The Five Best Barbecue Joints in Charlotte – September 2019

Monk: It’s been over two-and-a-half years since we’ve updated the Charlotte Big Board and as you might expect, there’s been a lot of changes in that time. Longtime readers may recall that finding the best barbecue restaurant in Charlotte was the mission statement when we first started this blog, so we certainly take this seriously. Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen (our previous #2) has rebranded as Gibson’s Family BBQ and is a shadow of its former self and fell way out of the top 5. Midwood Smokeshack (previously our #4) closed back in December of 2017 after unfortunately failing to find its footing in Matthews though thankfully pitmaster Michael Wagner is still lending his Texas expertise to the broader Midwood Smokehouse franchise. One thing that has not changed is that Jon G’s BBQ continues to hold down the top spot and always knocks it out of the park every time I am able to try them.

Starting last December, I believe we have entered a new phase in Charlotte barbecue that signals an upswing. That’s when Sweet Lew’s BBQ opened and hit the ground running out of their converted service station in the Belmont neighborhood just outside of uptown. And then of course, Noble Smoke finally opened a little over two months ago off of Freedom Drive and raised the bar even higher with their destination barbecue joint that is the cornerstone of the “Noble Smoke Campus” that will include Bossy Beulah’s Chicken Shack (also from Chef Noble) and the Suffolk Punch Blendery, their second location that will focus on Belgian lambics.

If Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque continues to pursue a Charlotte location (fingers crossed), that would certainly elevate the scene to a whole new level with his traditional whole hog barbecue (something currently missing from Charlotte), brisket, and hash. And who knows, perhaps a restaurant from a currently unknown contender is in the works and can come out of nowhere to challenge for the (queen’s) crown.

There’s no reason why Charlotte can’t mirror the barbecue scenes of Charleston or even Houston, each for different reasons. Charleston got an infusion of outside talent in the past few years in Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Lewis Barbecue, and Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in addition to the expansion of homegrown local chains in Swig & Swine and Home Team BBQ. As Charleston-based food writer/historian Robert Moss has recently noted, the Charleston barbecue scene in the past five years has gone from “minor outpost to acclaimed destination.” Seems like Charlotte is always playing second (or even third fiddle) when it comes to the Charleston food scene and in this case, its no different for barbecue. While that may be too much for fine dining, there’s no reason why Charlotte can’t match or better Charleston in barbecue.

From afar, the Houston barbecue scene is a little more homegrown but has proven that a barbecue scene can sizzle even in an urban setting (the Houston metro area is nearly 3 times larger than Charlotte). But even in that spread-out urban setting, the barbecue community seems tight knight and the competition appears to be mostly friendly (again, this is from afar as I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Houston yet). When I spoke with Matthew Berry and Michael Wagner from Midwood Smokehouse earlier this year, they cited the lack of community in Charlotte’s barbecue scene as an area for opportunity. Perhaps until that improves, Charlotte can’t become a true destination for barbecue.

For #6-43, check out the Charlotte Big Board here.

And now, on to the only Charlotte barbecue list that matters…

Honorable Mentions: The Smoke Pit, Buddy’s Bar-B-Que

5. Bill Spoon’s Barbecue (review)

The one truly old school NC barbecue joint on this list, Bill Spoon’s has been around since 1963 on what was then a country road south of Charlotte. Charlotte has a bad habit of losing what few institutions it has, whether due to neglect or development, but let’s hope that Bill Spoon’s doesn’t fall victim to that trend because they are still making some fine eastern NC barbecue.

4. Midwood Smokehouse (review)

While somehow our last official review was in 2015 (I plan to remedy this in the coming months), Midwood Smokehouse is still a regular stop for the Monk family and seemingly most of Charlotte, as it has expanded to 4 locations in the greater Charlotte area (as well as one down in Columbia, SC). Not to mention that it’s the go-to spot for any celebrities or figures of note that come into town; President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Murray, Justin Timberlake have all been patrons of Midwood in recent years. Regardless, I will continue to give credit to Frank Scibelli for bringing wood-smoked barbecue back to Charlotte in 2012, saving us from the gassers and faux ‘cue that had plagued the city for decades.

