Why the Carolina BBQ Festival Could be a Game Changer for #CLTBBQ

This May at Camp North End in Charlotte, Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ will be having a celebration of pork barbecue (or, just “barbecue” for those of us from NC) and we’re all invited. In addition to a fun looking event, this year’s inaugural Carolina BBQ Festival also has a chance to help put Charlotte on the barbecue map. It will be the first barbecue festival in Charlotte for quite a few years, it will bring together some of the best pitmasters in the southeast, and it will also spotlight the still growing Charlotte barbecue scene.

It’s been almost 8 years since Charlotte hosted a true barbecue festival. Part barbecue-competition, part street festival, the Q City Championship ran for a few years in uptown Charlotte during the fall and was initially sanctioned by the Memphis Barbecue Network before switching over to the short-lived NC BBQ Association for its last iteration in 2014. It closed off the streets of uptown Charlotte for competition teams to waft smoke all over uptown but since you couldn’t taste the teams’ barbecue it didn’t feel dissimilar to the annual Taste of Charlotte or Speed Street festivals.

Looking down South Tryon Street during the Q City Championship in 2014

The Carolina BBQ Festival, on the other hand, looks to be a whole different animal. First off, its focus is strictly on pork instead of the multiple proteins needed for a competition turn-in box. Patrons will be able to enjoy beer, wine, and cocktails with a background of funk, soul, and bluegrass but the focus of the festival will be celebrating the different styles of barbecue throughout the Carolinas – East, South, and West (or Piedmont or Lexington-style).

Not to mention the proceeds from the festival will go to three charities: the Piedmont Culinary Guild, Operation BBQ Relief, and World Central Kitchen.

Charlotte has hosted some great pitmasters over the years in infrequent, one-off events – Sam Jones at Midwood Smokehouse and the Free Range Pig Pickin’ and Ed Mitchell at Midwood Smokehouse come to mind – but the Carolina BBQ Festival is bringing together 6 acclaimed pitmasters with roots in North and South Carolina.

Charlotte-raised Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue and Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ will represent the Palmetto state, smoking a whole hog and dressing it with a mustard-based sauce. Bryan Furman is looking for his next opportunity in Atlanta after the unfortunate burning down of his second restaurant some years ago but has been recently doing pop-ups in the Atlanta area. Tay Nelson has found success in Fountain Inn, SC (just outside of Greenville) after he famously opened up Bobby’s BBQ after doing extensive research on YouTube.

Nathan Monk, third generation owner of Lexington Barbecue, and Elliot Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville will represent the West, cooking Piedmont or Lexington-style shoulders. Loyal readers know this blog’s thoughts on Lexington Barbecue, and it will be fascinating to see Moss’ influence on Lexington-style barbecue where his focus has primarily been Pee Dee-style whole hog and brisket at his restaurant in Asheville.

Matthew Register of the fantastic Southern Smoke and Brandon Shepard of Shepard Barbecue in Emerald Isle will handle the eastern NC vinegar-pepper duties. I was a big fan of Southern Smoke when I visited in Summer 2020 and hope to be able to catch up with Matthew again while he’s in town. I haven’t yet had the chance to try Shepard Barbecue but between this and the Pinehurst Barbecue Festival, he’s got a busy summer coming up.

And Ronald Simmons of Master Blend Family Farms in Kenansville, NC will be providing all hogs and pork for the festival. He himself has been getting into barbecue after being a recipient of the Kingsford “Preserve the Pit” Fellowship in 2021.

Charlotte may not have experienced the same barbecue boom that Raleigh did (even if the ended up being to a lesser degree than expected due to the pandemic), but in Sweet Lew’s BBQ and Jon G’s Barbecue we have two places to be proud of when it comes to #cltbbq. Lewis and Garren and Kelly Kirkman won’t be cooking for the main festival; instead they are cooking for a VIP brunch the morning of the festival. While they’ve each gotten great media coverage up to this point, this event will surely open them up to new and different circles of influence in the southeastern food and barbecue scene.

Then there’s the fact of Charlotte hosting such an event in the first place. While anyone who pays attention to barbecue may not bat an eye at such a celebration of barbecue, it reminds me of something more along the lines of an event at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival or any number of similar events in Texas like the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. These type of events don’t seem to happen in Charlotte. Not to get ahead of myself, but let’s hope this festival becomes a mainstay of the Charlotte food scene for years to come.

The inaugural Carolina BBQ Festival has a chance to put Charlotte barbecue on the map through its first-of-its-kind festival for Charlotte, its collection of talented pitmasters from the southeast, and its spotlight of the current Charlotte barbecue scene. The slogan of the festival is ‘Divided By Sauce, United By Coals’ and in that spirit I hope Charlotte shows out in unity for what is sure to be a fantastic afternoon of barbecue. I hope to see you there.

The Carolina Barbecue Festival takes place Sunday, May 21st from 12-4 at Camp North End in Charlotte. More information and tickets available on their website.

Linkdown: 3/16/22

Native News

A couple of the pitmasters for the upcoming Carolina Barbecue Festival in Charlotte on May 22nd: Bryan Furman and Matthew Register

Not to be outdone, the Pinehurst Barbecue Festival has been announcing pitmasters for the Prieto Pitmaster Invitational at its festival, including Brandon Shepard of Shepard Barbecue, Melanie Dunia of The Pit, Ron Simmons of Master Blend Family Farms, and Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ

Noble Smoke’s stall has opened at Optimist Hall as of Monday, 3/14

Jon G’s will be smoking meat for a barbecue and wine event on the last day of the Charlotte Wine & Food Festival

Pretty cool: actor Eric Wareheim made it all the way from LA to Peachland for a Barbecue Saturday last weekend

Non-Native News

Blake’s BBQ has its final days in the trailer this week

In Austin for SXSW?

The latest reader-generated list from Southern Living

Charlotte Barbecue News from the Third Quarter of 2021

Monk: If there was an overarching theme for Charlotte barbecue the past three months, it would be expansion. In the second quarter roundup, I had hoped for new concepts and expansion. While we didn’t necessarily get new concepts (yet), we did get quite a bit in the way of expansion. Mac’s Speed Shop, Midwood Smokehouse, and Noble Smoke all announced new locations, (although only one of which is in Charlotte), and rumor has it another Charlotte barbecue joint may be expanding as well.

Not to mention, Phar Mill Brewing in Harrisburg expanded in a slightly different way. Pharr Mill BBQ is utilizing a Jon G’s barbecue pit and they typically serve some combination of brisket, ribs, and pork Thursdays through Saturdays.

July

7/3 Pharr Mill BBQ starts smoking on their Jon G’s barbecue pit at Phar Mill Brewery in Harrisburg

7/10 Noble Smoke celebrates 2 years in business

7/22 FS Food Group announces a Midwood Smokehouse location for Raleigh later his year

7/29 Smoke Show BBQ pivots to Tex-Mex barbecue

7/31 Charlotte-raised Bryan Furman returns to Charlotte and brings his Bryan Furman BBQ pop-up to Sweet Lew’s BBQ

August

8/9 In a nice nod to its employees, all Mac’s Speed Shop locations closed for the day to fight employee burnout

“Our people have been going way above and beyond to make our carry-out, eat-in and delivery business grow by leaps and bounds”… “I’ve never seen a team so dedicated to bringing fun and good food back into the lives of people pent-up by the pandemic.”

Mac’s President Shang Skipper

8/10 Sweet Lew’s Barbeque introduces the “Carolinas Frito Pie”: Carolina bbq hash, warm pimento cheese and jalapeños

8/14 Mac’s Speed Shop is expanding to Fort Mill

8/26 Secondhand Smoke takes over the Pete’s BBQ legacy in Fort Mill

8/27 Jon G’s gets the Axios Charlotte bump

8/30 The 91st Mallard Creek Barbecue is postponed yet another year

September

9/8 Indian Trail’s 100 Main Beef and Barbecue gets featured in Spectrum News for being both a barbecue restaurant and a country store

9/10 Barvecue, the wood-smoked plan-based barbecue company out of Cornelius, is rolling out to 12 colleges and universities and just signed a deal with Sprouts Farmers Market

9/9 Jon G’s Barbecue make this list of “Best New Barbecue Joints in the South” from Southern Living

9/16 Noble Smoke announced its second location will be a stall at the Optimist Hall food hall

9/16 More coverage on the stall from Axios Charlotte

9/24 K&N BBQ competes against Dan Good Que in Food Truck Rumble CLT

Linkdown: 1/27/21

Featured

Kingsford Charcoal has announced the “Preserve the Pit” Fellowship to celebrate the Black contribution to barbecue and help aspiring pitmasters through a monetary grant and a hands-on mentorship. That mentorship will be provided by several notable barbecue personalities and pitmasters: Kevin Bludso of Bludso’s BBQ in Compton as well as Netflix’s American Barbecue Showdown, Rashad Jones of Big Lee’s BBQ, Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, Devita Davison of the non-profit FoodLab, Amy Mills of 17th Street Barbecue, and Dr. Howard Conyers of PBS’s Nourish.

It’s fantastic to see Kingsford celebrate Black barbecue and put their money where their mouth is with this fellowship investing in the future of it. I look forward to seeing who makes the class of 2021 and what they do with this great opportunity. Applications are due by March 1 and the inaugural class of fellows will be announced in April.

Native News

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Ed Mitchell will be appearing on this panel alongside Dr. Howard Conyers and “Black Smoke” Adrian Miller on February 10

The owner of Shaw’s Barbecue House in Williamston recently saved a longtime customer from choking

The Pit in Raleigh will offer to-go cocktails through the end of January

Kinston’s Kings Restaurant was selected to participate on a rib cookoff for the Drew Barrymore Show; last year King’s sold almost 2 tons worth of ribs

Hmm, now what could we do with a feral hog?!?!

Non-Native News

Stay with me here: Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall will offer “Chucktown-style” barbecue in South Jersey; the owner Charles Soreth was inspired by his trip to Charleston for his Chucktown BBQ pop-up, but no word on what exactly “Chucktown” style is

Brooklyn barbecue restaurants taking part in NYC’s Restaurant Week To Go

How craft barbecue and craft chocolate intersect at Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue

Sweet kicks