Checking In: Noble Smoke

Monk: It’s been over a year since I last got takeout from Noble Smoke and much longer since I had last dined in. Recently, I found myself in the neighborhood just down the street getting my second COVID vaccine shot, so beforehand I decided to treat myself to lunch on their patio on a nice Spring day.

As everything is a la carte at Noble Smoke, I ordered a Lexington-style chopped pork sandwich ($8), a 1/4 lb of smoked turkey ($5), and a side of Anson Mills hush puppies ($4).

Speedy is on record as proclaiming Noble Smoke’s sandwich the best pork sandwich outside of Lexington. And he’s not wrong. As has been well documented, the pork shoulders are smoked in a brick pit that was fabricated to mimic the pits of Lexington Barbecue (owner Jim Noble got permission from his friends the Monk family). Topped with a red slaw on a fresh baked bun, it’s quite a satisfying sandwich. I’d be tempted to go with getting just two of those next time instead.

Speedy and I have both been into trying smoked turkey at more places so I went with that as a side. Noble Smoked has a very good version of smoked turkey, smokey and not overly dry. The sandwich might be a good switch up order sometime in the future.

Noble Smoke’s hush puppies are made with cornmeal from Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. I find them to be the best hush puppies in Charlotte, no doubt.

Noble Smoke has a daily rotation of fruit hand pies ($4), and on this day they had blueberry, which was fantastic.

Noble Smoke continues to knock it out of the park. On a nice day, their patio is a great setting, with their pallets of wood from Carolina Cookwood providing some separation to the parking lot in addition to setting some nice ambiance and the recent introduction of a beer shack for outdoor drink service. I hope to spend more Spring and Summer afternoons on that patio.

The Ultimate Charlotte Barbecue Plate (2021)

Monk: A lot (and I mean, a lot) has changed since the last time I did a “Best of Charlotte” series in 2016. Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen and Queen City Q, both winners in several categories, are both no longer in business. Neither are Sauceman’s or Bill Spoon’s, who in 2016 placed in ribs and pork respectively.

The Smoke Pit had the best brisket at the time and since then Jon G’s, Sweet Lew’s, and Noble Smoke have all opened their doors with wood-smoked brisket that each edges out the offerings from The Smoke Pit.

Midwood Smokehouse didn’t top any one category in 2016 but still had a strong showing by being in the top three in each of the five categories: pork, brisket, ribs, sausage, and other. Thankfully, they are still around and are well represented on this list.

Now, onto our picks for the “Ultimate Charlotte Barbecue Plate.”

Pork – Noble Smoke

Jim Noble and team are carrying on the 100+ years-old legacy of Lexington-style barbecue at Noble Smoke in west Charlotte. Simply rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked directly over wood coals in their custom brick masonry pit (named “John”) whose design was borrowed with permission from family friends the Monk family of Lexington Barbecue, upon tasting the pork transports you an hour or so north up I-85.

Honorable Mention: Sweet Lew’s BBQ

Brisket – Jon G’s Barbecue

The meat that put Jon G’s on the map. Of their many spectacular smoked meats, the brisket is the one must order every time you go. Do it and you won’t be disappointed. Trust me.

Honorable Mention: Noble Smoke

Ribs – The Smoke Pit

This one was a surprise from a recent trip that Speedy and I took to the Gastonia location of the local mini-chain of restaurants in late 2020. On that visit, Speedy noted that the dry rub ribs had the perfect bite with just the right amount of spice. I couldn’t agree more and it was the standout meat of that meal.

Honorable Mention: Jon G’s

Sausage – Cheerwine Hot Link from Jon G’s

A truly unique sausage made in-house at Jon G’s, with Salisbury, NC-based Cheerwine taking the place of the water used in the sausage-making process. The end result isn’t overly sweet or “Cheerwine-y” but it does impart a slight sweetness to counteract the heat of the jalapeno.

Honorable Mention: Sweet Lew’s BBQ

Beef Rib – Midwood Smokehouse

The beef rib is a weekend special at Midwood Smokehouse and upon my last visit is available every week for a cut-rate price of $32, well below what you would pay if it were charged by the pound.