3. Sweet Lew’s BBQ (review)

Sweet Lew’s BBQ was recently named to Thrillist’s 33 Top Barbecue Restaurants in the US and Garden & Gun’s Best New Southern Barbecue Joints, and it couldn’t be more deserved for Lewis Donald (the “Lew” in “Sweet Lew’s”) and partner Laura Grice. The menu has been described as “unfussy” and that’s precisely the right adjective for this barbecue shack located in an old service station in the working-class neighborhood of Belmont.

But in addition to the worthy smoked meats and homemade sides (including the only hash and rice I’m aware of in the Piedmont of NC), I’d like to give props to their work in the neighborhood where Donald donates his time and food for block parties and even recently partnered with a local barber shop to give kids free back-to-school haircuts. Now that’s the type of barbecue joint that should be in every neighborhood.

2. Noble Smoke (review)

You may be a bit sick of reading about Noble Smoke on this blog lately, but it has truly given Charlotte a destination barbecue restaurant and raised the bar for the city’s barbecue. Let’s hope others follow suit. Read more from our review here.

1. Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

Jon G’s Barbecue has topped our Charlotte Big Board for 2+ years now, and doesn’t appear to be to be losing the crown anytime soon now that Garren Kirkman (the firekeeper behind Jon G’s) is no longer working full time and is fully in the barbecue game. For that, the greater Charlotte area should be thankful even though it’d be hard to imagine his Central Texas-style brisket getting too much better (in addition to his other meats and scratch made sides). I predict more big things to come from him and his wife Kelly. For any serious Charlotte barbecue fan: SEEK OUT JON G’S BARBECUE.

Linkdown: 3/13/19

Early last Wednesday, a fire destroyed the Atlanta store of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque. Here’s how you can help:

Troutman’s B-B-Q in Denton recently celebrated being open for 50 years and owner Jimmy Troutman hopes to pass it down to his two daughters and one granddaughter who all work at the restaurant now

Fowler’s Southern Gourmet, a food truck in Fayetteville has gone brick and mortar

Chef Tim Grandinetti, a Greensboro chef who appeared on Chopped: BBQ Grill Masters is opening a barbecue restaurant in the town of Advance, Dr. Brownstone’s BBQ, Take Out & Catering

Bill Spoon’s Barbecue is one of WSOC’s best comfort food restaurants in Charlotte

The Texas Monthly guide to SXSW, including of course barbecue

Congrats to Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge on winning the 10 Best voter’s contest for North Carolina

Linkdown: 5/9/18

– So this happened Monday night:

Rodney Scott is the first African-American to win Best Chef: Southeast and second pitmaster to win a JBFA

– Chris Prieto of PRIME Barbecue broke ground in Knightdale Monday for his new barbecue restaurant

– Sure thing, guys:

– This Charlotte Five guide to Best Charlotte diner’s, drive-in’s, and dives includes the  Bar-B-Q King drive-in

– Bar-B-Q King (opened in 1959), Art’s BBQ (1976), and Bill Spoon’s Barbecue (1963) are all on this list of iconic Charlotte restaurants open for over 20 years

– The Smoking Ho has some cool photos from last week’s Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival in Tyler

– Midwood Smokehouse has several lunch options under $10

– For potential Mother’s Day gift needs:

Monk’s 10 Favorite Barbecue Meals of 2017

Trying something new: a year-end list for my favorite barbecue meals of the year. I used to do this for music, film, and tv but in recent years that has fallen off. Perhaps this will stoke the coals of my list-making motivation in other areas, but at the very least its worth documenting the hobby which has taken up so much of my (and my poor wife’s) free time for the past 5.5 years. Come to think of it, the timeline of this blog lines up almost perfectly with my drop off in listmaking…

In any case, hope you enjoy. This will conclude our reviews and original content for 2017, but we will be back in 2018.

