Monk: Eater’s Smoke Point continues to roll out the content, this time going behind the scene with Matt Horn of Oakland’s Horn Barbecue. Instead of the tri-tip one might expect in California, Horn is putting out Central Texas-style barbecue mostly cooked by feel instead of temperature. Horn BBQ finally opened last fall to a lot of hype and by all accounts is delivering. For more eater
Description: Horn Barbecue pitmaster Matt Horn fell in love with barbecue from a young age, when he learned to get a feel for how to make juicy, tender, and smoky brisket, ribs, and other meats from his grandfather’s smoker without even using a thermometer. Now, he cultivates his “West Coast-style” barbecue, inspired by a combination of Central Texas barbecue, traditions from the deep south, and Horn’s Bay Area roots, at his restaurant in Oakland.
Monk: A lot (and I mean, a lot) has changed since the last time I did a “Best of Charlotte” series in 2016. Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen and Queen City Q, both winners in several categories, are both no longer in business. Neither are Sauceman’s or Bill Spoon’s, who in 2016 placed in ribs and pork respectively.
The Smoke Pit had the best brisket at the time and since then Jon G’s, Sweet Lew’s, and Noble Smoke have all opened their doors with wood-smoked brisket that each edges out the offerings from The Smoke Pit.
Midwood Smokehouse didn’t top any one category in 2016 but still had a strong showing by being in the top three in each of the five categories: pork, brisket, ribs, sausage, and other. Thankfully, they are still around and are well represented on this list.
Now, onto our picks for the “Ultimate Charlotte Barbecue Plate.”
Pork – Noble Smoke
Jim Noble and team are carrying on the 100+ years-old legacy of Lexington-style barbecue at Noble Smoke in west Charlotte. Simply rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked directly over wood coals in their custom brick masonry pit (named “John”) whose design was borrowed with permission from family friends the Monk family of Lexington Barbecue, upon tasting the pork transports you an hour or so north up I-85.
Honorable Mention: Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Brisket – Jon G’s Barbecue
The meat that put Jon G’s on the map. Of their many spectacular smoked meats, the brisket is the one must order every time you go. Do it and you won’t be disappointed. Trust me.
Honorable Mention: Noble Smoke
Ribs – The Smoke Pit
This one was a surprise from a recent trip that Speedy and I took to the Gastonia location of the local mini-chain of restaurants in late 2020. On that visit, Speedy noted that the dry rub ribs had the perfect bite with just the right amount of spice. I couldn’t agree more and it was the standout meat of that meal.
Honorable Mention: Jon G’s
Sausage – Cheerwine Hot Link from Jon G’s
A truly unique sausage made in-house at Jon G’s, with Salisbury, NC-based Cheerwine taking the place of the water used in the sausage-making process. The end result isn’t overly sweet or “Cheerwine-y” but it does impart a slight sweetness to counteract the heat of the jalapeno.
Honorable Mention: Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Beef Rib – Midwood Smokehouse
The beef rib is a weekend special at Midwood Smokehouse and upon my last visit is available every week for a cut-rate price of $32, well below what you would pay if it were charged by the pound.
Honorable Mention: Jon G’s BBQ (not available all weekends)
Side – Hash and rice from Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Hash and rice isn’t something you find in Charlotte, much less North Carolina, as its almost strictly a South Carolina barbecue dish. Sweet Lew’s differs from what you would find at True BBQ in West Columbia or Sweatman’s in Holly Hill in that instead of the off parts of the pig it uses pork as well as brisket, but I just love that they now offer it fulltime on their menu whereas it used to be a Wednesday special only.
Honorable Mentions: Pork skins from Sweet Lew’s BBQ, Smoked Meatballs from Midwood Smokehouse, Smoked wings from Noble Smoke
John Lewis gives some insight into his process for his brand that he’s brought to the lowcountry of South Carolina. From his famous hot guts smoked in a vertical smoker to his pastrami brisket, ribeyes, and oxtails smoked in his custom offset. He then uses those meats in inventive sandwiches like their version of an Arby’s beef and cheddar or a pastrami brisket reuben as well as his smoked prime rib special and a Tex-mex inspired oxtail dish. Lewis even gets into his love of hatch green chiles and how they are incorporated into a lot of his dishes as well as how makes his own tortillas because there are not tortillerias in SC that meet his standards. Recently, Lewis announced that his Juan Luis concept is taking over the entire food hall space formerly occupied by Workshop.
Description: Pitmaster John Lewis is known not only for his mouthwatering South Carolina brisket, sausages, and ribs, but also for his dedication to “perfecting” the art of barbecue by customizing his own smokers. He’s also known for getting creative with brining, rubbing, and smoking techniques.
Name: Pinehurst Brewing Company & Smokehouse Address: 300 Magnolia Road, Pinehurst, NC 28374 Order: Smokehouse sampler with hush puppies, mac and cheese, and collards (link to menu) Pricing: $$
In 2019 as part of Pinehurst’s efforts to maintain and improve upon their courses and resort offerings, Pinehurst Brewing Company opened in the brick building that housed the town’s former steam plant that had powered the resort since 1895. On the beer side, they recruited the head brewer Eric Mitchell from the well-regarded Heist Brewing in Charlotte. As for food, smoked meats plays a huge part in the menu and head smoker Chris Dowd also originally came from the Queen City (though he moved to Laurinburg in 1989). He quit his office job about 20 years ago for barbecue and eventually made his way to Pinehurst Brewing when they opened in 2019.
Inside the historic brick building, they have certainly played up the heritage of the old plant. Weathered photos cover the walls, In the sunroom where we were seated, all tables were made from a single tree that was on the property including the two large high top tables that each can seat 10-12. Underneath the naturally-edged table, the legs are comprised of old pipes, valves, tanks, dials and fittings.
The menu states that the meats from the smokehouse are smoked on “high quality local oak and hickory woods” and while I wasn’t able to lay eyes on the smoker itself, this interview with Dowd claims they are using a stick burner.
As is standard, I went with the sampler to try a bit of everything on the menu. The chopped pork was a large large portion that had some rub sprinkled on top but unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of smoke and found it to be just average. There are four sauces to choose from including an eastern NC vinegar sauce, which gave the barbecue the tang I was looking for.
Brisket came in just one thin slide and had good bark and flavor. The sausage was a bit overdone; charred on the outside, but paired well with the IPA beer mustard sauce. The smoked chicken was well smoked and they managed to make the skin crispy, not rubbery
The sides were strong at Pinehurst Brewing. The sampler comes with two sides and we added another; we went with mac and cheese, collards, and hush puppies. All were well executed and Mrs. Monk gave the collards praise, which isn’t always a given considering how seriously she takes her collards.
Pinehurst Brewing Company will be part of the recently announced Pinehurst Barbecue Festival in September, and they have a good thing going in less than two years up and running. On a warmer day, they have a great beer garden and outdoor bar which would be a nice way to enjoy a beer after a round of golf or after a meal.