Legitimate Eastern North Carolina Barbecue in Portland? Maine?

Name: Wilson County Barbecue
Date: 6/3/23
Address: 82 Hanover St Suite 8, Portland, ME 04101
Order: Two barbecue plates, one full rack of ribs plate, order of wings, pork belly burnt ends with collards, beans, mac and cheese, slaw, hush puppies, order of biscuits, fries (link)
Pricing: $$

Rudy: It’s been a while since all three Barbecue Bros had been together and been able to do a review together. But more importantly, it had been so long since I have had decent barbecue. Since moving to western Michigan, the opportunities are limited to say the least. So of course the place that we needed to go to try true authentic North Carolina barbecue was…Maine?

Monk: Despite its Maine locale, Wilson County Barbecue does have some barbecue bonafides. It’s been loved by both John Shelton Reed and friend of the blog John Tanner and has been certified as a True Cue joint meaning it smokes over wood with no gas or electric assistance, as evidenced by the sticker in the front door. Owner/operator Spencer Brantley’s family originally hails from Wilson County, NC (hence the name) and they’ve even got a “Grady’s passed-down sauce” dressing their whole hog barbecue (from the legendary Grady’s Barbecue joint in Dudley). 

And did I mention that they smoke whole hogs over direct heat in a pig cooker from BQ Grills from Elm City, NC? Throw in the “Hot Biscuits Now” fluorescent sign apparently created by the same guy who does the Krispy Kreme “Hot N Now” signs for good measure, and these North Carolina boys definitely had to check this place out during our most recent annual trip for sure.

Speedy: At Wilson County Barbecue, you order at the counter and are given a number which is called when the food is ready. Our large group was fairly unorganized, so approached the counter without knowing our order – apparently a big no-no. We were asked to go sit at a table and figure out our order and come back despite being the only customers who had yet to order. The staff was polite, but it felt a little like a Seinfeld episode (no whole hog for you!). Anyway, after organizing ourselves, we put in an order to include whole hog, ribs, pork belly burnt ends, and sides, along with some wings. We walked to the counter to grab our food and were ready to dig in. 

Rudy: The whole hog was the best option of all the foods we had, in my opinion. Again, because it had been some time since I had enjoyed good pulled pork, I had to confirm with others that I wasn’t hyping it up more than it deserved. The thing that I loved about it was that it was true eastern North Carolina whole hog. It had the vinegar sauce mixed in, which gave it a great tangy flavor that didn’t overwhelm the meat, and allowed the smoke flavor to come through. After everyone took a sampling, I made sure I finished off the leftovers.

Monk: As Rudy and Speedy are well aware, the camera eats first and while I was taking snaps of the food I thought to myself just how unphotogenic pork can be. Luckily, looks don’t really matter all that much when the whole hog is as authentically eastern NC as it is here.

Speedy: Agree with everything said above. The whole hog was the star of the show. The ribs had good flavor but were a bit over cooked, as the meat slid totally off the bone and was a little mushy for me. Several in our party (aka those WITHOUT barbecue blogs) love the “fall off the bone ribs” so everyone’s mileage may vary. Still, seasoning and sauce was on point, so props to Wilson County on the flavor.

Rudy: I liked the flavor of the ribs and agreed with the overcooked part, but my other complaint was the amount of sauce on them. I think it is a personal preference, so I wouldn’t dock them too many points, but sometimes I feel like the sauce is overcompensating a bit for the cook. The part of the meal that I liked the most (other than the pork) was the pork belly burnt ends. Great flavor and very tender, the fat was rendered perfectly. There weren’t many to go around to our big group, so the one that I got, I really enjoyed.

Speedy: The pork belly burnt ends were very good. Saucy, tender, and with just the right amount of bark. Besides the whole hog, this was probably my favorite part of the meal.

