Name: Smiley’s Lexington BBQ Date: 10/1/20 Address: 917 Winston Rd, Lexington, NC 27295 Order: Chopped barbecue sandwich with hush puppies and a Cheerwine (link to menu) Pricing: $
Monk: Smiley’s Lexington BBQ was an early stop on our barbecue journey, about 5 months into the blog and back when our photos were extremely filtered photos from Instagram. However, both Speedy and I really liked the barbecue and ranked Smiley’s as 4 hogs at the time. As I have been working my way through the Lexington barbecue restaurants for my own rankings, it was almost certainly worth a revisit 8 years later.
Then, word came a little over a year ago that Highway 8 which Smiley’s and Speedy’s both sit on was slated to be widened by the NC DOT and they both would be among the casualties lost (John Tanner certainly had some thoughts). The initial timing I had heard was summer 2020 but with the pandemic throwing a wrinkle in many things, it seems as if Smiley’s has received a temporary stay of execution. I hope it ends up being more permanent but regardless I wanted to make one more stop while I still could.
And I’m so glad I did, because Smiley’s provided an excellent late morning breakfast in my chopped sandwich, hush puppies, and a Cheerwine. The chopped barbecue was fresh, smoky, and topped with a tangy, crunchy red slaw. Just perfectly executed Lexington-style barbecue, with my only complaint was that the sandwich fell apart a bit easily and made for a quick and messy eating experience.
The basket of hush puppies was piping hot and my only regret was that I only had a couple of them and left more than half to waste. I wish that I could have somehow gifted these to someone without making it weird.
As I paid my bill, I asked the waitress if there was any update on the highway widening and she nodded her head side to side, saying that they hadn’t heard anything recently. “We’re just living day to day.”
Make it a point to get to Smiley’s Lexington BBQ while you can.
Monk: On the first day of their soft opening dates, I made what is sure to be the first of many trips east to Peachland out to Jon G’s Barbecue. Assuming there was going to be a line for a 4pm start, I arrived at about 3:25 and found that indeed there was one. Once in line I confirmed that I was 12th in line (behind Adam and his wife of Apple City BBQ nonetheless!). I cracked open a beer with my (actual) brother Andy and friend of the blog Chris and happily began our wait in line.
For this first day at least, Jon G’s was just letting one group in at a time to order at the counter so the line moved a little slower than it ultimately will once things are normal (whenever that may be). No matter though if you’ve got a cooler full of beer, which I can’t recommend enough.
Once through the line, we headed out to the picnic tables with our food. On this warm day, some intrepid patrons ahead of us in line set up a tailgate tent over one of the tables and I was immediately jealous. The heat was not unbearable despite it being late June, and between the intermittent breeze and the cold beer we managed. Of course, the barbecue helped.
If you’ve been paying attention, you already know howIfeelabout Jon G’s Barbecue, so I won’t dwell too much on the food. But as expected, the Texas Trinity of brisket, ribs, and sausage each hit the mark. The mix of lean and moist brisket was buttery soft with a great pepper crust, the ribs are rapidly becoming my second favorite meat there, and the sausages (their signature Cheerwine hot link and a jalapeno cheddar) each had a nice kick with a great snap.
Kelly and Garren will be understandably focusing on the restaurant for the foreseeable future at the expense of the food truck so if you want to try the best barbecue in Charlotte, you’re just going to have to make the trip to Peachland to try Jon G’s Barbecue. I would recommend getting there early if you can, as the line had grown to upwards of 60-70 as I left. Regardless, make the trip, bring a cooler, and I promise you won’t be mad that you did.
Name: Bar-B-Q King Date: 12/27/19 Address: 2613 E Main St, Lincolnton, NC 28092 Order: Chopped barbecue tray with hush puppies, slaw, and Cheerwine (link to menu) Pricing: $
Monk: Sometimes there are places you wish you could get to more often but just can’t, whether its due to location or circumstance or something else. Bar-B-Q King in Lincolnton, NC (not to be confused with the Bar-B-Q King drive-in in Charlotte) is definitely one of those places for me. My first (and up until recently only) visit was nearly three years ago even though I thoroughly enjoyed that meal. But typically when heading west towards Asheville of the western part of the state, I drive out Highway 74 through Shelby (and Red Bridges) instead of cutting up Highway 321 from Gastonia to catch I-40, which is a route that would put me right by Lincolnton. This is where BBQ King has been doing their excellent version of Lexington-style barbecue for 48-plus years.
I recently stopped by after hiking at nearby South Mountain State Park for a late lunch and was pleased to find that the barbecue tray I got was full of freshly chopped and moist barbecue. A revelation at 3pm where at many other places I might get a tray of dried out barbecue that was chopped hours ago and sitting in a stream tray. Not the case at Bar-B-Q King.
