Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the first half of 2019

Monk: It’s been a pretty darn good year in terms of new-to-me barbecue joints. Here’s my five favorite in no particular order…

Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)

More to come soon on this recent visit by Speedy and me, but Owlbear Barbecue in Denver had perhaps the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas (yes, that includes Lewis Barbecue). The pork belly was not far behind.

Lexington-style barbecue and brisket from Noble Smoke (preview)

Finally, Charlotte has some legitimate Lexington-style barbecue in the form of Noble Smoke from Chef Jim Noble. Noble is a lifelong fan of Lexington Barbecue (the restaurant) and has even styled his brick pits after the famed Lexington Barbecue smokestacks (with the Monk family’s permission, of course). This barbecue restaurant is decades in the making, and Jim Noble is certainly doing it right.

Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)

While Apple City BBQ had been on my list, my stop there was completely unplanned. But afterwards, I felt fortunate that my route to the foothills took me right by the joint as all three meats I tried that day were ridiculously good. As I stated in my review, Apple City BBQ is a must-stop for any serious North Carolina barbecue fan.

Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)

Sweatman’s Bar-b-que made me a believer in South Carolina whole hog that happens to be drenched with that mustard stuff. It’s legitimately that good. The hash and rice is otherworldly, too.

Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)

Let’s hope that Mr. Barbecue can rebuild quickly from its smokehouse fire back in the spring, because its an unheralded barbecue joint in Winston-Salem that deserves more attention. Legit Lexington-style barbecue from a classic NC joint in one of the larger cities in the state.

Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que – Holly Hill, SC

Name: Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que
Address: 1427 Eutaw Rd, Holly Hill, SC 29059
Order: Barbecue sandwich with hash and rice and banana puddin’ (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Holy crap, you guys. I mean, holy crap. Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que has been on my list for a few years now, considering how I tend to get to Charleston a couple times a year and Holly Hill is not super out of the way if you are willing to take the scenic route off I-26 just east of Columbia around Orangeburg. Based on my visit, its a detour well worth taking.

Sweatman’s has been around since 1977 and according to Grant’s story over at Marie, Let’s Eat! in 2016, the current owners Mark and Lynn Behr bought the restaurant from their friends and original owners Bub and Margie Sweatman in 2011. Thankfully, it appears they have continued the practice of cooking whole hogs over coals for 12-14 hours.

As this was going to be a late afternoon snack, I did not opt for the full buffet line, instead ordering a a sandwich with a side of hash and rice. The waitress obviously sensed a weakness for ‘naner pudding in me by suggesting I also get it, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch considering its only $1.50 with tax.

The main building of Sweatman’s appears to have had a larger dining room added onto it at some point over the years, and that thing was like stepping back into the 80’s in the south but in the best way.

I bit into my barbecue sandwich and darnit if it wasn’t a near transcendent bite of barbecue. The wood smoke shone through each bite and was accentuated by the sweet and tangy mustard barbecue sauce. This was different than almost every other midlands South Carolina mustard-based barbecue sandwich I’ve had where the shredded pork is drowning in the sauce. The sauce here still let the wood smoke be the star and was content to act as a supporting actor.

The hash and rice was the co-star, if my forced metaphor hasn’t begun to completely break down yet. I’ve only had one other “200 mile” hash and rice before and that was at True BBQ in West Columbia. This was on par with that. I still don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe hash and rice, but this savory-gravy-over-rice-dish is a must-order at Sweatman’s.

Briefly about that banana pudding – it was quite simply one of the best naner puddings I’ve had ever. I wish I had gotten at least 2 more for the rest of the weekend (slash the rest of my meal). What a capper to the meal.

Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que is absolutely worth the detour but be aware that its only open two days a week on Fridays and Saturdays. So be sure to plan your pilgrimage accordingly.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Sides – 5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

For other reviews of Sweatman’s, check out
Marie, Let’s Eat!
Destination BBQ

Sweatman's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Linkdown: 3/6/19

Congrats to Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque for his James Beard Award semifinal nomination!

Veteran Charlotte restaurateur Pierre Bader closes City Smoke, cites that he doesn’t “see any growth in the barbecue business in Charlotte.” I would argue that he might have seen growth had his restaurant’s barbecue been better (they were 40 out of 42 on our list before their close)

Local Charlotte barbecue guy Jack Arnold recently had his Instagram hacked but thankfully has since recovered it

A new barbecue cookbook is coming from photographer Ken Goodman:

Wilson gets a new barbecue restaurant in New South BBQ, which takes an “international house of barbecue” approach

Longleaf Swine (nice name), a food truck caterer in Raleigh, is going brick and mortar in the Transfer Co. Food Hall

The Free Times in Columbia breaks down barbecue restaurants both local and within a few hours drive

Food and Wine is loving Columbia, SC and thinks you should try to the hash: “Don’t fill up on grits, because you must also try the barbecue, which will be pork, served along with that could-stop-traffic yellow sauce, and a side of that curiously delicious regional specialty, hash, which is nearly always served over rice. Essentially a stew of all the animal parts you probably wouldn’t eat separately, hash might come off a tad musky for some, but this is nose-to-tail cooking at its finest.”