Monk: Carbs-wise, the hush puppies and biscuits were a highlight, both fresh and on point from a texture perspective. I found the beans, mac and cheese, and slaw to be standard and the collards in need of a little more vinegar. Nothing egregious, but the bread options were my favorite part of the meal. 

Rudy: I know that several people in our group didn’t care for the sides and thought they were bland, but the bite of greens that I had were good. Maybe they weren’t consistent for people that had more than the one bite that I had, but I didn’t mind it. If a barbecue restaurant is going to be lacking in anything, I am ok with them lacking on sides as opposed to meat.

Before we left, Monk introduced himself to the manager. It was more of a “nice to meet you” instead of a “do you know who I am?” but either way, he offered to let our group try a couple of the desserts for free.  Even though we were given them for free, I will not let that impact my review. I cannot be bribed with free food (although I welcome any restaurant to try)! We had both the key lime pie and the banana pudding. The key lime pie was really good and had a great graham cracker crust. I was looking forward to the banana pudding most and was slightly disappointed. The flavor was great but the pudding had not fully set and was soupy.  I think it could have been as good as the key lime pie, if not better, but the pudding was too runny for me.

Monk: Shout out to Dickie for the desserts and to reiterate, while they were good and we appreciated the gesture they did not affect our review or ratings. 

It’s always a big occasion when all three Barbecue Bros founding members are in the same place for a barbecue review. Thankfully, in Portland, Maine of all places, Wilson County Barbecue’s whole hog lived up to the hype. That barbecue would comfortably sit in the upper tiers of any eastern NC whole hog rankings and I’m glad we were able to visit shortly after the 11th anniversary of this blog.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Pork (whole hog) – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork Belly Burnt Ends – 4 hogs
Wings – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Q39 – Kansas City, MO

Name: Q39
Date: 6/8/21
Address: 1000 W 39th St, Kansas City, MO
Order: Beef brisket plate (with burnt ends), add pulled pork, side of white bean cassoulet (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: I recently embarked on a cross-country roadtrip with my brother (same parents variety, not blog-about-barbecue-with variety), which took us through Kansas City. Of course we had to find a place for ‘cue in the burnt ends capital. After a bit of research, we settled on Q39, a more up-ish-scale restaurant that is (relatively) new on the scene, opening in 2014.

We walked in on a Tuesday night, and the place was packed, but after a short wait, we were seated. Q39 has tables and a wait staff, and a large bar area, as well as outside seating. It’s decorated in a rustic fashion, and overall, was a nice atmosphere.

My order was easy – the beef brisket plate (which comes with burnt ends and slices), but I did add on some pulled pork and the Bro went with the housemade chipotle sausage plate, as well as the onion straw appetizer.

While service was good overall, the wait was a bit longer than normal for a barbecue joint (perhaps due to the crowd), but still, our food was out shortly.

Let’s not bury the lede. In Kansas City, burnt ends are king, and Q39’s burnt ends were the star of the show. Tender but not too fatty, with a nice sauce that had a hint of sweetness, every bite was flavorful and a real treat. At Q39, there is a burnt ends appetizer (which they were not serving that night), but otherwise, you cannot order the burnt ends alone – only with the brisket plate. This is too bad because the slices on the brisket place were not too exciting. They were served with sauce already applied, which was necessary on the lean brisket that was on the dry side. It still had decent flavor, but paled in comparison to the burnt ends.

Monk: Interesting that you can’t get the burnt ends without ordering the brisket. I wonder if this is the norm in Kansas City, or a case where Q39 is looking to save costs.

Speedy: Hard to know, Monk. I assume they’re cooking full briskets, so trying to sell at the same rate. I think this also explains why your brisket just comes lean – the point has already been used. The pork was also served sauced, which I felt was a mistake. The “zesty” sauce does have a vinegar base, but is also loaded with sugar, favoring sweetness over tang. The pork was cooked well and had decent flavor, but the sauce took away from the flavor for me.