Monk

10. Swig & Swine – 4 hogs (review)

The Summerville location of Swig & Swine included a whole hog smoker (whereas their West Ashley location does not have enough space for one), following the popular trend of the past few years. The whole hog was quite good but their brisket and hash and rice wasn’t too bad either, 1990 Old Trolley Rd, Summerville, SC 29485 swigandswinebbq.com

9. Hill’s Lexington Barbecue – 4 hogs (review)

Hill’s claims to be the original “Lexington Barbecue” in name (but definitely not first to serve in that style). They may be a notch below the better places in Lexington, but they are certainly not doing the style any disservice. 4005 Patterson Ave, Winston-Salem, NC 27105 

8. Barbee’s Barbecue – 4 hogs (review)

This was truly a surprise for me. I kinda-sorta knew of this place and had passed by it many times , but I had no idea it would be (as I referred to it in my review) “the platonic ideal of the NC roadside barbecue shack”. A must visit, if only to step back in time a bit. Glenn Falls St, Peachland, NC 28133

7. Bill Spoon’s Barbecue – 4 hogs (review)

In 2017, I am happy to say that I rediscovered Bill Spoon’s after a few years away. It’s about as close as we have to a barbecue institution in Charlotte (54 years and counting), and though they are an eastern NC joint and I’m a Lexington-style fanboy, I simply believe that I need to go more often. 5524 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28217 spoonsbarbecue.com

6. Rodney Scott’s BBQ – 4 hogs (review)

While my expectations of the brand new Rodney Scott’s BBQ were sky high, I must say that the whole hog didn’t quite match the perfection of Scott’s BBQ back in Hemingway. Nevertheless, taking it for what it’s worth, we should all be glad that Rodney Scott has made his pork accessible without having to drive in the middle of the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. 1011 King St, Charleston, SC 29403 rodneyscottsbbq.com

5. Bar-B-Q King – 4.5 hogs (review)

Bar-B-Q King is another NC barbecue institution, though I only discovered it in early 2017. They do seem to be a little underrated on the NC barbecue scene despite smoking over wood for the past 46 years. Hopefully this will change. 2613 E Main St, Lincolnton, NC 28092 barbqkingnc.com

4. B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque – 4.5 hogs (review)

B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque was just named best restaurant in Atlanta by Eater (note no “barbecue” modifier), and for good reason. Bryan Furman is another one of the torch bearers of whole hog barbecue, but don’t sleep on his brisket or hash and rice. 2061 Main St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 bscracklinbbq.com

3. Jon G’s BBQ – 4.5 hogs (review)

It appears that Jon G’s has taken a well-deserved break due to the birth of Garren and his wife Kelly’s first child, but I can’t wait until they are back out there slinging some legit Texas-style brisket out of their recently-purchased food truck. Marshville, NC facebook.com/JonGsBBQ

2. Lewis Barbecue – 4.5 hogs (review)

Unlike Rudy and Speedy, I hadn’t really had a taste of true Central Texas barbecue since I sadly haven’t made it out there since the start of the blog. That recently changed earlier this year because John Lewis (formerly of La Barbecue) brought central Texas to Charleston and I tasted is sublime brisket. All hail the king, apparently. 464 N Nassau St, Charleston, SC 29403 lewisbarbecue.com

1. Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge – 5 hogs (review)

In a year where I did not have a meal at Lexington Barbecue (my ride or die) Red Bridges is going to easily take the #1 spot on this list. Sadly, it had been nearly 4 years since my last visit but rest assured, it won’t be that long before my next. After 70+ years, they’ve still got it. 2000 E Dixon Blvd, Shelby, NC 28152 bridgesbbq.com

Honorable Mentions: The Smoke Pit – Salisbury, NC (review), DAS BBQ – Atlanta, GA (review)