Big Dan’s BBQ – Elizabethton, TN

Name: Big Dan’s BBQ
Date: 8/20/22
Address: 633 E Elk Ave, Elizabethton, TN 37643
Order: Barbecue sandwich with collard greens (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: In the past year, one of my brothers as well as my parents have moved to the Tri-Cities area of northeast Tennessee. For decent barbecue in the Volunteer State, I’ve always assumed I had to go at least as far west as Knoxville but probably more towards Nashville. For a quick visit to see my family, would Big Dan’s BBQ in the quaint downtown of Elizabethton hit the spot? It did win the Reader’s Choice for Best Barbecue in Carter County in recent years, after all.

Short answer: only kind of. Big Dan’s at least tries, using a Southern Pride behind the building under a shed with a woodpile stacked against it (reminiscent of Archers in Knoxville).

In terms of the barbecue, that Southern Pride put out cue with decent smoke but was a bit on the greasy side. The bun did not survive more than a few pickups before I started picking at it with a fork.

The collards were well balanced and more successful than the pork sandwich for sure.

Big Dan’s BBQ is located next to Riverside Taphouse, the only beer bar in downtown Elizabethton and is not far from the Doe River and the historic Elizabethton Covered Bridge. Transcendent barbecue this is not, but for a snack while having a beer while sitting on a patio in a pretty part of the country, you could do worse.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 2 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 2.5 Hogs

Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q – Charlotte, NC

Name: Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q
Date: 7/9/22
Location: 5121 Trojan Drive, Charlotte, North Carolina 28278
Order: Bar-B-Q platter with hush puppies, cole slaw, and potato salad (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Living in Raleigh during my college years at NC State, whenever we headed east on I-40 towards the coast, we tended to hit up the Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q in Garner on the way out or back home. However, I moved to Charlotte in early 2005 so the last time I had actually gone to any Smithfield’s was likely in fall 2004; it had been quite some time. Smithfield’s (not related to Smithfield Foods, the Chinese-owned pork producer and food-processing company out of Virginia) has been around for 40 years and since those days in the early 2000’s it has grown to 40 franchise stores and has expanded slightly west into North Carolina’s Piedmont. And I do mean slightly – their sole location in southwest Charlotte near the outlet malls is their farthest store west by a good bit with their nearest Piedmont location in Greensboro or Rockingham.

I recently visited that location headed west towards the mountains on my way out of town. While I was tempted by the titular fried chicken, I went with a bar-b-q platter and kept it simple with their standard order: hush puppies, cole slaw, and potato salad.

And you know what? The barbecue, while surely mass-produced on a huge scale, did the trick. Sure, it doesn’t have a ton of smoke, but it tasted fresh and was chopped nicely. Adding the vinegar sauce and/or Texas Pete enhances it but isn’t necessary.

The hush puppies were some of the better fast casual hush puppies, and I felt bad tossing some in the trash after I filled up (though I did briefly consider bringing them in the car with me, though that would have meant throwing them away an hour down the road). While I didn’t regret going with potato salad over French fries, after a few bites I had my fill.

In a pinch, stopping at one of many Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q across the state will certainly do, and is probably your best bet for chain barbecue ahead of Cook Out or Jim ‘N Nick’s. Oddly, I probably received the most feedback of any post on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter so people seem to feel strongly about them (good or bad) for whatever reason. Next time though, I’ll probably go for a fried chicken thigh in addition to the barbecue.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon – Charlotte, NC

Name: McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon
Date: 7/5/22
Location: 4630 Old Pineville Road, Charlotte, NC 28217
Order: BBQ pork sandwich with fried squash and double-grilled smokehouse wings (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon is a Charlotte joint that I tend to forget or overlook since my first and thus far only visit in 2013. On that visit, perhaps I judged it too harshly which may have tended to be the M.O. in the early days of this blog when expectations were sky high and readership was quite low. I have slowly started to revisit Charlotte joints in recent years, or at least the ones that haven’t closed, so McKoy’s was next up on the list.

Just like on that first visit, I was greeted by the smell of wood smoke in the air as I exited the car and walked into the restaurant. The interior really embraces the “saloon” aspect of the name, and there are plenty of TV’s with sports on. McKoy’s has been around since 2006 and while I don’t want to speak too prematurely, it appears they have hung on beyond the pandemic, perhaps just barely.

For my appetizer, I decided to try their smokehouse wings, opting for barbalo and upgraded to their “double grilled” to get them nice and crispy. While they do utilize a “full roid” wing (I mean, these drumettes were huge), they were nicely cooked and quite tasty. Would order again.

McKoy’s pork has a mild smokiness to it – partially due to the use of the milder pecan wood as well as utilizing a gas-assisted smoker. The pork barbecue sandwich comes on a butter-grilled bun and that mildly smokey pork is topped with a mayo-based slaw. Add some dashes of Texas Pete and it makes for a very good sammie. While I was trying not to overeat, I still managed to finish off the whole thing.

Coming off the back end of a long July 4th weekend, I tried to go a little healthier for my side but fried squash was as close as I got. I had never seen it on a barbecue menu before, but I thought it worked really well and would order again. That makes three for three if you’re keeping track at home.

I still wouldn’t include McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon in the top tier of Charlotte barbecue but it is much better than I previously gave them credit for. I might go back and try the Living the Dream (LTD) platter some day to try their ribs, pot roast, and chicken, and it’ll be sooner than the nine years between my first and second visit.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 2.5 Hogs
Pork – 3 Hogs
Sides – 3.5 Hogs
Overall – 3 Hogs

Dukes Bar-B-Q – Orangeburg, SC

Name: Duke’s Bar-B-Q
Date: 4/14/22
Address: 801-813 Chestnut St, Orangeburg, SC 29115
Order: Large barbecue plate with hash and rice and slaw
Pricing: $

Monk: Along interstates 26, 95, and 20 in South Carolina, you are certain to see signs for a number of Duke’s Bar-B-Q’s. While these are not all part of the same chain of restaurants per se, they are all loosely connected to the Duke’s barbecue lineage which goes back decades in the midlands of the Palmetto State.

Each store is independently owned an operated, and according to Destination BBQ this plain white cinder block building off Chesnut Street in Orangeburg is just down the road from the original Dukes Bar-B-Q that was opened by Earl Dukes in 1955 and launched the Dukes Bar-B-Q brand. That building sat less than a mile away but closed some years ago. This store is operated by Earl’s nephew Harry Ott, Jr and his wife Ann; Harry’s mother Elma was the sister of Earl and he learned the recipes from his other Uncle Danny in addition to Uncle Earl.

Not much has likely changed since 1975 when the Otts moved from their original location in St Matthews, and this rectangular box that is lit by fluorescent lights has a dining room with checkerboard table cloths at the front with the kitchen separated by the counter and serving area. Also going back to 1975, be sure to have cash on hand as they don’t take cards.

At Dukes, a large plate will get you a generous portion of hash and rice as well as barbecue topped with their mustard sauce and a side of slaw. The chopped pork was fine and the slaw inoffensive but for me, the draw was the hash and rice which isn’t overly sweet. I’m still a newbie when it comes to hash and rice, but I enjoyed the Dukes version of it which has a more orange tint than what I tried a few days earlier at new school Palmira Barbecue in Charleston.

New school is something Dukes definitely is not, but that’s a feature not a bug. Sitting four miles off I-26 in Orangeburg, check out Dukes Bar-B-Q for a classic, old school South Carolina barbecue experience.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Hash – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs