Checking In: Sweet Lew’s Barbeque

Monk: While our official (and thus far only) review of Sweet Lew’s Barbeque is from 2018, between pop-ups with Bryan Furman, Patio Parties, and new specials, there is usually a good reason to check out Sweet Lew’s every couple of weeks or months.

Lewis Donald and team are constantly making improvements to the experience and lately have been focusing on the exterior of the building. From the addition of flags from the US, North Carolina, and Texas (reminiscent of Noble Smoke) to the new covered patio providing much needed shade to the murals outside and in, the Sweet Lew’s of today is much different from how it started off in December 2018.

The murals (pictured in header image above) in particular are worth highlighting. The artist, SHE Originals, received a grant from the NoDa Neighborhood association to paint the three exterior walls as well as the inside, highlighting the history of the Belmont neighborhood. Take a look in detail next time you’re there.

Then of course there’s the menu and food itself. Lewis brought many of the popular daily specials in to the everyday menu. Of note is his take on barbecue hash. Much different than a midlands South Carolina hash with its use of beef in addition to pork (with no liver or pig offal in sight), its the only place in Charlotte that is serving any version of it. For me, this is a must order every time I visit.

On my most recent visit, the ribs were also a highlight. Each rib provided the perfect bite and were well balanced in terms of flavor.

A few years back, Sweet Lew’s moved to making their sausage in-house (with some tips provided by Garren of Jon G’s), and the recent results were really great. As was both the turkey (which I hadn’t previously tasted), the brisket (much improved from my last time), and chicken wings (perfectly done).

In all aspects, Sweet Lew’s continues to improve. The experience and ambiance is better all around and the food that Lewis Donald is putting out continues to evolve for the better. If it’s been awhile since you checked out Sweet Lew’s Barbeque, do yourself and see what they are doing on Belmont Ave. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Linkdown: 9/1/21

Sadly, for the second year in a row the Mallard Creek Barbecue has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus. The Mallard Creek Barbecue is by far the oldest barbecue tradition in Charlotte, so its a shame that the 91st edition of it will have to wait another year. Assuming that’s the case, I’ll be there but will be missing their slightly controversial version of Brunswick stew come the 4th Thursday of October.

Native News

Jon G’s gets the Axios Charlotte bump

“On Barbecue” by John Shelton Reed gets reviewed by Star News Online

Smokeshow BBQ will be smoking Guatemalan Churrasco this Friday at Salty Parrot Brewing in Charlotte

Shaw’s Barbecue in Williamston is profiled by WNCT’s People & Places

Non-Native News

Secondhand Smoke is continuing the Pete’s BBQ tradition in Rock Hill and will be open this Labor Day Weekend; Pete’s BBQ served every Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day weekend for 55 years before closing in 2018

John T Edge explores the vernacular of Fresh Air Bar-B-Que’s architecture

In Houston, barbecue pop-ups are all the rage

Scott’s Bar-B-Q is featured in the first episode of “Backroad Bites” from South Carolina Education TV, which is back for a third season

The BBQ Review checks out The Southern Belly in Columbia, SC

Prayers up to Louisiana

Pitmaster Profiles: Stuart Henderson of Noble Smoke

Photo courtesy of Stuart Henderson

Monk: For this Pitmaster Profile, we are back in Charlotte to speak with Stuart Henderson, head pitmaster at Noble Smoke. I only recently met Stuart but could immediately sense his passion for barbecue. I was happy he agreed to answer some questions so our readers could get to know him a little better. Give him a follow on Instagram and then read our interview below.

If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!

How long have you lived in Charlotte and how did you get here?

I have lived in Charlotte my whole life, besides the years I was in college at Appalachian State University.

How did you become a pitmaster?

By chasing happiness. There was a point in my life after getting sober where I started only doing the things I love. I ended up running an Oyler while waiting on a sous chef position and fell in love with the process. Now, I can’t get enough!

What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer?

Beef. Hickory.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Henderson

What are your barbecue influences?

All those who have laid the groundwork for me to work with and continue to develop.

What is your favorite barbecue joint or style?

Barbecue is about community to me. I think it is important to support all Barbecue businesses. With that being said, I feel the atmosphere can be almost as important as the food. I do not discriminate, I like all styles.

(L-R): Monk, Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ, Stuart Henderson, and Michael Wagner)

What is your earliest memory of barbecue?

Man, I remember family gatherings and pig pickins from way back, I will always remember that first whole hog head!  

What is the best thing about barbecue in Charlotte?

We are starting to get some attention. We are serious about barbecue. 

What is a weakness or opportunity of barbecue in Charlotte?

Charlotte is a growing city, that hopefully allows for growth in the barbecue community, as well?

Anything else you’d like everyone to know about you?

Never, never, never, give up!

Michael Wagner’s Return to Texas is a Big Loss for Charlotte Barbecue

Monk: Last month, Michael Wagner left Midwood Smokehouse and its parent company FS Food Group to return back to Texas. I was fortunate enough to meet Michael within a few weeks of him moving to Charlotte in 2016 to help open the short-lived Midwood Smokeshack and I also interviewed him and Matthew Barry in 2019 for our Pitmaster Profile series as the two main pitmasters for Midwood Smokehouse. Michael has always struck me as a very thoughtful and passionate person about barbecue, and his departure is a big loss for the Charlotte barbecue community. To bookend his time in NC, I wanted to check back in ahead of his big move.

Congrats on the new job! Where are you headed and what’s the new position?

Thanks! I’m going to Dallas, Texas to cook for Terry Black’s BBQ. I’ll be one of the crew of pitmasters at the restaurant.

What’s the first (non-barbecue) thing you’re going to do when you step foot back in Texas?

This is a big transition, and I have some time before I start work, so I’m going camping. Two weeks in the woods with my hammock and my stove.

That sounds very serene; I’m jealous. What are you most looking forward to when it comes to working again at a barbecue joint in Texas?

The pits themselves and the energy at the restaurants.

Any barbecue joints you plan to visit as soon as you get settled in Dallas?

Vaquero’s, Dayne’s, Hurtado’s

Michael and Monk in July 2016

It was right at 5 years with FS Food Group. What are your memories from Midwood Smokeshack where I first met you back in 2016?

Man. Time flies. When I think of The Shack, I remember not knowing how to really cook anything besides BBQ. That was the beginning of a 5 year crash course. I think of Samantha, (she manages for Paco’s Tacos & Tequila now) and learning how to manage all that time.

What are your thoughts on the state of barbecue in Charlotte as you depart?

I’m happy to see a community of committed pitmasters forming. There’s been great food here all along. BBQ has a soul, and it needs a community to foster it.

(L-R): Monk, Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ, Stuart Henderson of Noble Smoke, and Michael Wagner)

Is there anything in particular you will take back to Texas from your time in NC?

Man, so much. I love all the trees, still have never gotten over them. I got pretty serious into disc golfing while here as a way to get out into all the parks. Mostly, I’m leaving here knowing that I capable of much more than smoking meat.

Thanks to Michael for taking his time in answering my questions, particularly in the middle of his big move. I hope to make it to Dallas and Terry Black’s soon to visit!