Skull Camp Smokehouse, Brewery & Wine Loft – Elkin, NC

Name: Skull Camp Brewing
Date: 9/27/19
Address: 2000 N. Bridge Street, Elkin, NC 28621
Order: Brisket platter with collards and cole slaw plus side of pulled pork and smoked wings (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: A few years ago when Mrs. Monk and I took a short self-guided winery tour of the Yadkin Valley wine region of NC, I encountered Skull Camp Brewing beers (and in particular, one named “Mahgeetah” after the My Morning Jacket song) at Round Peak Winery and learned that at that point they were in the process of opening a taproom and smokehouse in the small town of Elkin (pop. 4001). My interest has remained piqued over the years, and on the way to another Y Guides Longhouse weekend with the elder Monkette in the mountains of NC I finally got a chance 6 years later to try.

Unfortunately, what I did try was a bit lackluster when it comes to the smoked meats. The smoked wings were flavorful but lacked a lot of smoke. This would be a sign of things to come, unfortunately.

The pork and chopped brisket were both dry and fairly flavorless, with the main difference being that the brisket was covered in a thick, sweet barbecue sauce. The menu states that the meats are smoked using “local hard woods” but again, I didn’t detect even the faintest of smoke in either meat. Come to mention it, I didn’t see any stacks of wood or chimneys, which would lead me to believe that at best, they were using a gasser that possibly had some wood fed.

I did get to try a rib from a fellow dad at my table, and it was obviously hiding its lacks of smoke by being slathered in a thick, sweet sauce.

The sides were a mixed bag, with the mayo-drenched cole slaw being my least favorite. The collards were topped with bits of bacon but lacked vinegar. A pleasant surprise was the hard biscuit that came with each platter, a passable starch.

Skull Camp Smokehouse, Brewery & Wine Loft has a great setting with its multiple patios and outdoor fire pit and cornhole space out back. Unfortunately when it comes to barbecue, it has plenty of other foods on the menu that you should check out instead.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 1.5 hogs
Wings – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Art’s BBQ & Deli – Charlotte, NC

Name: Art’s BBQ & Deli
Date: 8/30/18
Address: 900 E Morehead St, Charlotte, NC 28204
Order: Large chopped pork plate with slaw, hushpuppies, and sweet tea (link to menu)
Price: $11

Monk: Art’s BBQ & Deli is a breakfast and lunch spot located in the heart of the Dilworth neighborhood for the past 42 years. It’s known as a popular spot for Panthers players and is said to be a favorite of former QB Jake Delhomme (of particular note to Speedy, I’m sure). The walls are littered with signed Panthers memorabilia and photographs and there’s even a Panthers parking sign around the side of the building.


Art’s follows the tradition of greeks who started restaurants or diners shortly after immigrating to the United States. Art Katopodis, the original owner, moved to the US from Greece in the 50’s and then to Charlotte in the 60’s. He started the restaurant 42 years ago in 1976 before retiring in 2002 and passing the reins onto his son and current owner, Danny.


As for Art’s itself, it’s more of a diner/deli than a barbecue restaurant. Circling the building, I did not see a smoker nor detect any smoke in the air during the lunch rush. Not sure if they prepare the barbecue offsite, but if they do I don’t detect any smoke in the chopped pork. Though even if that were the case, it would have been hard to taste since the barbecue comes pre-sauced with a thicker, sweet sauce.

My guess is the barbecue is more of a roasted pork in an oven before being chopped and tossed in that sauce. Curiously, the Art’s branded sauce on the table was a vinegar-ketchup sauce in the vein of a Lexington dip and not what the pork was tossed in. Some dashes of that or Texas Pete helped the chopped pork by cutting the sweet sauce and giving it a bit more tang. All in all, I wasn’t wowed by the barbecue.

The mayo slaw was pretty standard but I have a feeling that the hush puppies were originally frozen as opposed to made from scratch. I did get a choice of rolls or corn muffins with my meal, and the corn muffins were far preferable to the hush puppies for my cornbread fix.

Art’s BBQ & Deli is a Charlotte institution and I wish them many more years of continued success, but I wouldn’t recommend it for barbecue. Try the breakfast, deli sandwiches, or fried chicken (a Thursday lunch special) instead.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Art's Barbecue & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom – Durham, NC

: Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom
Date: 2/24/18
Address: 900 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701
Order: 2 meat combo with brisket and smoked jalapeno cheddar sausage with hush puppies, collards, and cole slaw (link to menu)
Price: $16

Monk: Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom opened in September in a space in downtown Durham that formerly housed Alivia’s Durham Bistro for 10 years. The owners of Alivia’s closed that concept and opened Maverick’s with a menu with an “international house of barbecue” bent to it – which in this case means pulling from Memphis and Texas in addition to North Carolina barbecue traditions.  

One thing that was apparently kept from Alivia’s was the outdoor patio which was perfect on an unusually warm February day. That, however, was the last of anything positive when it came to this lunch.

The first strike of the meal was a warm beer (curiously, Maverick’s had a special on non-NC draft beer which I don’t think I’ve seen at a NC restaurant – it’s usually the other way around). My speculation was that it was served in a pint glass that may have come straight out of the dishwasher but regardless, it was still an oversight. You just simply don’t want a warm-ish Shiner on a patio.

The next strike came when the platters of food came out. Mrs Monk and I got a two meat combo of brisket and sausage – for pork I was gong to sample some of it from our friend’s platter. The brisket and sausage both came out cool to the touch. The bark on the brisket was flavorful, but in addition to being cold it was fairly dried out. To me, it seemed liked it was likely leftover from the day before. I don’t know where the sausage came from but it had the texture of a slightly warmed hot dog – albeit with pieces of jalapeno and cheddar in it. The pork was a little better in terms of temperature but was quite greasy – my buddy didn’t finish his rather small portion of it.

Finally, on this day the sides weren’t going to save the meal. While the hush puppies and fried okra (also sampled from our friend’s plate) were freshly fried and actually decent, the collards could have use some more stewing and the mayo-based cole slaw was lukewarm. Temperature in general seems to need more focus at Maverick’s.

A charitable way to look at Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom is that they are still figuring things out. Let’s hope that is the case and that they do figure it out soon. If not, it seems unlikely that they will make it to 10 years like Alivia’s did in the same space before them.

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 2.5 hogs
Sausage – 1 hog
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Hillsborough BBQ Company – Hillsborough, NC

: 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.

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

: 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.

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

: ‘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!)

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

: 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.


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

: 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.


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)

: 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.

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

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The Dixie Pig – Rock Hill, SC

: 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.


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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