I wonder how the folks in Texas are reacting to this:

For Kathleen Purvis’s last story as Charlotte Observer food writer, she takes a look at the fried pork skins at Sweet Lew’s BBQ as well as the fried chicken skin from Yolk. I love her writing and look forward to seeing what she does next.

Friday Find: Zagat Discovers the Soul of South Carolina Barbecue

Zagat explores the different meats and side dishes of South Carolina barbecue in a short documentary entitled “Hogs & Hash: Discovering the Soul of South Carolina BBQ”.

BBQ in South Carolina means whole hogs, hash, and plenty of mustard sauce. And although certain areas and establishments don’t abide by all of these features, the passion these pitmasters have to carry on the legacy of their state’s barbecue reputation unites them.

 

Linkdown: 7/19/17

– From Joe Haynes, the author who brought us Virginia Barbecue, comes Brunswick Stew: A Virginia Tradition out in October:

– Grant finds some decent cue but some great fries at Love That BBQ in Knoxville

– Elliott Moss’s favorite spots for hash in his home state of SC

– The supposed golden age of Texas barbecue means “waiting is the price you pay for transcendence”

– In search of great barbecue at last weekend’s Windy City Smokeout

– Aaron Franklin with tips to improve your backyard smoker in Esquire

– Stubb’s (the restaurant) will be changing names after settling a lawsuit with Stubb’s (the sauce)

– From the G&G archives

Swig & Swine – Summerville, SC

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Name
: Swig & Swine
Date: 5/27/17
Address: 1990 Old Trolley Rd, Summerville, SC 29485
Order: 3 meat plate (pulled pork, brisket, and sausage) with hash & rice, collards, and mac & cheese (link to menu)
Price: $24 (for two)

Monk: I have a confession, dear readers, and not one that I like to readily admit: sometimes I do get sick of barbecue. It doesn’t happen often but it usually happens after I’ve had a particularly bad meal. After having 4 meals in 6 days on the Monk family vacation I was actually completely fine with hitting something quick on the road back to Charlotte so we could just get back to real life. The last meal at Smoke BBQ had broken my enthusiasm for the week, it would appear.

However, in an unexpected twist, Mrs. Monk had looked up reviews of Swig & Swine’s Summerville location and insisted that we stick to our original plan. Her enthusiasm helped push me and on we headed about 35 minutes from Mount Pleasant to Summerville, SC. Sometimes the missus really does just get me.

This Swig & Swine, unlike the West Ashley location that Speedy previously visited, has enough room to smoke whole hogs and that was the main draw for me. Besides that, they do go the “international house of barbecue” route with a little bit of everything in terms of smoked meats.

The pulled pork single-handedly restored my faith in barbecue after the disaster of a meal the day before. The lighter meat was pulled into long strands and dare I say, might I have enjoyed it a bit more than Rodney Scott’s BBQ? Perhaps so.

The brisket had well-rendered fat and a nice tug to it. While the whole hog was the main draw, I would just as soon as go back for the brisket.

The housemade sausage was another solid entry and at this point in the meal, Swig & Swine was running laps around my previous meal at Smoke BBQ. In Speedy’s review of the West Ashley location, sausage was by far his favorite part of the meal and I found it to be really juicy with a nice snap to the casing.

My hash & rice fascination continued at Swig & Swine and I realize should take better notes when it comes to hash, because the subtle differences are probably lost on me. Still, that plus the collards and mac & cheese really brought it.

Swig & Swine capped my trip off nicely with a great meal of barbecue. This was the fifth and last barbecue meal in seven days of vacation to and from Charleston – almost certainly the most amount of barbecue I’ve eaten out in a week-long stretch. There was only one real dud, and overall most of my other experiences were really positive. But after this trip, I’m not ashamed to admit that barbecue and I decided to take a little bit of a break from each other for a week or two – and a welcome one at that.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 4 hog
Sausage  – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Hite’s BBQ – West Columbia, SC

IMG_9290
Name
: Hite’s BBQ
Date: 5/20/17
Address: 240 Dreher Rd, West Columbia, SC 29169
Order: Barbecue plate with hash and rice, slaw, and roll (link to menu)
Price: $8

Monk: Back in early 2015, John T. Edge’s article about Hite’s BBQ in Garden & Gun Magazine initially put the joint on my radar. Due to the fact that I don’t make it down to Columbia all that often plus the fact that Hite’s is only open Fridays and Saturdays meant that it would still be over 2+ years before I would be able to finally check it out. Not that I hadn’t tried before unsuccessfully, making the trek down the day before this past New Year’s Eve specifically to check out Hite’s only to find out they were closed. Hite’s is a family operation so I definitely couldn’t begrudge them for not being open before a holiday, but it meant that I would have to wait another 6 months before eventually checking them out.

