Name: Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers Location: 3709 Concord Parkway South, Concord, NC 28027 Order: Small BBQ Sandwich with red slaw and fries (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Johnny Rogers BBQ & Burgers opened in May 2018 in a Concord strip mall a few miles north of the speedway. Their menu does a little bit of everything from barbecue to hot dogs to fried chicken sandwiches to burgers to salads. So while “BBQ” is in the name, it seems far from being the sole focus.
…And my barbecue sandwich would indicate as much. I didn’t get any smoke on the coarsely chopped pork, which may have well been from a crock pot. The red slaw topping was fine, but the sandwich absolutely cried out for their Eastern NC barbecue sauce in order to get any semblance of taste.
Johnny Rogers advertises that they are a scratch kitchen and perhaps that’s the case for their bbq beans or mac and cheese or onion rings but if my fries weren’t frozen, I’d be very surprised.
For folks in the area just north of the Concord Motor Speedway, at Johnny Rogers BBQ & Burgers I’d go with the burgers or one of the many other items on the menu.
Despite the incendiary words against Lexington-style barbecue (as well as a few mis-truths about beef and mustard), “More Than a Flavor” is well-produced 25-minute documentary that details the history of eastern NC barbecue (from the Wayne County Government nonetheless!). It even has a nice breakdown of the barbecue family tree for eastern style starting with Arnold Sasser, something which I hadn’t personally seen detailed out before – unlike the Lexington-style tree starting from Sid Weaver and Jess Swicegood I’m so familiar with.
The documentary also details the pork industry that is so big in Wayne County, and which nicely lends to the barbecue history in the area.
Description: Learn about the history of BBQ in Wayne County and across Eastern North Carolina in this documentary, More Than A Flavor!
Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.
Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue with Recipes from Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ arrived on the same day as several other notable barbecue books – Matthew Register’s Southern Smoke, Ed Randolph’s Smoked, and Myron Mixon’s BBQ&A with Myron Mixon – but had to be the most anticipated for a large portion of the barbecue crowd due to Sam Jones as well as the involvement of Texas Monthly BBQ Editor Daniel Vaughn. That was certainly the case for me, and the book delivered in spades.
This book is more than a typical cookbook, with chapters covering the history of his family and Skylight Inn, the story of starting Sam Jones BBQ with his best friend and business partner Michael Letchworth, and the resurrection of a family pit that had been sitting undiscovered for 70+ years. I don’t know how much Jones had written before or how much coaching or editing he got from Daniel Vaughn, but his writing is personal and engaging, particularly for a first-time author.
The other chapter covers in exhaustive detail how to host a whole hog party. In fact, I used it as my guide for the whole hog party Speedy and I hosted last month. In 40 or so pages, it walks the reader step-by-step through the process, from how much wood you need to how to construct the burn barrel and the cinder block pit to a detailed timeline of smoking the whole hog. For any first timer smoking a whole hog, I would point them to this book (and maybe our blog post). It gives you all you need.
Outside of the whole hog chapter, there are several recipes for eastern North Carolina dishes, sides, and desserts.
Whole Hog BBQ is full of beautiful photography and wonderfully personal writing from Sam Jones. It is a must-read not only for barbecue books released on May 7, but for any barbecue book released ever.
Name: R&R Bar- B-Que Date: 3/1/19 Address: 755 Pitts School Rd NW, Concord, North Carolina 28027 Order: Small Brakeman’s BBQ tray with red slaw and hush puppies, small brisket sandwich (no bread), Cheerwine (link to menu)
Monk: There are really only a handful of “old school” style barbecue joints in the Charlotte area. And by that, I’m not talking about anything with a full-service bar or that doubles as a diner or even open for a certain number of years. When you think about an old-school feel, Bill Spoon’s Barbecue and Bubba’s BBQ are two restaurants that have history and fit the bill. As does R&R Bar-B-Que, a train-themed barbecue restaurant in Concord. Curiously, all three serve eastern NC-style barbecue, as I had noted in my previous review.
On a rainy Friday, I checked out R&R for the second time since my only visit a little over 5 years ago. This time, I liked it a bit more. I speculated that they smoked with some sort of gas or electric smoker not aided by wood (a la an Ole Hickory or Southern Pride), and according to the NC BBQ Map that appears to be the case. No surprise, since there wasn’t any smoke wafting around the parking lot on either of my lunchtime visits. Still, the barbecue that was presented was nicely chopped and moist. A few dashes of the hot vinegar sauce didn’t hurt, either.
The beef brisket, a Tuesday and Friday special, was another story. I ordered only out of morbid curiosity and not because I expected it to be any good. My concerns were validated a couple of bites in so I didn’t feel the need to finish my portion.
R&R does nail their red slaw, a pretty perfect representation of a Lexington vinegar-based slaw. It had the right balance of sweetness to tang and was served properly chilled. The hush puppies tilted more to the savory end of the savory-sweet spectrum but were still solid. Finally, they offer Cheerwine from the fountain, as every proper barbecue joint should (unless they have it in bottles, of course).
So R&R Bar-B-Que is still not essential barbecue, but for Charlotte its not bad and ably fills the niche of an old school barbecue joint.
He continually refers to whole hog barbecue as “Carolina” style which isn’t completely accurate. Ho is smoking eastern North Carolina style whole hog barbecue, which is similar as the style of barbecue from the Pee Dee region of SC. And of course there is Lexington-style which just smokes pork shoulders. There really is no singular style of barbecue called “Carolina Barbecue” that is only whole hog as he asserts.
