Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the First Half of 2020

Monk: A little later than I’d normally like to post a first half look-back but then again, I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a weird year. At least barbecue is (mostly) back. After a lot of backyard smoking (a little more on that below) and an attempt at mail order, barbecue restaurants started to reopen in late spring and adapted to the current situation with all formerly extinct practices like curbside service and carhops that made perfect sense in a pandemic environment.

In alphabetical order:

Chopped pork tray from Backcountry BBQ (review)

A barn full of firewood out back was a sign of good things to come when it came to Backcountry Barbeque, an unassuming barbecue joint south of Lexington that landed in the top tier of my Lexington barbecue rankings.

Pork belly burnt ends and sliced pork belly from my backyard (story)

While I haven’t quite lived up to my promise that I would smoke pork belly again very soon, it is very much on my to-do list for upcoming backyard smokes. Particularly as the weather starts to cool down this fall. I still think about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

Beef rib, brisket, ribs, and cheddar bossa sausage from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

You guys all know how I feel about Jon G’s by now, so not too much more needs to be written here except that you should make the trip, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). I’ll also reiterate how glad I am that Garren and Kelly finally opened their store and are doing it their way.

Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of my recent Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center.

Pork, ribs, and chicken from Southern Smoke BBQ (review)

Not too much more to add from my recent review other than Southern Smoke was my absolutely favorite new barbecue I’ve tried this year. I’ll repeat myself from my review: “Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.”

What should I try in the second half (or what’s remaining of it) of 2020? Leave a comment with your recommendation.

Randy’s Restaurant – Lexington, NC

Name: Randy’s Restaurant
Address: 3129 US-64, Lexington, NC 27292
Order: Chopped barbecue tray with hush puppies, red slaw
Pricing: $

Monk: Three barbecue restaurants in on this latest Lexington run, and this was the worst of the bunch. Randy’s Restaurant is on the side of highway 64 just off I-85 in eastern Lexington. While it it says on the sign above the restaurant “Lexington style BBQ” it really is more of a country style cooking diner. In theory, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have good barbecue.

…Except in the case of Randy’s, it actually does. The lukewarm chopped pork had a bad taste and no hint of real smoke. It did have a hint of something bitter and off in the after taste, and unfortunately I suspect that I may now know what liquid smoke tastes like in barbecue. This truly was one of the worst barbecue experiences I’ve had in recent memory, going back at least a couple of years.

Not much better can be said for the minced slaw or the hush puppies, which were almost certainly from frozen. I politely boxed up 90% of my food with the ready-made excuse that I was full in case the waitress inquired (she didn’t). I would promptly toss that box of leftovers as soon as I hit the parking lot.

I can’t speak to the other food on the menu, but avoid Randy’s Restaurant for barbecue. On the plus side and looking at the big picture, another barbecue restaurant down and I’m getting closer than ever to publishing my Lexington barbecue big board. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for that.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 2 hogs
Pork – 1 hog
Sides – 1 hogs
Overall – 1 hog

Kerley’s Barbecue – Lexington, NC

Name: Kerley’s Barbecue
Date: 1/21/20
Address: 5114 Old U.S. Hwy 52, Lexington, NC 27295
Order: Chopped barbecue tray with hush puppies, red slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Down the road from Rick’s Smokehouse is another barbecue joint, Kerley’s Barbecue. Kerley’s opened in 1978 and certainly looks the part of a classic NC barbecue joint. Unfortunately, looks are deceiving in the case of Kerley’s as the brick pits in the back corner of the large brick building sit dormant, having long cooled.

And unfortunately, you can taste it in the barbecue that Kerley’s serves. Whatever gasser they use doesn’t impart a lot of smoke onto the chopped pork that came with my tray. As a side note, shouts to the the waitress who allowed me to order a smaller-sized kid’s tray even though she wouldn’t have realized I was on lunch #2. And this way, I didn’t have to feel nearly as bad if I were to not finish anything.

The red slaw was minced finer than I’d prefer and was on the sweeter side. A large tray of their small orb-shaped hush puppies was filled to the brim and those pups were the best ones I had that day. And the ramekin of sauce that came with the tray had a pronounced vinegar kick, even more so than a typical dip.

I’m not sure when Kerley’s Barbecue made the switch over to gas (or for what reasons), but as a North Carolina barbecue purist I certainly wish they hadn’t. When in Welcome, I’d recommend you head to Rick’s Smokehouse instead.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Wilber’s Barbecue – Goldsboro, NC

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Name: Wilber’s Barbecue
Date: 5/24/13
Location: 4172 U.S. 70, Goldsboro, NC 27534
Order: Chopped barbecue pork plate with coleslaw, potato salad, and hush puppies, sweet tea (link to menu)
Bill: ~$10

In addition to being a must-stop if you heading east on Highway 70 towards the beach, Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, NC is a pretty celebrated barbecue joint in its own right. It’s the type of place where presidents tend to stop by and rub shoulders with the locals if they are campaigning in the area (both Presidents Clinton and HW Bush were known to frequent). Heck, supposedly you might even hear folks refer to eastern NC barbecue as “Wilber’s barbecue.” Wilber Shirley began smoking whole hog over hardwood coals in 1962 and my understanding is that it continues in the exact same way today as it did 51 years ago. So yeah, it was a no-brainer for my wife, baby, and I to stop here on our way to Atlantic Beach this past Memorial Day weekend.

Wilber’s is located in a plain rectangular brick building situated right off of Highway 70, with the smokehouse where they smoke the whole hog for 12 hours over hickory and oak logs located behind it. Sadly, as we pulled into the parking lot at dinner time there wasn’t any smoke going. But I did confirm after our meal that there were stacks of logs out back, presumably waiting for smoking early the next day.

As soon as we sat ourselves, we were immediately presented with a basket of hush puppies – always a good sign. There was also a pitcher of sweet tea already on our table, so our visit started off very strongly. Wilber’s serves barbecue chicken and several seafood items, but neither my wife nor I messed with that and ordered a barbecue plate that came with slaw and potato salad.

The chopped pork had visible red pepper flakes and a pleasant aroma of smoke. And it was very good, albeit a little too coarsely chopped for my liking. But still, the texture and taste was outstanding. There are two table sauces – a Wilber’s and a vinegar sauce (both vinegar-based with I believe one being milder in terms of spice). I tried both and while both accentuated the pork I didn’t have a favorite.

The hush puppies (or “bread” as the waitress referred to them when asking if we wanted another basket) were golden brown, oblong-shaped, and great tasting (though not quite as sweet as I would prefer). The slaw was mayonnaise-based and slightly tangy and I didn’t feel the need to finish it. I don’t necessarily think of potato salad with my barbecue, but what was served was mustard based and reminded me of my grandmother’s so I dug it.

When I posted a photo from Wilber’s on social media after our visit, it received a lot of comments and likes because people just plain love the place and have fond memories of stopping here. And while I will always be a Lexington barbecue guy, I can say that I can see exactly why. The food is great and the service is quick and friendly (although I can’t take credit for all of that since waitresses seem to love our little girl). Wilber’s is an eastern NC barbecue institution and well worth a stop on your way to the beach or if you are within shouting distance in the eastern part of the state.

-Monk

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance  4 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

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Wilber's Barbecue on Urbanspoon