and red slaw, half rack of ribs
Price: Monk: $27

We’ve long ago established that we don’t trust Yelp reviews when it comes to to barbecue. However, when I come across a new joint I do admit that I sometimes use the site as a reference. After my experience at The Dixie Pig in Rock Hill, SC (4.7 stars on the site), I think I have written off Yelp even more so in terms of barbecue credibility.

On a Monday shortly after 12 noon, I walked into a small restaurant with a full lunch crowd. If the locals are packing a place in, well that’s usually a good sign. I took a spot at the bar and before long all tables and spots at the bar were filled. It turned out to be downhill from there, but I will say that the service at the bar was good at least.

I asked for the pork with the sauce on the side in the event that it came out drenched in the stuff as other plates seemed to be. The meat appeared to have been held under a heat lamp for a while prior to serving. Plus there was no bark or smoke. I peeked into the kitchen from the bar and saw a Southern Pride gas smoker in the back. You can usually coax some smoke out of a Southern Pride with some wood chunks during the process, but it was as if they hadn’t even tried that. I simply couldn’t finish my serving.

I added a half rack of ribs to my order since there was no combo platters available. The meat fell off the bone when I picked up a rib which could be indicative of boiling of ribs before cooking them. Either way, they were way overcooked and were just about on par with the pork, which is to say not so good.

Sides were a mixed bag. The red slaw lacked tang and had a weird sweetness to them (likely due to excess ketchup but that alone may not have accounted for the taste). I’m no hash and rice expert, but at least this version seemed to be ok. That and the two hush puppies that came with the platter were by far the best part of the meal.

I can only imagine why this place was so packed and had a line of folks waiting to be seated by the time I left. Smokeless, dry pork and ribs with the consistency of boiled ribs: that’s what you are in for if you stop into The Dixie Pig in Rock Hill. What a disappointing meal.

Monk

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 1.5 hogs
Ribs – 1.5 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Click to add a blog post for Dixie Pig on Zomato

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Troutman’s Bar-B-Que – Concord, NC

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Name
: Troutman’s Bar-B-Que
Date: 3/7/15
Address362 Church Street North, Concord, NC 28025
Order: Chopped barbecue plate with slaw, fries, hush puppies, and Cherry Lemon Sun Drop (!!) (link to menu)
Price: $9

Barbecue smoked over wood or wood coals is usually a pretty reliable indicator of good barbecue, but it isn’t 100%. Troutman’s Bar-B-Que has been open since the early 70s at its downtown Concord location off Church Street. And they are still cooking over wood coals in the smokehouse located at the back of the parking lot. However, Troutman’s is a case where cooking barbecue the old way unfortunately doesn’t produce a great product.

When it comes to barbecue plates, you get a choice of chopped or sliced and naturally I went with chopped (some day I will try sliced barbecue, but that day was not that day). For a place that smokes over wood, you sure couldn’t taste any of it in the barbecue. There was not a lot of bark either, which almost seemed as if it was taken away by design. And to top it all off, it was also extremely dry. Very disappointing.

The chopped plate comes with fries, slaw (your choice of red or white), and hush puppies. Only the hush puppies are really worth talking about and they were actually damn good. The Monkette would definitely agree, as her lunch that day mostly consisted of them. Thankfully, my father-in-law ordered an additional basket so we each were still able to get our fill.

The other saving grace of the meal besides the hush puppies was the Cherry Lemon Sun Drop. You see Cheerwine and you see regular Sun Drop at barbecue joints in the Piedmont but you don’t see a lot of Cherry Lemon Sun Drop. Man, that stuff is just about perfect to have with barbecue.

The search for good barbecue in Concord continues…

Monk

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Troutman's Hickory Smoked BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks – Lowell, NC

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Name
: Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks
Date: 1/15/15
Address: 720 McAdenville Road, Lowell, NC 28098
Order: BBQ pork sandwich with collard greens and sweet tea (hush puppies included) (link to menu)
Price: $8

Monk: When looking for a new barbecue joint to try, I always seek out a wood-smoked joint over a gasser joint (as do most serious barbecue fans). And in general, that rule of thumb has served me pretty well. Unfortunately, Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks in Lowell just outside of Gastonia was a rare case of a wood-fired joint that simply let me down.

As I mentioned in our latest Charlotte Big Board, we are going to have to start branching out to surrounding cities and towns to try new local barbecue spots, because barring a wave of new restaurant openings we are very close to running out of ones in Charlotte proper. Hillbilly’s was my first conscious attempt in 2015 to do just that. Call it my barbecue New Year’s resolution.