He refers to “outside brown” as the “burnt ends” of pork and says its an off menu item. It’s not really – its just the bark from the pork shoulders in Lexington-style barbecue which locals know to ask for extra in Lexington joints. Not to mention that there’s actually a thing as “pork burnt ends” which is just cubed smoked pork belly tossed in sauce.
I’m not a big barbecue competition circuit guy but I wonder how accurate his classification of KCBS vs Memphis Barbecue Network competitions are when he says that KCBS contestants are way too serious where Memphis just wants to party
Regardless, I do appreciate Tyson Ho preaching the gospel of NC barbecue (both eastern and Lexington-styles, serving both at his restaurant) when the trend in barbecue for the past few years is all about Texas and brisket.
Having been born in New York, Ho wanted to know: Who makes the best barbecue in the country. This set him on a quest that would take him across the country, but he realized one thing soon. To him, the best barbecue was that from the Tar Heel State. After spending time learning from legendary pitmasters, Ho took his newfound knowledge and skills back to New York and opened Arrogant Swine.
But what actually makes North Carolina the best barbecue in the country? (Note: The editors do not agree on this point.) What even constitutes true North Carolina barbecue? Want to know where to get that barbecue and fulfill all of your porcine desires? Well, you’re in the right place. ‘Cue this episode up and prepare to be hungry.
Name: Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q Date: 1/21/19 Address: 13840 Steele Creek Rd Charlotte, NC 28278 Order: 2 meat combo with Carolina-style pork and brisket, collards and coleslaw (link to menu)
Monk: Sometimes you don’t get to stake out the perfect barbecue run on your day off. No complaints here, but with the Monkette in tow for the MLK Holiday, I didn’t feel I should make a run to somewhere 1-2 hours away like I had done in years past (Bar-B-Q King (Lincolnton) and Big Tiny’s BBQ (Mooresville) in 2017 and Speedy Lohr’s and Smokey Joe’s (Lexington) in 2018). After a chilly morning hike at the McDowell Preserve on Lake Wylie, none of the potential Gastonia or Belmont options were open or made sense so we went to a Jim ‘N Nick’s about 10 minutes back towards our house. Because while this wouldn’t have been my first choice, what am I gonna do, not have barbecue?
Jim ‘N Nick’s is a well-regarded regional Southeast chain, and in my only prior visit to one of their stores (in Concord, where I made almost the exact same order without planning to) I mostly enjoyed my visit, minus the pickle toppings. Fast forward a little over 5 years, how would another visit to JNN (albeit to a different location) fare compared to some of the other chain options that have since opened in Charlotte?
As for my meat options, the Carolina-style pork means eastern NC pork as indicated by the visible red pepper flakes in the sauce the meat is chopped in. Despite those pepper flakes, the pork wasn’t overly spicy but was tender.
The brisket was another story. It arrived lukewarm and the fat in the brisket slices wasn’t completely rendered. Or perhaps more likely, reheated from the prior day. To make things worse, JNN insists on pre-saucing their brisket. All in all, it was a bit of a mess.
The good news is that customers always get a basket of cheese biscuits up front, and of course I ate 3.5 of the 4 we were given. I could taste that both the coleslaw and the collards were fresh and scratch-made, even if nothing about either were particularly memorable.
In what could be a future post about chain options in the Charlotte area, Jim ‘N Nick’s would have fared a little better prior to this visit. I do appreciate that they are a chain that does assist the smoking process with actual wood (albeit in a Southern Pride gasser), as indicated by the cords of wood just off the side of the building near the smokehouse. However, the execution was lacking on this visit at this location.
“The city caught my attention because of how pleasant it is,” says Rodney Scott, the James Beard Best Chef Southeast 2018 for his Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston. He’s set to open his next, identical concept in Birmingham first-quarter 2019. “It’s a big city, but it feels like a small town,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like New York or Chicago, but it’s just as important a food city in my opinion.”
WBTV in Charlotte recently featured the “Love Endures” mural by artist Curtis King, which was saved from demolition and now resides behind Sweet Lew’s BBQ
The New York Times’ eating guide for Atlanta for this weekend’s Super Bowl and gives Bryan Furman and B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue a shoutout for being the only whole hog joint in town
The “Milestone” Edition: In this week’s linkdown, we have links on a new barbecue restaurant opening, a big expansion of an existing one, plus Chef Vivian Howard’s favorite eastern NC barbecue restaurants and a milestone birthday for the city of Charlotte.
Congrats to Sweet Lew’s BBQ on finally opening today!
Chef Vivian Howard, a NC State grad who just finished her acclaimed PBS show “A Chef’s Life”, grew up in eastern NC and lives there now. You can bet she definitely knows her stuff when it comes to eastern NC barbecue.
That’s why your traditional view is what I argued in my 1995 first book. It sold a ton of copies in hardback, far more than any of my subsequent books, and nearly all of them were sold in-state.
But, I have to accept that “North Carolina Barbecue: Flavored by Time” is now out of print. We can only visit the memory and greatness of those places at Rocky Mount’s park display commemorating the city’s barbecue heritage.
I could insist on continuing to scribble history books many people won’t buy. Not many among them seem to read history any longer. Doomed to repeat it? I don’t know.