Charlotte Barbecue News from the Second Quarter of 2022

Monk: The biggest barbecue news in Charlotte from April to June was surely the inaugural edition of the Carolina BBQ Festival held in late May. You can revisit my recap of the memorable day here:

The festival sold out of all tickets for this year’s edition and Lewis Donald has some big plans for next year. More news on that front should be coming in the next few days or weeks according to a recent Instagram post. Follow them on Instagram to find out as soon as its posted.

The rest of the Charlotte barbecue news from the past 3 months:

April

4/4 In news you don’t like to see, Noble Smoke and a neighboring business The Good Life got involved in a parking dispute

4/5 The owners of Seoul Food Meat Co open a fast casual wing-focused restaurant in South Park

4/25 Axios Charlotte names The Smoke Pit as one of the recommended places to eat when in Concord just north of Charlotte

May

5/10 The inaugural Carolina BBQ Festival officially sells out weeks ahead of its debut

5/24 The Carolina BBQ Festival in photos

5/25 Sweet Lew’s BBQ makes this list from Thrillist on the “57 American barbecue joints to visit right now”

June

6/1 We collaborate with our friends at The Smoke Sheet to recap the Carolina BBQ Festival

6/3 The fan favorite G’s Burger is taken off the Jon G’s Barbecue menu for a “short hiatus”

6/5 Midwood Smokehouse and Jon G’s Barbecue are two of the 13 barbecue restaurants included in Cheerwine’s Carolina ‘Cue Tour

6/5 Not to be outdone, Gaston County launches a barbecue trail of their own. The Gaston County Cue Trail has 7 barbecue restaurants on the list, the oldest of which even opened back in 1946

6/25 Sweet Lew’s BBQ collaborates with Chef Corey Siegel on a sandwich pop-up

6/26 Jon G’s Barbecue headed to Charleston for a pop-up with Palmira BBQ at Hobcaw Brewing

6/30 The Charlotte Observer posts their latest list of Charlotte-area barbecue joints; some good, some not so good on the list but that’s a reflection of Charlotte barbecue more than anything else.

The Carolina BBQ Festival Delivered on its Promise to Put Charlotte Barbecue on the Map

Monk: On a perfect spring day in a perfect setting, the first annual Carolina BBQ Festival capped off Barbecue Month in style at the Boileryard at Camp North End in Charlotte in late May.

My hopes were high, as I had previously written, and I was heartened to see that first the VIP then the General Admission tickets sold out in the weeks ahead of the festival. As someone who can now be considered a longtime Charlottean (having lived here for 17+ years), sometimes you can never tell whether Charlotte is going to show up for a brand new festival but Lewis Donald and team can build off a sold out festival going into next year’s edition. 

Of course, the big selling point for the festival was the barbecue talent rubbing elbows together, and on that front it did not disappoint. 

The biggest lines on the day were for former Charlottean Bryan Furman’s whole hog served with his signature bourbon peach sauce that pulled from his current Georgia roots. Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, SC handled the sides of slaw and an almost dessert-like sweet potato side dish that seemed to be a fan favorite.

Elliot Moss built a behemoth cinder block pit on the Boileryard grounds and smoked his eastern NC (though more accurately SC Pee Dee-style) whole hogs overnight. Matt Register of Southern Smoke brought the elevated sides of a BBQ saltine cracker casserole with a tomato salad and cornbread.

Not to be outdone, Nathan Monk, the 3rd generation pitmaster of Lexington Barbecue, brought a bunch of Lexington-style pork shoulders and red slaw smoked the night before in the storied Lexington Barbecue pits while Brandon Shepherd of Shepherd’s Barbecue in Emerald Isle handled the sides of Mexican street corn and baked beans.

For those fortunate enough to snag a VIP ticket, Jon G’s brought the heat with their beef rib croissant and jalapeno cheddar grits with a burnt end garnish while Sweet Lew’s provided a pickled ramp sausage and cheesy potatoes and a side of his version of hash and rice.

Oysters were provided by North Sea Oyster Co and Crystal Coast Oysters. Oysters plus a couple of mimosas or bloody marys made for a very filling experience for VIP customers, for sure.

Before I go any further, I should pause to give props to all of the pitmasters who came from all over NC and the southeast, many of which were running off of a lack of sleep due to running their restaurants or handling catering gigs. Not to mention the hogs provided by Ronald Simmons and Master Blend Family Farms.

On the entertainment front, several local bands kept the crowd entertained. Carolina Gator Gumbo started off the afternoon with their cajun creole music before giving way to Justin Fedor & the Denim Denim. Fedor, who also spends time in Charlotte psych-rock band Ancient Cities, channels his country-rock troubadour in this band of his. Finally, Emanuel Wynter capped off the afternoon with his unique blend of his violin skills with a talented band behind him switching easily between genres. In between sets, DJ That Guy Smitty kept the crowd’s heads bopping with his mix of funky and soulful tunes.

As successful as the debut festival was, next year I’d like to see a second wave of customers enter after the initial rush moves through because while there are lengthy lines for the first hour or two, there was not as much activity at the tents in hours 3 and 4 while there was still plenty of food. No doubt Lewis and team are working through that and more tweaks for next year’s festival.

Speaking of which, Lewis told me he has even bigger and better plans for next year’s edition, and I can’t wait until he unveils them to the public. The first Carolina BBQ Festival was certainly a great start to what hopefully becomes a Spring tradition in Charlotte. For me, it more than delivered on its promise to put Charlotte barbecue on the map.

More sights from the festival:

Charlotte Barbecue News from the First Quarter of 2022

Monk: The Charlotte barbecue scene, along with the entire restaurant industry, remains in flux. Longtime Belmont staple Buddy’s BBQ closed in February after 25 years. A second location of Noble Smoke opened in Optimist Hall. The Carolina Barbecue Festival was announced for May and has a chance to put Charlotte on the map. However, no barbecue boom appears on the horizon for Charlotte anytime soon. Here’s a roundup of news from the past 3 months.

January

1/2 Big Tiny’s BBQ expands its hours in the new year

1/3 By popular demand the pizza collab by Jon G’s Barbecue and Salud continued into January

1/4 Noble Smoke is the only barbecue restaurant on Charlotte Magazine’s annual list of the 50 best restaurants in Charlotte

1/10 RayNathan’s celebrates 3 years open

1/20 Garren of Jon G’s Barbecue profiled on the Ministers of Smoke Instagram page

1/21 A fun story from Charlotte Magazine on how Chapel Hill-born fashion designer Alexander Julian got paid in barbecue for designing the original Charlotte Hornets jerseys

February

2/7 Buddy’s BBQ in Belmont closed after 25 years

2/9 Cornelius-based Barvecue has raised $600 million thus far

2/9 The latest barbecue list from Only In Your State includes Jon G’s Barbecue

2/23 Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ announces the Carolina Barbecue Festival to be held May 22 at Camp North End in Charlotte

2/27 Congrats to Garren and Kelly from Jon G’s, who 2 years ago on this date closed on the former Barbee’s Barbecue location, which they would open in June 2020 just a few months into the pandemic

March

3/12 Actor Eric Wareheim made it all the way from LA to Jon G’s Barbecue for a Barbecue Saturday

3/14 Noble Smoke‘s second location at Optimist Hall opens; it was originally scheduled to open on 3/2

3/22 Noble Smoke is involved in a bit of controversy when a miscommunication between its landlord and a neighboring business kicks off a brouhaha

3/24 Noble Smoke and Jim Noble’s official response. As of this writing I have not seen whether an agreement has been reached.

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.