Hite’s is a takeout only joint run out of a simple cinder block building but does have a few picnic tables overlooking a small lake on the property which apparently has 3 generations of Hite’s living on it.

The menu is very simple, with choice of sandwiches, plates or takeaway pounds of either whole hog, ribs, or chicken. The pork was a tad dry on this day and though mustard will never be my favorite style of barbecue sauce with pork it was still quite good.

Hash and rice comes standard with each plate and was my favorite part of the meal. Not that it’s quite as good as the hash a mile and a half down the road at True BBQ, but it’s still pretty dang good nonetheless.

IMG_9302

There was nothing special about the slaw, which I didn’t feel the need to finish. The rolls that came standard with each plate were fine but in the interest of saving my stomach from the carbs, I saved them for my daughter to have at the beach later that week.

After my meal, I snapped a few photos around the property, including the Hite St sign and the huge stacks of split logs behind the joint before current owner David Hite (grandson of original owner John D. Hite) was kind enough to invite me to check out the pit room. At that point, all of the hogs were off the pits so it was just chicken, so I quickly snapped a few shots when he revealed the pit. I spoke with him for just a few minutes about the family operation behind Hite’s and the requests he sometimes gets from various news outlets (which he isn’t always to accommodate due to the joint’s limited schedule). I certainly appreciated David taking some time to chat with me.

Hite’s BBQ wasn’t necessarily my favorite barbecue of the vacation week (more on that in the coming weeks) but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for folks passing through Columbia looking for a taste of true midlands SC-style barbecue.

For more reviews of Hite’s BBQ, check out:
Marie, Let’s Eat!

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs
Hite's Bar B Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque – Atlanta, GA (Monk’s take)

IMG_8421
Name: B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque
Date: 3/31/17
Address: 2061 Main St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318
Order: Two meat plate (brisket and pulled pork) with hash and rice, collard greens, and cracklin’ cornbread (link to menu)
Price: $18

Monk: In the past few months, Speedy has checked out B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Atlanta twice and rubbed it in my face each time. Finally, I got sick enough of it and packed the Monk family in the car and made the 4 hour trip down to Atlanta just to shut Speedy up. Actually…the Monk clan just happened to be spending a long weekend in Atlanta so I arranged a lunch stop but that’s neither here nor there. And to be fair he wasn’t really rubbing it in my face per se, but it was at least a light brag that got under my skin.

Speedy: No. It was a face rub. Cause this place is awesome.

Monk: Guess my first instincts were right then….

Sitting 15 minutes west of downtown Atlanta in the Riverside neighborhood, B’s sits in an old house that used to be another barbecue joint named Hottie Hawg’s. Neither Speedy nor I have checked that place out but at B’s, you order at the bar and they bring it out to you. Speaking of bar, they do have a couple of solid beers on tap including local favorite Creature Comforts Tropicalia IPA, in which both Mrs. Monk and I both indulged. There is a decent sized patio and we tried to sit out on it but found that it was just a little too chilly in the shade on this particular late March day.

The whole hog pork at B’s is smoked from heritage hogs and was definitely the star of the show. It was served in coarsely pulled strands reminiscent of Scott’s Bar-B-Cue and was just downright excellent. Unlike Speedy’s visit, mine wasn’t on the dry side and each strand had a nice silky texture. I tried both the spicy vinegar and peach mustard sauces and while neither was essential, both complemented the pork well. Speaking of the pork, on our way out to the car, I even caught a worker carting a half of one of those heritage hogs from their annex to the main building, so I took the opportunity to snap a few photos.

Speedy: I’m surprised you don’t have more to say about the peach mustard sauce. I thought it was excellent and unlike anything I’ve had before. I’m generally against mustard sauce on pork (it belongs on sausage), but this stuff is legit.

Monk: I only used it sparingly but did think it was good. I guess I’m surprised at just how enthusiastic you are about it. 

While not quite on the level of the pork, the brisket had excellent bark and a nice tug to it. On this day, it was slightly on the dry side perhaps due to sitting under a warming lamp for too long. Still, these were darn good slices of brisket.

The side of hash and rice was excellent. If you recall, in Speedy’s review of B’s last December, Grant from Marie, Let’s Eat! went for a double side of hash and rice and after tasting, I completely understand why. This stuff was just plain great and certainly in the upper rankings of barbecue hash I’ve tried in my life. The collards were good but had a different taste than your usual vinegary greens due to the addition of a heavy dose of minced garlic. Pretty good, but I don’t know if I’d go for them again here.