The hush puppies were freshly fried and the onion rings were some of the best I’ve had in a while. In terms of sides, this year might be the year of the onion rings at barbecue joints (but also at non-barbecue restaurants).
I caught up briefly with Jordan Smith, second generation pitmaster and social media manager for BBQ King (among other things), afterwards and he said that the month of December is very busy for them between the caterings for holiday parties or factory shifts in and around Lincolnton and families looking to get out of the house after Christmas. That was certainly the case on this Friday, and I’m glad the locals continue to support BBQ King.
Though I had already written up my favorite barbecue meals of the year (which posted earlier in January), I definitely had to do some reshuffling to get Bar-B-Q King represented on the list as it was simply that good. Next time I’m heading to the mountains, I will be sure to take 321 so I can make another stop.
Name: Pecan Lodge Date: 7/21/18 Address: 2702 Main St, Dallas, TX 75226 Order: The Trough (1 beef rib, 1lb of pork ribs, 1lb brisket, 1/2 lb of pulled pork & 3 sausage links), ½ pound burnt ends, fried okra, collard greens (link to menu) Price: $120-ish (for 3)
Speedy: On a recent work trip to Dallas, I experienced Divine Intervention. In town for only two days with full calendars both days, I was resigned to having to miss Pecan Lodge once again, and based on Rudy’s review, it’s a joint not to miss. I must have done something right over the past week, because a cancelled meeting left me a block of time between 10 and 2, enough time to head to Deep Ellum to try the ‘cue. I brought two co-workers in tow, which turned out to be a great decision.
Monk: The barbecue gods certainly work in mysterious ways…
Speedy: We arrived right at 11, which is right when Pecan Lodge opens. The line was already out the door, which is when coming with friends comes in handy. We went straight to the bulk order counter (minimum 5 pounds), which had no line (hence the great decision to bring back-ups), and we were on our way.
Our number was called after a short wait, and it was time to dig in. Obviously, we had more food than the three of us could eat, and everything looked and smelled incredible. I have a hard time knowing where to begin with this meal, so let’s just jump right in.
The brisket was heavenly. Rich, flavorful, moist, peppery, and perfectly cooked. It is easily in the top 4 briskets I’ve ever had, joining La Barbecue, Franklin, and Killen’s, and frankly, nothing else even comes close. The brisket seemed to melt in your mouth.
Personally, my other top meat was the beef rib. It was incredibly tender, had an amazing bark, and pulled, but didn’t fall, right off the bone. Honestly, I’d take these two cuts of beef over even the finest steaks. Beef like this just doesn’t come around often.
The other beef dish we had was the burnt ends, which was a special of the day. My two co-workers rated this as their favorite meat, and I agree it was very good, but I thought it could have been slightly more tender and could have used a little heat on the sauce. This is nit-picking to the extreme, but it was a tier below the brisket and beef rib for me.
The pork was also a pleasant surprise. I have had very hit or miss experiences with pork in Texas, but you could have told me the Pecan Lodge pork was from Tennessee or North Carolina and I would have believed you and demanded to know where from. It was tender and had nice bark, and overall was really great.
Speedy: On Rudy’s trip to Pecan Lodge, he raved about the ribs. This was my least favorite meat by a wide margin. The ribs were still good, but I felt like they could have been a little meatier and the outside got a little charred to me. I’m not sure if it was just a sub-standard batch, but the ribs were forgettable, especially when compared to the rest of the meal.
Rudy: Maybe you got a bad batch or I got an overly great batch. You may have also had the benefit of having several different meat to compare it to, and I only had the brisket. I’m sorry that I missed out on the beef rib.
Speedy: Generally, I don’t pay too much attention to the sides when I have five pounds of barbecue in front of me, but it was a different story here. The fried okra was really, really good. Perfectly seasoned and fried. The collards were also amazing and very unique. While I’m used to having bacon bits or pieces or pulled pork (or at least chicken stock) in the collards, these were very sweet – my guess is brown sugar. The collards are not to be missed.
The next paragraph is going to be a little hard to write. As a North Carolinian, I will go to my grave saying that Lexington barbecue is the best single food item that one can eat and that it was bestowed upon man by God himself. All that said, the top four all around barbecue meals of my life all happened in Texas, and this was in that group. It’s just that good. If you get a chance to visit Pecan Lodge – just do it.
Monk: Who in the? What in the? How in the?
Rudy: I have always said that the ceiling on Texas barbecue is higher but so is the floor. When it is done well, it is great, but it can also be done poorly. North Carolina barbecue is more consistent. I agree that Pecan Lodge is a must visit and if you have to order from the bulk window to avoid the lines, you will never be disappointed.