Monk: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a KC barbecue joint uses a sugary sauce on their pork.

Speedy: The Bro’s sausage was my second favorite part of the meal. The homemade sausage had good flavor, nice snappy casing, and was not greasy at all. Overall a good effort. 

The white bean cassoulet is a side I’ve never seen our heard of, but from a taste standpoint, it was basically Brunswick stew. It was very hot out – so not stew weather – but I would order it again. The Bro loved his baked beans (I didn’t try any), and the onion straws (with barbecue remoulade) were really good, and worth ordering.

Overall, I would recommend a visit to Q39 to anyone in Kansas City, especially if you focus your attention on the burnt ends. 

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Burnt Ends – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Whispering Pines BBQ – Albemarle, NC

Name: Whispering Pines BBQ
Address: 1421 US-52, Albemarle, NC 28001
Order: Chopped pork tray with red slaw, hush puppies, Cheerwine (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: After lunch at Log Cabin BBQ and a short hike with the Monkettes at Morrow Mountain State Park, the plan was to hit up Whispering Pines on the way out of town back to Charlotte and maybe get the girls some dessert or ice cream. That is, until we pulled into the parking lot and I sadly realized it was drive through or curbside service only.

Nevertheless, once I realized the situation I got in one of two drive through lines and snapped a photo of the woodpile while waiting in line. That’s right, because while Log Cabin BBQ utilizes a gas assist wood smoker, Whispering Pines is all wood and deserved of their place on True Cue’s list of wood-smoked NC barbecue joints. Read a little more about the family behind both joints in my Log Cabin review linked above.

I ordered my tray, paid for it in cash (no cards accepted here), and headed to a Dairy Queen 20 minutes down the road in the town of Locust, NC. There, I ordered the Monkettes a Blizzard and cone and had some bites in the front seat of my car.

While the pork had less bark than what Log Cabin served, there was definitely a more pronounced wood smoke flavor. I wished I had eaten here first, and that I had been able to eat it inside the restaurant. I feasted off the leftover pork for a few more meals at home over the next few days, putting it on Martin’s potato rolls which made for a fantastic sandwich.

The slaw was a little too coarsely chopped for me, and maybe even a little on the sweet side. The hush puppies were standard.

Overall, a good experience (albeit takeout) from Whispering Pines BBQ. I will definitely try to make it back once they reopen inside dining.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – N/A
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Roddey’s BBQ – Rock Hill, SC

Name: Roddey’s BBQ
Address: 250 S. Cherry St, Rock Hill, SC 29732
Order: Brisket and barbecue sandwich combo (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Roddey’s BBQ is the barbecue venture of Seth Roddey and his dad Ken in Rock Hill, South Carolina just south of the border from Charlotte. While Ken has been smoking barbecue for 25 years, the duo began catering in 2014. However, it wasn’t until about a year ago that Seth bought a food truck and started regular service in Rock Hill. Not the most fortunate timing during the pandemic and whatnot, but they have stuck it out.

Roddey’s BBQ smokes their pork, brisket, and ribs on an Ole Hickory pit at a commercial kitchen at their house using hickory splits. They then set up at a vacant lot for service every week off S. Cherry Street across from District Three Stadium, the home stadium to local football powerhouse Northwestern High.

The USDA prime brisket was well smoked and had good flavor, but was not overly peppery in the style of a central Texas brisket. Orders came with a mix of both fatty and lean, and I preferred the fattier cut though the lean made a nice foldover.

The pulled pork sandwich had good bark mixed in but was not overly smoky. Both combos came with a peppery mayo-based coleslaw and when the sandwich was topped with the slaw and the Roddey’s vinegar-based sauce, it made for a darn fine bite.

I like that Roddey’s is a family affair, and the barbecue is certainly worth keeping an eye on and seeking out. You can find Roddey’s BBQ Wednesdays through Fridays at 250 S. Cherry St in Rock Hill.

Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs