Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC

Name: Noble Smoke
Date: 8/24/19
Address: 2216 Freedom Dr, Charlotte, NC 28208
Order: The Miss Mary Platter (1 lb brisket, 1 lb pork, 1 rack ribs, 1 lb turkey, red slaw, coleslaw, pickled veggies), 12 wings, hush puppies (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$ 

Monk: In 1919, the first Lexington-style barbecue stand was set up across the street from the courthouse in Lexington, NC by Sid Weaver. Shortly after, Jess Swicegood set up his own stand and both businesses thrived to the point of building permanent restaurants. Eventually, they would go on to train Warner Stamey in the ways of Lexington-style barbecue, and he continued to spread that gospel all over the Piedmont of North Carolina to owners who would go on to open such famed joints as Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Alston Bridges Barbecue, Lexington Barbecue, and Stamey’s own namesake restaurant, Stamey’s Barbecue

Exactly 100 years later and 60 miles to the south in Charlotte, Chef Jim Noble has finally opened up his passion project restaurant in the form of Noble Smoke, continuing the Lexington-style barbecue tradition (though he does offer a variety of smoke meats). Everyone knows Noble as the chef and restaurateur behind higher-end restaurants like Noble Grill, Rooster’s, and King’s Kitchen, but a Lexington-style barbecue restaurant has been 25 years in the making.

Speedy: Monk and I got to spend a couple hours with Noble before the restaurant opened and, though we didn’t get a chance to sample anything, I left that meeting confident that the man knew his ‘cue and had a true passion for it, so I was more than excited to sample the goods. The space Noble built is fantastic – rustic but refined, with ample seating, a large bar, a nice outdoor space, and a brewery joining next door. 

Monk: For our group of 5, the Miss Mary Platter was the perfect order as it gave us a chance to try just about all of the meats and in the right quantity. At the time of our visit, Noble Smoke still hadn’t fired up the brick masonry pits that were styled after Lexington Barbecue, so our pork was smoked in one of the six large offset smokers occupying the smoke room. As he is doing across the board, Noble is using high-quality ingredients (which you pay for, as the platter was $88) and in this case its Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork. On this day, the pork wasn’t quite the crowd favorite while still being very good. I can’t wait to try them now that they’ve fired up those brick pits.

Speedy: Noble clearly studied up on the Texas brisket he was trying to emulate. And I’ll say, he did a nice job. The prime brisket was moist, peppery, and flavorful. I had previously sworn off ordering brisket in the Carolinas, but Noble Smoke is joining Lewis Barbecue on the exception list. I rank it just a tad behind Lewis, but still a top ten brisket I’ve had in my life. I think any Texan would be impressed.

Monk: I couldn’t agree more, and also think that any Texan would also be impressed with the ribs that Noble Smoke is slinging. Rubbed generously with salt and pepper, I was relieved that Noble avoided the temptation to offer a saucy, sweet rib and instead something far more nuanced. North Carolina isn’t known for ribs and they can often be an afterthought, but these were more Texas Trinity than KC Masterpiece. By far, these were the favorite meats on the table in our group that day.

Speedy: I’m on record saying I don’t know why anyone would order smoked turkey at a barbecue restaurant given the choice of other delectable meats from our hooved friends. Well, I’m man enough to admit it – I was wrong. The turkey at Noble Smoke was probably the best I’ve had. Like the brisket, it was seasoned with just salt and (plenty of) pepper, but that was enough to tease out an incredible amount of flavor, all while retaining moisture. This is a hard thing to do with turkey, so hats off to Jim Noble for this. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing I had that day (that goes to the ribs), but it was the biggest surprise for me.

Monk: Like everything else, the wings from were delicious and well smoked, even if they were a bit on the small side. Noble gets his heritage chicken from Winston-Salem-based Joyce Farms, which is nice to see them source from a North Carolina operation. 

We ordered a side of the hush puppies made with Anson Mills heirloom grain corn (again, note the high quality ingredients) and the table gobbled them up pretty quickly. The Miss Mary’s Platter came with small sides of both eastern and western (red) slaw as well as pickled veggies in the form of onions, pickles, and beets. The beets were definitely different.

Speedy: Sometimes new restaurants take a few months to get up to speed and everything rolling, but Chef Jim Noble is clearly a pro and the meal we had at Noble Smoke was one of my top barbecue meals all year. Noble Smoke was designed to be a destination barbecue joint, and I think it will be just that. I’m certainly adding it to the list for every time I visit Charlotte. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Wings – 4 hogs
Turkey – 4.5 hogs 
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Apple City BBQ – Taylorsville, NC

Name: Apple City BBQ
Date: 6/24/19
Address: 3490 NC Hwy 16 South, Taylorsville, NC 28681
Order: 3-meat combo with pork, ribs, and brisket; corn nuggets and red slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Sometimes the barbecue joint on a road trip finds you. On a trip with my daughter to a YMCA camp in the foothills of North Carolina, I was aware that one of many potential routes could take me near Apple City BBQ. But after being re-routed a few times due to Charlotte Friday rush hour traffic, I had no idea that it was actually on the route I was on until I literally drove right by it just south of the town of Taylorsville. After a quick check with the other passengers in my car, we turned around and by the grace of the barbecue gods, I was going to have barbecue for dinner that night.

Apple City occupies a small brick building right on NC-16 and on a Friday night, it was packed with locals. We happened to get lucky with a booth immediately available but by the end of our dinner the line had grown out the door.

I’ve been keeping up with Apple City via Instagram through recommendation from Garren of Jon G’s Barbecue. As it turns out, they previously had a non-barbecue working connection way back when and but now occasionally work with each other now in a barbecue-related capacity. Everything on Instagram looked promising but as any experienced barbecue traveller will vouch, looks can be deceiving. However, I had no idea just what I was in for.

Seeing as how I wasn’t sure when the next time I’d be passing through Taylorsville, I went ahead and ordered the three meat combo of pork, ribs, and brisket. I would normally start with the pork at a NC barbecue restaurant, but this time I’ll start with the ribs which were my favorite of the three meats. I don’t tend to favor ribs but these dry ribs had a nice salty-sweet rub and were perfectly tender. The three meat combo comes with a quarter rack and I would have gladly taken at least another half rack.

The pork (and all meats, for that matter) is smoked over a mixture of hickory and apple woods, and the smoke certainly shone through in each meat. The tender, smokey pork more than stood up on its own but a few dollops of the red slaw enhanced the meat as it should.

The slice of brisket on first glance appeared a little dry but in reality it was simply just an above average slice of lean with plenty of flavor in the peppery bark. With a three meat platter you are of course going to get smaller portions of each, but as was the case with the ribs I would have gladly at least a few more slices of brisket. 

In addition to the red slaw, my other side was corn nuggets, a dish I had neither had the pleasure of trying nor heard of before. Turns out, they are deep fried morsels of creamed corn and they are redonkulous. I knew these wouldn’t last the trip so I tried to each as much of it as I could stand. 

Apple City BBQ is a family-owned barbecue joint that is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They’ve been open since 2016 and are located on NC-16 south of Taylorsville and 17 miles northeast of Hickory. I wouldn’t consider that location to be the most convenient for most NC travelers as its not too close to any major highways. Regardless, all serious barbecue enthusiasts should make it a point to stop by for some great barbecue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Lewis Barbecue – Charleston, SC (Speedy’s take)

IMG_9521
Name
: Lewis Barbecue
Date: 8/1/18
Address: 464 N Nassau St, Charleston, SC 29403
Order: 1 pound brisket, 2 hot gut links, 6 bones pork ribs, corn pudding, collards (link to menu)

Speedy: Later in the day after my trip to Rodney Scott’s BBQ (and after visiting a brewery of course), some of my fam and I decided to visit another new-ish Charleston joint I was pumped about – Lewis Barbecue. After superb visits to both Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue (where John Lewis did stints), my expectations were super high. Finding a true Texas joint in South Carolina is definitely a treat.

The atmosphere at Lewis Barbecue is awesome. There’s an order counter, a bar, a fair amount of indoor seating and ample outdoor seating. Upon arriving, you order and just like in Texas, the meat is cut and weighed right in front of you. Even though we were still full from our earlier lunch, for our second lunch we made sure to order the brisket, pork ribs, and hot guts.

Monk: I was quite jealous when I heard Speedy and crew were doing Rodney Scott’s and then Lewis back-to-back. You may notice that most of my comments below are just agreeing with how good the food is at Lewis, and I hope I get a chance to get back there again soon (Labor Day weekend, perhaps?).

Rudy: I’m jealous too that you were able to visit Lewis Barbecue.  When he was the pitmaster at La Barbecue, that was the best brisket and maybe best ribs I’ve had, so I’ve missed him in Austin and have been wanting to try his place in Charleston.

Monk: Just throwing this out there…Barbecue Bros company retreat in Charleston next year?

Speedy: I’ll start with the brisket, as that’s the flagship meat. In short, it’s the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas. We got a mix of fatty and lean, and both cuts were smoked to perfection, seasoned perfectly. I liked the fatty better than the lean, as I felt the lean was a bit dry. Unfortunately, this brisket did not enter into the holy quadrumvirate with Franklin, La Barbecue, Killen’s, and Pecan Lodge, but it’s certainly in the next tier down. A must order.

Rudy: Like I said before, his brisket in Texas is the best I’ve ever had (although Franklin and Pecan Lodge are very very close) so I am not surprised that it was great, but am surprised that it did not break into that group.

Speedy: I was a little surprised too, Rudy. It was still darn good and very close, but maybe it was just a slightly sub-par day or that I usually don’t order lean at all, but it just lacked that extra something special.

Monk: While I have a few more Texas joints (notably, Louie Mueller) under my belt from my trip earlier this year, Lewis Barbecue is still the best brisket I’ve personally had at a restaurant. Note that I have yet to visit any of the spots mentioned in Speedy’s quadrumvirate. Also, based on the lack of spell check squigglies, “quadrumvirate” is apparently a real word and not something made up by Speedy.

Speedy: The hot guts took things to the next level. I like smoked sausage, but have always considered it a second tier barbecue meat. Well, John Lewis is challenging that. The sausage had a perfect snap and great flavor, with just  a bit of a kick. I’m not sure the sausage could have been better.

Monk: I didn’t know that you were biased against sausage, Speedy. Six-plus years into this barbecue blog and you still manage to surprise me.

In any case, I too loved the hot guts.

Rudy: I’ve had the hot guts two times and really didn’t like it all that much.  I think they are all beef and I am not a huge fan of that because I think it can sometimes dry out or crumble.  It could have also been because I had heard so much about them and went in with huge expectations. But most people rave about it and you guys are no different.

Speedy: The ribs were also enjoyable – served with just a light glaze, these spare ribs were big and meaty, rich and tender. There was a hint of sweetness associated with the glaze, and you could clearly taste the smoke, but I would have liked a little more rub under the glaze to add a little spice and seasoning. Still quite good, but if you’re going to skip a meat at Lewis, this is the one.

The sides at Lewis Barbecue are worth more than a casual mention – they are really really good. Particularly the corn pudding was amazing, so don’t skip it.

Monk: The corn pudding was both mine and Mrs. Monk’s favorite side from Lewis as well. Jon G’s Barbecue has their own version of a corn pudding inspired by Lewis and it’s nearly as good. The takeaway here is that more joints should add corn pudding to menus.

Speedy: The meal at Lewis Barbecue was really great. Eating it in the same day as Rodney Scott’s was a real treat (as well as a challenge in terms of stomach room). Both joints are must-visit if you’re in the Charleston area and offer great insights into different styles of ‘cue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Hot guts – 5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Rodney Scott’s BBQ – Charleston, SC (Speedy’s take)

img_1313
Name: Rodney Scott’s BBQ
Date: 8/1/18
Address: 1011 King St, Charleston, SC 29403
Order: Pork and Rib Combo, fries/hush puppies, 6 smoked wings) (link to menu)
Price: $20 (combo), $6 (wings)

Speedy: Recently, I took a trip to Charleston with the extended family, so I knew I had to convince my brother and cousins to leave behind the wives and kids for a few hours to hit eat some ‘cue and drink some brews. Our first stop was Rodney Scott’s BBQ.

Of course I had heard of Rodney Scott before, but I had never been to either his Hemingway or Charleston location, so to say I was excited was a bit of an understatement. I knew I had to try both the pork and the ribs, and thankfully there was a combo plate on the menu, so despite the fact that I knew I had a second lunch coming up, I knew what I had to do. The best part – real-life Bro picked up the check. Just kidding – (spoiler alert!) the chopped pork was the best part, but the Bro paying was the second best part.

img_1317

After ordering, the food was brought out promptly, and it was time to dig in. I’ll start with the flagship of the restaurant – the whole hog chopped pork. Though we were in South Carolina, this was classic eastern NC ‘cue – smoked until perfectly tender, chopped fine, and sauced with the perfect vinegary, peppery dip. I loved the tang of the meat and don’t think I would change a thing. On his visit, Monk left Rodney Scott’s feeling mildly disappointed, but thinking back on it just makes me smile. I never tried any of the table sauce, because none was needed.

Monk: To clarify, I was only disappointed compared with that first bite at the legendary Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, which was in the top 5 of barbecue meals I’ve ever had. My anticipation of that whole hog only grew exponentially in the almost 4 years between, so my visit was a slight letdown only compared with my (somewhat unfair) enormous expectations. On my next visit to Rodney Scott’s, I’m sure I’ll be able to properly appreciate it.

Also, while we tend to think of whole hog as eastern NC, the Pee Dee region of SC (basically, the northeastern corner bordering NC) has their own whole hog tradition which has its similarities. That’s what Rodney Scott draws from as does Elliot Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville, being that he is originally from the Florence, SC area. It makes sense when you look at it geographically.

img_1315

Speedy: The ribs, which Monk didn’t try, were also enjoyable. They were big, meaty, and cooked perfectly. I really enjoy dry rubbed ribs, which usually are extremely heavily seasoned and not sauced at all. These ribs were different in that they were not heavily seasoned and had only a hint of a glaze, so the pork flavor and the smoke really shined through. I think Rodney Scott did exactly what he wanted with these ribs, and I would recommend everyone try them, but they were very good but not transcendent to me. I did put some spicy sauce on for a taste, but it wasn’t really needed (though it went well). Overall, a very good effort and as a “second meat” at a joint, pretty impressive.

Monk: I definitely want to try the ribs next time. Everyone knows that Speedy is the rib guy of the bros, but I’ve read good things about them, including how Rodney Scott really cooked them for the first time at the 2017 Big Apple BBQ Block Party (talk about pressure). I’d be interested in tasting some of the other menu items as well such as fried catfish or the ribeye sandwich.

img_1316

Speedy: The smoked wings were good for what they are, but they themselves are not a reason to visit Rodney Scott’s. They had a nice dry rub and were smoked well, but I could have used a little more sauce. Wing tastes are so variable, and these just weren’t as good as the pork or ribs.

In addition to my ordered sides (hush puppies and fries), I also sampled the collards. The hush puppies were very good, the fries above average, but the collards were amazing. They had chunks of pork in and were seriously some of the best collards I’ve ever had.

To top off this awesome meal, I was able to chat briefly with the man Rodney Scott himself. For most of the time we were there, he was walking around the dining room making sure everyone was having a great meal, which we were. As a double bonus, Darius Rucker came in to eat. Surprisingly, he didn’t recognize me, so we didn’t get to chat, but it’s good to know that Rucker knows both 90s rock and barbecue.

Monk:  Unless Speedy is leaving something out here, I gotta say how surprised I am that he managed to keep his composure and not go all Chris Farley Show on Rucker – “Hey, remember when you were in Hootie and the Blowfish? That was awesome.”

Well done, Speedy.

Speedy: Overall, this was the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Charleston, maybe in SC. Our whole group agreed – we will be back to Rodney Scott’s.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pulled Pork – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Wings – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint – Nashville, TN

IMG_2569 (2)
Name
: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Downtown location)
Date: 7/21/18
Address: 410 4th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37201
Order: Big Poppa Sampler (Full Rack Ribs, 12oz Pork, 12oz Brisket, ½ Chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, fries) with 6 Memphis dry rub wings, 2 orders of hush puppies, and 2 cornbread hoe cakes (link to menu)
Price: $141 (for 6)

Speedy: With Monk coming to town, I had to take him to my favorite ‘cue in town – Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. I had reviewed the OG location of Martin’s many years ago, but since then, three other Tennessee locations (as well as two Kentucky ones) have opened. While I greatly enjoy the food, I took Monk (and crew) to the downtown location, which is one of my favorite places in Nashville – barbecue or otherwise.

Monk: The downtown location of Martin’s is amazing – flat out. As soon as we stepped up into the upstairs beer garden, I knew it was going to get 5 hogs for atmosphere and ambiance. The upstairs was an airy, open air space with plenty of natural lighting and big ass fans to keep the air circulating. Besides the smokeroom off to the side, it had a small stage, two small bars flanking either side of the room, several long beer garden-style tables, ping pong, shufflepuck, and dartboards. If we ever hit it big from barbecue blogging, I will be taking photos of this space to an architect to replicate at the loft I would buy once I’m flush with all that theoretical barbecue blogging cashish.

IMG_2622 (2)

Speedy: With six of us in tow, we ordered the Big Poppa Platter, which consists of a full rack of ribs, 12 oz pork, 12 oz brisket, ½ chicken, and 3 pints of sides. We tacked on a few extra sides and a half dozen wings and we were good to go.

IMG_2618 (2)

I’ll start with the ribs. We ordered spare ribs instead of baby backs since they are bigger and we had six hungry men. The rack of ribs was massive – plenty for us all to eat. We ordered dry ribs, and they showed up heavily seasoned as a full slab. The ribs were tender, cooked perfectly, and delicious. I do wish we had ordered baby back ribs, as the quality of the meat is better. On the spare ribs, there was a big more tendon than I like, but that’s a nit-picky complaint. Overall, I could have used a little more spice in the rub, but the ribs are very, very solid.

IMG_2614 (2)

Monk: Martin’s is one of the few restaurants in Tennessee (or anywhere else, for that matter) that is still doing whole hog barbecue. With the purchasing power of a growing regional chain, I imagine they are able to make the economics work, but regardless I applaud them for continuing the whole hog tradition. As for the pork itself, our portion was a mixture of pork that was overall lighter than the darker meat of the shoulders predominantly used in the NC piedmont (though shoulders are also available on the menu). I’m not quite sure what the nuances are between western TN whole hog and what you’ll find in eastern NC or the Pee Dee region of SC (a topic which I’ll gladly earmark for more research later), but I quite enjoyed what Martin’s served.

IMG_2615 (2)

Speedy: The brisket is about as good as you can find in Tennessee. It had good bark and was cooked pretty well (maybe ever so slightly overcooked), but it is not on the same level as some of the Texas joints. Martin’s brisket does have nice tug and flavor, and has good bark, but it just doesn’t quite have the peppery goodness needed to reach the upper brisket tier. However, if I’m hankerin’ for a good brisket in Tennessee, Martin’s is the best choice there is. As a side note, while not sampled on this visit, Martin’s does offer a cheeseburger topped with brisket that simply is not to be missed. Beef on beef – brilliant!

IMG_2605 (2)

Monk: We don’t normally order chicken but seeing as how it came with the Big Poppa, we embraced it. Smoked chicken is not my jam but it definitely worked when dipped in the Alabama white sauce that came with the tray.

Speedy: The wings were good – using the same dry rub as the ribs (other flavors are available, but we went with the dry rub). They were smoked well, but could have stood to be a little meatier. Like everything at Martin’s, the wings were very good. Smoked wings can be a little difficult to find, so I appreciate a place that does them right, and Martin’s is that.

Monk: There were literally no complaints about any of the sides we got. Some of our group raved about the mac and cheese, others loved the green beans, and I thought the hush puppies were solidly above average. But I was most intrigued by the cornbread hoe cakes, an item I’ve not ever seen on a barbecue menu before. In western NC, our cornmeal comes in the form of hush puppies whereas in the east you’ll see cornsticks or more traditional cornbread. The hoecakes were savory and not overly sweet  but I would definitely get them again – I know Speedy gets them most times he visits. Oh, and they have Cheerwine and Sun Drop in glass bottles! So awesome.

With Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Downtown Nashville, all of the meats are consistently above average, the sides were great, and the space was awesome. One more thought on the space – after we finished our meal, our group stuck around for another hour or so, grabbing another pitcher while playing darts. I would have gladly stuck around for several more hours, but alas we were headed to Third Man Records before throwing axes in East Nashville (side note – Speedy showed the guys a great time that weekend in Nashville). I can see why Martin’s is Speedy’s favorite joint in the city and I would gladly go back for another meal at this or any of the other locations.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Chicken – 3.5 hogs
Wings – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Jon G’s Barbecue (RE-REVIEW)

IMG_2174
Name
: Jon G’s Barbecue (food truck)
Date: 4/27/18
Order: Two meat combo (brisket and pork) with corn pudding, mac and cheese, and Sun Drop
Price: $19

Monk: It was a little over a year ago when I first checked out Jon G’s Barbecue and they shook up our Charlotte Big Board by taking over the #1 spot. A little over 14 months later, I checked them out again wondering if consistency would be maintained.

Since my first time in early 2017, Garren and his wife Kelly have since acquired a food truck and after a brief (but worthy) hiatus to have their first child they have been making the rounds outside of their monthly(ish) pop up at Southern Range Brewing at food truck roundups such as the bi-weekly Food Truck Friday in Matthews.

I’m happy to report that Jon G’s brisket continues to be on point. The mix of lean and fatty again produced some of the best bites of brisket I’ve had in NC, approaching John Lewis’s in Charleston for best that I’ve tasted in the Carolinas as a whole (I do need to get to Columbia to check out City Limits Barbeque for sure though).

Not to be outshone too much, the coarsely pulled pork with a dash or two of vinegar sauce was quite tasty. From what I can tell, I’m seeing few growing pains in the switch to the food truck in terms of quality of food.

Jon G’s has tried a few things with sides since my last visit and the delicious corn pudding was a new menu item inspired by a similar side at Lewis Barbecue in Charleston. I didn’t try the mac and cheese last time but it was also quite good. Finally, having Sun Drop as a drink option was a nice touch, but perhaps I could humbly suggest adding Cheerwine in the future.

So not only was consistency maintained between my two visits but Jon G’s Barbecue may have possibly even gotten better. Garren and Kelly continue to knock it out of the park, and for my money there is no doubt that they remain the best barbecue in Charlotte

Ratings:
Atmosphere – N/A
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque – Atlanta, GA (Monk’s take)

IMG_8421
Name: B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque
Date: 3/31/17
Address: 2061 Main St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318
Order: Two meat plate (brisket and pulled pork) with hash and rice, collard greens, and cracklin’ cornbread (link to menu)
Price: $18

Monk: In the past few months, Speedy has checked out B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Atlanta twice and rubbed it in my face each time. Finally, I got sick enough of it and packed the Monk family in the car and made the 4 hour trip down to Atlanta just to shut Speedy up. Actually…the Monk clan just happened to be spending a long weekend in Atlanta so I arranged a lunch stop but that’s neither here nor there. And to be fair he wasn’t really rubbing it in my face per se, but it was at least a light brag that got under my skin.

Speedy: No. It was a face rub. Cause this place is awesome.

Monk: Guess my first instincts were right then….

Sitting 15 minutes west of downtown Atlanta in the Riverside neighborhood, B’s sits in an old house that used to be another barbecue joint named Hottie Hawg’s. Neither Speedy nor I have checked that place out but at B’s, you order at the bar and they bring it out to you. Speaking of bar, they do have a couple of solid beers on tap including local favorite Creature Comforts Tropicalia IPA, in which both Mrs. Monk and I both indulged. There is a decent sized patio and we tried to sit out on it but found that it was just a little too chilly in the shade on this particular late March day.

The whole hog pork at B’s is smoked from heritage hogs and was definitely the star of the show. It was served in coarsely pulled strands reminiscent of Scott’s Bar-B-Cue and was just downright excellent. Unlike Speedy’s visit, mine wasn’t on the dry side and each strand had a nice silky texture. I tried both the spicy vinegar and peach mustard sauces and while neither was essential, both complemented the pork well. Speaking of the pork, on our way out to the car, I even caught a worker carting a half of one of those heritage hogs from their annex to the main building, so I took the opportunity to snap a few photos.

Speedy: I’m surprised you don’t have more to say about the peach mustard sauce. I thought it was excellent and unlike anything I’ve had before. I’m generally against mustard sauce on pork (it belongs on sausage), but this stuff is legit.

Monk: I only used it sparingly but did think it was good. I guess I’m surprised at just how enthusiastic you are about it. 

While not quite on the level of the pork, the brisket had excellent bark and a nice tug to it. On this day, it was slightly on the dry side perhaps due to sitting under a warming lamp for too long. Still, these were darn good slices of brisket.

The side of hash and rice was excellent. If you recall, in Speedy’s review of B’s last December, Grant from Marie, Let’s Eat! went for a double side of hash and rice and after tasting, I completely understand why. This stuff was just plain great and certainly in the upper rankings of barbecue hash I’ve tried in my life. The collards were good but had a different taste than your usual vinegary greens due to the addition of a heavy dose of minced garlic. Pretty good, but I don’t know if I’d go for them again here.

Being that it’s the only bonafide whole hog joint in town and that they also smoke a mean brisket, if you are in Atlanta I urge you to make the trip to the westside and check out B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque. You won’t be disappointed.

For more reviews of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, check out:
Speedy’s take
Marie, Let’s Eat

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
B's Cracklin Barbecue  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
B's Cracklin Barbeque

Central BBQ – Memphis, TN

IMG_1316
Name
: Central BBQ
Date: 3/30/17
Address: 2249 Central Ave, Memphis, TN 38104
Order: Rib combo (half wet/half dry) with brisket, pork, collards, fries (link to menu)
Price: $25

Speedy: I’m writing this blog post from a Starbucks in Memphis. I had to fly in town for a client meeting, so naturally, I had to fly in early in order to sample some Memphis ‘cue for lunch. The client site wasn’t too far from Central BBQ, so I decided I would just knock out the big dog first thing and head that way for lunch.

Monk: I like the dedication. In fact, I’m thinking about naming you our new senior Tennessee correspondent.

Speedy: Thanks, Monk. It’s a position I’ll take seriously. So much so that I think a move to Nashville is in order. But more on that another time.

Walking in, Central BBQ is everything you could ever want from a ‘cue joint. You order at the counter and take a number, then go sit either inside or at their ample outdoor seating. I wasn’t overly hungry, but since I don’t travel to Memphis often, I had to go ahead and order the ribs, pork and brisket. When asked wet or dry ribs, I was also offered the choice of half and half. I went with it, despite the fact that this was before my client meeting and I was wearing a suit. That’s true commitment to you, dear reader.

Monk: Again, digging the dedication. Longtime readers know that I don’t necessarily always try all of the meats when I review a joint, only the most well-known (tiny tummy syndrome). And then to risk a suit on top of it? Well done, Speedy. Well done.

Speedy: The food was delivered shortly and I was ready to dig in.

I’ll start with the brisket, because that was the only disappointment. It was dry and lacked flavor, so just don’t order it, k?

Monk: I guess there’s a reason why Memphis isn’t known for their brisket.

Speedy: The pork was considerably better. It came unsauced, but was cooked well and perfectly tender. There was a bit of bark in it, but I wish it came with some dip on it. I did add some vinegar sauce, which was good, though I could’ve used a bit more tang. I guess that’s the Carolina boy in me. Overall, a solid offering.

The ribs, though, my god. I’ve never had ribs so good. The ribs were big and meaty, heavily rubbed, and cooked to perfection. I got an absolutely perfect bite every time, and loved the rub. You hear people talk about sweet heat with barbecue rubs all the time, but this is the first one I’ve had that really pulled it off. The sauce was also really good and balanced with the rib perfectly. If I had to choose, I’d say I preferred the dry ribs, but it’s really personal preference. I can say without hesitation that these were the best ribs I ever had, and the only thing I finished on my massive plate of food. These are ribs that I’m going to dream about.

Monk: This might be the first time we’ve reviewed truly great pork ribs for the blog and I gotta say, they sound amazing.

Speedy: I had a little bit of a tough time rating this overall, as I had one good meat, one amazing meat, and one bad meat. It kind of reminds me of Allen & Son in Chapel Hill, which had some of the best pork I’ve ever had but bad ribs. Overall, I think it’s best to (mostly) ignore what a joint does poorly if it has a bread and butter (or rather, a rib and sauce?) to make up for it. And that’s the case here.

So the moral of the story is – if you make it to Memphis, go to Central BBQ and order the ribs. You won’t regret it.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 1.5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
Central BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Central BBQ

Jon G’s BBQ – Monroe, NC

img_7938
Name: Jon G’s BBQ (monthly pop up at Southern Range Brewing)
Date: 2/25/17
Address: 151 S Stewart St, Monroe, NC 28112
Order: Two meat platter (brisket and pulled pork) with coleslaw and jalapeno cheddar grits
Price: $17

Monk: For the past few months, Jon G’s BBQ has been hosting a monthly pop-up dubbed “BBQ Saturdays” at Southern Range BBQ in Monroe, NC (about 30 miles southeast of Charlotte on US-74). On a beautiful mild February day (what day this past February wasn’t?), I was able to convince my trooper of a wife two days past her due date to make the 35 minute trek with me to finally check it out after months of Instagram stalking.

Jon G’s BBQ is the barbecue catering operation of Garren Kirkman and his wife Kelly. Garren is a NC guy but his barbecue is heavily influenced by Central Texas. He routinely makes trips to Texas and you can tell he’s done his research in his product.

Getting right to it, the brisket without a doubt is one of the best briskets I’ve had in NC . Garren has gone to pains to recreate the Central Texas style of his brisket, down to constructing his giant offset smoker out of a 500 gallon propane tank and smoking with a mixture of pecan and oak. And it showed – the bark was thick and peppery and the beautifully smoked meat had a nice tug to it. Granted, I haven’t really made the rounds in Texas like Rudy or even Speedy have but this was a damn fine brisket.

While Garren has clearly focused on his brisket, his pork doesn’t suffer in the least. He smokes Boston butts and the coarsely pulled strands of pork were tender and flavorful. It did not require any sauce but one of the three available was an eastern NC vinegar sauce and it paired well with the pork.

I found my sides (cole slaw and jalapeno cheese grits) to be solid, but the real stars of the show were the meats.

Jon G’s BBQ is absolutely worth the trip to Monroe. The portions are quite generous (I got a second meal out of it) and the beer at Southern Range ain’t so bad either. However, be sure not to delay too much after they begin serving as they tend to sell out of meat within a couple of hours. If you make the trip (and you absolutely should), be assured that you are tasting the best barbecue in the Charlotte area.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – N/A
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Bar-B-Q King – Lincolnton, NC

img_7565
Name
: Bar-B-Q King
Date: 1/16/17
Address: 2613 E Main St, Lincolnton, NC 28092
Order: Q King sandwich with hush puppies, onion rings, and sweet tea (link to menu)
Price: $0 (my meal was graciously picked up but that did not in any way affect my review)

Monk: Bar-B-Q King in Lincolnton (not to be confused with the drive in of the same name in Charlotte) is one of those joints I’ve always been somewhat aware of but haven’t ever made a point to go to. After checking it out recently on the invitation of Jordan, a son of co-owner Keith Smith and the social media manager, I wish I had gone much sooner.

At the lunch hour on a Monday, a steady stream of locals are usually lined up several deep at the multiple register counter. “Hollerin’ orders” has apparently been the longtime system to communicate orders in the kitchen and was certainly the first time I’ve ever witnessed anything like it. In case its not evident in the name, as customers order at the register their order is literally yelled from the order taker to the kitchen staff who then acknowledge the order and begin putting it together. It’s surely a sight to see.

That alone would be worth the visit to Bar-B-Q King but thankfully the barbecue more than backs it up. They smoke their pork shoulders daily over hickory coals and hand chop the pork each morning. I would call their style pretty closely aligned to Lexington-style, though they do offer a white slaw option. The sandwich I got was fantastic – the chop was not too coarse, the pork was tender and smoky, and the red slaw accentuated it all perfectly.

The house-made hush puppies were quite good and the onion rings are their best selling side for a obvious reasons after tasting them. Had I not been checking out another joint an hour later I would have gladly finished both of them and left completely stuffed.

Last fall, Bar-B-Q King celebrated its 45th anniversary, so I can imagine that it’s quite an institution in the town of Lincolnton – and rightly so. If Jordan, who took me on a tour of the smokehouse and kitchen, is any indication there are quality people behind the joint who work hard to put out a great product six days out of the week (closed on Sundays). Lincolnton is about a half hour down highway 150 from Shelby and Barbecue Bros fave Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge. In my book Bar-B-Q King is nearly as good, which longtime readers of the blog will know is high praise. Get yourself to Bar-B-Q King in Lincolnton.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
Bar-B-Q King Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Bar-B-Q King