Honorable Mention: Jon G’s BBQ (not available all weekends)

Side – Hash and rice from Sweet Lew’s BBQ

Hash and rice isn’t something you find in Charlotte, much less North Carolina, as its almost strictly a South Carolina barbecue dish. Sweet Lew’s differs from what you would find at True BBQ in West Columbia or Sweatman’s in Holly Hill in that instead of the off parts of the pig it uses pork as well as brisket, but I just love that they now offer it fulltime on their menu whereas it used to be a Wednesday special only.

Honorable Mentions: Pork skins from Sweet Lew’s BBQ, Smoked Meatballs from Midwood Smokehouse, Smoked wings from Noble Smoke

Charlotte Barbecue News from the Fourth Quarter of 2020

Monk: The Charlotte barbecue news seemingly slowed down in the last 3 months of 2020 as the restaurants that thankfully are still open continue to struggle through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we begin 2021, here’s hoping the news is more positive than negative. Fingers crossed!

October

10/12 Charlotte-based Bojangles briefly expanded to barbecue for National Pulled Pork Day on October 12th

10/13 – Midwood Smokehouse is one of the barbecue restaurants that politicians make a point to visit when in Charlotte

10/15 – Mac’s Speed Shop handed out free pulled pork for early voters in front of the Bojangles Entertainment Complex

November

11/9 – Midwood Smokehouse‘s brisket cheesesteak makes this list of the 6 “must-try” ones in Charlotte

11/23 – Perry’s Pig Pickin’ in Mint Hill is part of a small grocery store; the history of how this Perry brother didn’t get into the jewelry business in the Charlotte Ledger

11/28 The Smoke Pit celebrated 6 years open at its original Concord location

December

12/3 – Chef Jim Noble of Noble Smoke, his religiously conservative views, and how they fit in with today’s Charlotte

12/16 Sweet Lew’s BBQ introduces brisket tamales

12/22 Jon G’s Barbecue makes Charlotte Five’s list of best takeout meals in 2020

Linkdown: 12/9/20

Featured

Last week, an article that former Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis did for Charlotte Magazine appeared online. It digs into Chef Jim Noble and his complicated stature in Charlotte’s restaurant landscape. On one hand, he is a well-respected and successful chef and restaurateur whose philanthropic pursuits include his King’s Kitchen restaurant that employs people who are under normal circumstances considered unemployable due to poverty, homelessness, or addiction. He is also a reverend who leads bible study at that same restaurant. On the other hand, he has a religiously conservative view on gay rights and was one of only two restaurateurs who officially supported House Bill 2 (or HB2) passed by the NC Legislature in 2015 that required transgender people to use the bathroom that conformed with the gender on their birth certificates, essentially wiping out a nondiscrimination ordinance enacted shortly before by the Charlotte City Council.

From there, Purvis zooms out to explore some of the history of discrimination in the south in both the past and the present. I won’t recap it here, but it’s definitely worth a read.

It should be noted that while Noble declined to be interviewed for Purvis’s story there is no record of Noble’s restaurants discriminating against anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. But that doesn’t mean that potential patrons of his restaurants (which, in addition to Noble Smoke includes two Rooster’s Kitchen locations and Bossy Beulah’s) won’t take his views into account in deciding whether or not to spend money there, regardless of whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community or not.

I haven’t made a decision either way, but it certainly has been and will continue to be on my mind going forward.

Native News

Check out this beautifully restored sign at Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge

A City Barbeque will soon be occupying a former Steak ‘n Shake in Greensboro

Get your Jon G’s preorder in by next week

BBQ King in Lincolnton is also taking preorders for Christmas

Non-Native News

John Tanner doing yeoman’s work by taste testing the McRib

Speaking of the McRib, here’s Francis Lam’s bite-by-bite review from 10 years ago

A combination oyster bar, barbecue joint, and microbrewery is in the works from an ambitious Columbia, SC developer

A roundup of Greenville (SC) barbecue joints with a very high level primer on barbecue in the state

ICYMI, our Nashville Top 5 Posted on Monday

HOG POT