This Lowell location of Hillbilly’s is the original, opened in 1989, and they have a Gastonia location a few miles away as well. I believe they also used to have a Charlotte joint off Tyvola but that closed many years ago. The open flame pit at Hillbilly’s is interior to the restaurant, similar to what they cook barbecue on at Old Hickory House only just a bit bigger. It is also one of the first things you see at the front entrance. Also similar to Old Hickory House, they cook over hickory wood.

The meal starts off with a tray of fresh hush puppies brought by the waitress, even before you order, albeit with a thick ketchup-y barbecue dipping sauce. They were hot and crispy, and started the meal off right sans sauce. Unfortunately, the barbecue sandwich that followed was slathered in that same thick sauce that masked the red slaw and chopped pork. When I was able to try a piece of unsauced pork, it was slightly dry and honestly pretty bland. I chose collards for my side, but they tasted as though the flavor had been stewed right out of them in a steam tray.

Speedy: So my question, Monk, is where did they go wrong? Was there no rub, was the pork sitting under a heat lamp, was it overcooked? Was the sauce just bad? It sounded so promising…

Rudy: The sauce would have been a red flag for me.  Usually when you are loading something up with that much sauce, you are trying to cover up for some inadequacy.

Monk: The sauce, if not commercially made, was a house made impression of one. And if I had to guess, the pork’s lack of seasoning was due to minimal rub applied to the pork. It’s almost as if they wanted the sauce to provide all the flavor, which is never good.

Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks goes to show that you can’t always assume a wood-fired joint is going to deliver. Unfortunately I just can’t recommend checking them out, though thankfully this experience will not dissuade me from seeking out more wood-smoked joints in 2015.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 2 Hogs
Hillbilly's Barbeque & Steaks on Urbanspoon

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Virgie’s BBQ – Houston, TX

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Name: Virgie’s BBQ
Date: 7/17/2014
Address: 5535 North Gessner, Houston, TX 77041
Order: Order of brisket and ribs (link to menu)
Price: $13.15

Rudy: Historically, Houston has not been known for having many places to get great barbecue. There are some recent places that are getting more pub, but for the size of the city, it has been traditionally lacking. The Rudy family was driving through Houston, so I knew I wanted to see if there was any truth to the stereotype. Virgie’s opened in 2005 and has been on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list the last few years, so I figured that would be a great place to try. I was wrong.

Virgie’s is a free-standing building in the middle of an industrial park, so not the best location for atmosphere, but it did draw a decent sized lunch crowd from the local businesses.  Inside, there are bare minimum decorations, but it does have the mom & pop barbecue feel.

I should have known I was in trouble when I walked up to the counter and ordered. I wanted to try a few different meats, so I ordered a half pound of ribs, half pound of brisket, and a sausage link. The man at the counter looked at me like I had two heads. He said he had never heard of anyone ordering by the weight (which is how they do it at every other barbecue restaurant I’ve been to in Texas) and suggested that I order the “order” with ribs and brisket. I took his advice, but had no idea of how much food I was actually getting. I thought it was a bit silly how they had just a generic listing for an “order” of something on the menu.

I tried the ribs first, and they were not very good. They had a hard crust on the top, were not meaty, and were only slightly seasoned (if at all). I was hoping for something more tender and with more meat on the bone. They were ok, but nothing great. Texas Monthly had said that the ribs were the highlight of Virgie’s, so I was pretty disappointed.

The brisket was next, and it was the same as the ribs, just ok. I wanted more flavor, either from seasoning or smoke, than I got. While it was tender, it was pretty bland and unmemorable.

Monk: From what I’ve read, it sounds like you maybe should have tried Killen’s Barbecue in nearby Pearland just north of town, though not sure how far out of the way it would have been for you.

Rudy: Yes, that was my initial thought, and one that I hope to get to soon. It’s getting great reviews and is trying to turn around the Houston barbecue reputation. But I was on a road trip, and it would have taken me about 45 minutes (each way) out of where I was going. There were two others that I thought about, but one had mixed reviews and the other one was known for having long lines, so I opted for Virgie’s.

This was my first attempt at finding barbecue in Houston, and it wasn’t too successful. The food was ok, but nothing to write home about or warrant a return trip. I will say the people at Virgie’s were incredibly nice and the service was great, unfortunately, the meat was not.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 2.5 Hogs
Brisket – 1.5 Hogs
Ribs – 2 Hogs
Overall – 2 Hogs
Virgie's BBQ on Urbanspoon
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