Charlotte Barbecue News from the Second Quarter of 2020

Monk: Despite the generally bad outlook for restaurants, there was mostly positive news for our top ranked Charlotte barbecue restaurants. Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s both reopened with reduced capacity and social distancing measures in place and of course there is Jon G’s Barbecue which finally opened its long-awaited doors in Peachland.

Things were not so great for Queen City Q, which when we started the blog in 2012 was our second favorite barbecue restaurant in Charlotte at the time behind Midwood Smokehouse. And things seemed to be going pretty well in the mid-2010’s, with expansion to locations in Ballantyne, Matthews, and Concord. However, those quietly closed in recent years and the original location in Uptown Charlotte was apparently hanging on by a thread before it was forced to close as a result of the state’s pandemic response. It briefly opened in May as part of North Carolina’s phase 2 but then the final nail in the coffin came when it was forced to close again due to the threat of protests.

If I’m honest, Queen City Q had fallen off quite a bit from when it first opened. Our last visits were my solo trip to the Concord store in 2016 in which a poor experience prompted a re-review of the 6th Street location by Speedy and me a few weeks later. We left that visit disheartened and convinced that the drop in quality wasn’t an isolated incident. Neither of us had not been back since, and now they have shuttered their remaining location.

RIP Queen City Q (2012-2020)

April

4/7 Hillbilly’s Barbeque & Steaks in Lowell is moving to a new building on South Main Street

4/14 Jon G’s Barbecue updates their website ahead of their forthcoming brick and mortar in Peachland

4/20 Noble Smoke begins delivery service in Charlotte

4/30 Sweet Lew’s BBQ, which had been closed but serving their smoked meats out of Dish (also owned by Lewis Donald), announces they are reopening their store for to-go orders on May 7

May

5/1 Jon G’s Barbecue announces they are officially permitted for their upcoming restaurant

5/7 Sweet Lew’s BBQ reopens

5/20 A limited edition Sweet Lew’s BBQ shirt became available and supported two local small businesses with each purchase

5/21 Bill Spoon’s BBQ decides to remain curbside only even as restaurants are allowed to open with reduced capacity in phase 2

5/22 Noble Smoke reopens with extended safety precautions

June

6/4 Queen City Q announced that they are closing their uptown location, which was the last remaining location of their Charlotte locations after numbering as many as 4 in recent years.

6/8 Jon G’s Barbecue announces their soft opening dates starting June 19

6/19 Jon G’s Barbecue officially opens

6/27 Sweet Lew’s BBQ smoked enough pork for 175 plates for the Charlotte Community Kitchen

Linkdown: 4/7/20

Killer Mill Scale emergency relief raffle. A $20 ticket can win you the whole she-bang

Fox Bros out of Atlanta is doing a killer raffle of their own with $20 tickets

Kevin’s BBQ Joints has a nationwide list of barbecue joints that are shipping

Hillbilly’s Barbeque & Steaks in Lowell is moving to a new building on South Main Street

Getting excited for Wilber’s return

More on Wilber’s , who will be offering takeout when they open in May assuming social distancing due to coronavirus is still in effect

Is SC hash poised to invade Texas?

What is this sorcery from LeRoy and Lewis?

Speaking of LeRoy and Lewis:

Brett’s Backyard Bar-B-Que in Rockdale, TX with the “Corona Blueprint”

Candidates we can all (mostly) agree on:

This week in memes (for background, here):

Reader Question: Other NC joints that smoke inside the restaurant?

From our NC Historic BBQ Trail post, we got the following reader question recently:

My husband is trying to find a BBQ place that smokes their meat in the center of the restaurant, like The Salt Lick in Texas. Have you found any in NC?

From my own personal experience, I know both Old Hickory House in Charlotte and Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks in Lowell have their smokers just off the dining room inside, but I’m sure there are several others around North Carolina of which I am not aware, particularly in the eastern part of the state in which I have much less experience.

So my question is to you, dear readers: what other North Carolina barbecue joints smoke their barbecue inside the restaurant?

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Hillybilly’s BBQ & Steaks – Lowell, NC

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Hillybilly’s BBQ & Steaks – Lowell, NC

 

Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks – Lowell, NC

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Name
: Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks
Date: 1/15/15
Address: 720 McAdenville Road, Lowell, NC 28098
Order: BBQ pork sandwich with collard greens and sweet tea (hush puppies included) (link to menu)
Price: $8

Monk: When looking for a new barbecue joint to try, I always seek out a wood-smoked joint over a gasser joint (as do most serious barbecue fans). And in general, that rule of thumb has served me pretty well. Unfortunately, Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks in Lowell just outside of Gastonia was a rare case of a wood-fired joint that simply let me down.

As I mentioned in our latest Charlotte Big Board, we are going to have to start branching out to surrounding cities and towns to try new local barbecue spots, because barring a wave of new restaurant openings we are very close to running out of ones in Charlotte proper. Hillbilly’s was my first conscious attempt in 2015 to do just that. Call it my barbecue New Year’s resolution.

This Lowell location of Hillbilly’s is the original, opened in 1989, and they have a Gastonia location a few miles away as well. I believe they also used to have a Charlotte joint off Tyvola but that closed many years ago. The open flame pit at Hillbilly’s is interior to the restaurant, similar to what they cook barbecue on at Old Hickory House only just a bit bigger. It is also one of the first things you see at the front entrance. Also similar to Old Hickory House, they cook over hickory wood.

The meal starts off with a tray of fresh hush puppies brought by the waitress, even before you order, albeit with a thick ketchup-y barbecue dipping sauce. They were hot and crispy, and started the meal off right sans sauce. Unfortunately, the barbecue sandwich that followed was slathered in that same thick sauce that masked the red slaw and chopped pork. When I was able to try a piece of unsauced pork, it was slightly dry and honestly pretty bland. I chose collards for my side, but they tasted as though the flavor had been stewed right out of them in a steam tray.

Speedy: So my question, Monk, is where did they go wrong? Was there no rub, was the pork sitting under a heat lamp, was it overcooked? Was the sauce just bad? It sounded so promising…

Rudy: The sauce would have been a red flag for me.  Usually when you are loading something up with that much sauce, you are trying to cover up for some inadequacy.

Monk: The sauce, if not commercially made, was a house made impression of one. And if I had to guess, the pork’s lack of seasoning was due to minimal rub applied to the pork. It’s almost as if they wanted the sauce to provide all the flavor, which is never good.

Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks goes to show that you can’t always assume a wood-fired joint is going to deliver. Unfortunately I just can’t recommend checking them out, though thankfully this experience will not dissuade me from seeking out more wood-smoked joints in 2015.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 2 Hogs
Hillbilly's Barbeque & Steaks on Urbanspoon

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