Being that it’s the only bonafide whole hog joint in town and that they also smoke a mean brisket, if you are in Atlanta I urge you to make the trip to the westside and check out B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque. You won’t be disappointed.

For more reviews of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, check out:
Speedy’s take
Marie, Let’s Eat

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
B's Cracklin Barbecue  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
B's Cracklin Barbeque

True BBQ – West Columbia, SC

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Name
: True BBQ
Date: 12/30/16
Address: 1237 D Ave, West Columbia, SC 29169
Order: Small barbecue dinner with hash and rice, collards, and slaw (link to menu)
Price: $13.01

Monk: Ever since reading this Garden & Gun Magazine article last year about Hite’s BBQ in West Columbia, it shot to the top of my list. Being that it’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays, I took the opportunity during my week off between Christmas and New Year’s to make the trip to Columbia specifically to check it out on a Friday, only to find this:

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Nevertheless, my other planned stop was True BBQ not more than a mile away so I decided that I would head there and would figure out my second stop later.

During my research for the quick trip, I checked Marie, Let’s Eat! (as I always do when it comes to barbecue in the southeast) and True BBQ was received very favorably by those folks so at that point it was a no-brainer for me.

Speedy: Grant actually specifically mentioned seeing you here on Instagram and being jealous. It seems he’s been a bit disappointed by the Chattanooga ‘cue…

Monk: Yea, I get that sense based on some of the latest chapters on the blog, which is too bad…

I had timed my trip to arrive in Columbia as close to 10 as possible (which ended up being more like 10:30) since Hite’s opens at 8am, but luckily True BBQ opens at 10:30 Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Seeing as how I was planning to eat another meal shortly after, I only ordered a small barbecue dinner. I’ll get the pork out of the way – it was a bit on the dry side, especially considering it was so early in the day and should have been freshly smoked. You get a choice of three sauces – the Pretty Lady mustard sauce, Sexy Lady red sauce, and Lexington vinegar sauce – and it needed it. Hopefully this isn’t the case normally.

Hash and rice is a dish that intrigues me more and more these days and at True BBQ it comes standard with every dinner along with two sides. This was damned good hash and rice and by far the best part of the meal. Next time, I may even get a double order as one of my sides. The collards were above average but the slaw was a bit of a letdown and would be my choice to be replaced by more hash and rice.

As an aside, apparently the pork chop is worth ordering since the only other customer there with me at 10:30 was raving about it to pitmaster Ernest Zanders who was back and forth between the kitchen and the smoker out in front of the building, which was the first thing I noticed pulling into the parking lot. So take that for what its worth for those who are considering ordering that item.

In addition to the pork, True BBQ has some daily specials like brisket and beef ribs that may or may not be worth checking out. But at the very least I can recommend the hash and rice. As Grant so succinctly put it, “it’s two-hundred mile hash.” Come to think of it, next time I may just go triple sides of hash and rice…

For more reviews of True BBQ check out:
Marie, Let’s Eat!
Destination BBQ
Eat It Atlanta

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Hash and Rice – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs
True BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
True BBQ

The Best Barbecue We Ate in 2016

Whole hog pulled pork plate

Whole hog pulled pork plate from Buxton Hall Barbecue

Q: What was the best barbecue (new or old) that you ate in 2016?

Monk: 

  • Whole hog barbecue from Buxton Hall Barbecue, Asheville – It’s simply a revelation that you can find true eastern NC/Pee Dee whole hog in the mountains of NC. I can’t wait to get back to Buxton Hall.
  • Lamb belly from Hometown Bar-B-Que, New York – I didn’t quite know what to expect with lamb belly. It was pulled similar to their pork but had completely different flavor profile. I don’t know where else I might be able to try it again that’s a little closer to home but I want to in 2017.
  • Hash and rice from True BBQ, West Columbia, SC – Grant of Marie Let’s Eat! said it best about the hash and rice from this West Columbia joint which opened in 2011: “It’s two-hundred mile hash.”

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Speedy:

  • Brisket from B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, Atlanta – From review: “The seasoning was amazing, and the meat was tender and juicy. Overall, this was in the upper echelon of briskets that I’ve tasted.”
  • Beef rib from Hometown Bar-B-Qu, New York (above) – From review: “It was seasoned well, providing some bark on the outside, and was cooked to perfection – tender but not overly so.”
  • Chopped pork from Lexington Barbecue – Every year.

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Rudy:

  • Brisket and sausage sandwich from Black’s Barbecue, Austin (above) –   From review: “And it was amazing, because the fat from the brisket was soaked up by the bun, giving it a rich moist taste. The spice from the jalapenos also gave the sandwich some great flavor.  The brisket was the same great brisket you are accustomed to getting from Black’s, as was the sausage. “

What was the best barbecue you ate in 2016?