Linkdown: 5/12/21

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In one of the latest signs of a return to normalcy, 60 teams participated in last weekend’s 40th Annual BBQ on the Neuse Festival, the world’s largest whole hog competition. Attendance was larger than expected, with upwards of 15,000 attendees (vs an expected 5,000) coming to downtown Kinston to enjoy barbecue, music, and a little rainy weather (at least on Friday night).

In terms of winners, contestant Amy Bell had a good year, winning first overall in product quality and sauce. The rest of the winners here:

Next year’s event will be held on May 6-7.

Native News

Indy Week reviews the Raleigh location of Sam Jones BBQ, which doesn’t even have a freezer on site

Daniel Vaughn spent a little over a week in NC and ended his tour at Jon G’s Barbecue this past Saturday where I was fortunate enough to meet up with him

Non-Native News

Congrats to Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ on their new space in Buda, about 15 minutes south of their current location in South Austin

Juan Luis from John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue makes this list

A few shows with barbecue-focused episodes – Ugly Delicious, Cooked, Taco Chronicles, The Chef Show – are on this list from The Manual

Bon Appetit has an essay from Black Smoke

But of course Texas has a state high school barbecue championship

It’s not everyday that a barbecue restaurant gets featured in Architect Magazine; in this case its Black Hog BBQ in Ashburn, VA

Jon G’s Barbecue – Peachland, NC (Speedy’s take)

Name: Jon G’s Barbecue
Address: 116 Glenn Falls St, Peachland, NC 28133
Order: 1.5 lbs brisket, 0.5 lbs pork, 0.5 lbs bacon burnt ends, 1lb rib, 2 Cheerwine hot links, jalapeno cheese grits, apple crisp (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Speedy: Finally, I was in the Charlotte area on a Saturday and able to make it to the Jon G’s Barbecue brick and mortar location, after Monk’s continual praise and an impressive experience with the food truck a few years back. As a non-NC resident, I am only able to pop in and out of Charlotte a few times a year, and Saturday’s are not always convenient times for a trip over to Peachland, so I have one plea: give the people what they want! More barbecue! But I digress.

Monk: I’m pretty sure Speedy gets it now, but even though they are only open Saturdays it’s not like Garren and Kelly are sitting around the rest of the week between prep, catering gigs, and the food truck. Plus, the Saturday only aspect makes it more of an experience. 

Speedy: After loading up from Charlotte around 9:15 AM, we arrived at a small building off highway 74 with a picnic shelter out back around 10:00 and found our place in line for the 11:00 opening. Even an hour early, we were about 10th in line, but we didn’t mind the wait, as we were greeted with a cooler full of (free) Burial beer. A nice touch.

Monk: You know I love free beer and the fact that it’s one of my favorite breweries (NC or otherwise) only adds to it. We each grabbed and beer and joined in on the tailgating atmosphere. This is the one thing I try to convey when convincing anyone to make a trip to Peachland – it’s an experience that’s worth the trip. After all, Saturdays are for the boys!

Speedy: Let’s start with the brisket and not bury the lede. Similar to my experience with Jon G’s food truck a couple years ago, the brisket was fantastic. With apologies to both Jim Noble and John Lewis, this is the best brisket I’ve had in the Carolinas, and rivals Owlbear for the best outside of Texas. The peppery goodness pleased me greatly. I was actually a little worried about the brisket when I saw that Jon G’s uses a rotisserie smoker instead of the Texas standard barrel offset, but it worked out just fine.

For some reason, Jon G’s brisket is still ever so slightly behind my personal Holy Quadrumvirate of brisket (Franklin’s, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s) but maybe because there’s just something different about eating brisket in Texas.

Monk: Of course that rotisserie smoker is an Oyler from Texas-based J&R Manufacturing, but I get Speedy’s concern when it’s not coming from an army of offset smokers made from old propane tanks (like the original Jon G’s smoker). 

I don’t always get the pork at Jon G’s, but that’s not to say they don’t do a good job with it. And on this visit, it was up to par even if it’s not what we were there for. 

Speedy: As you loyal readers know, I’m very much a rib man. When I visited the food truck ribs were not on the menu, so I had been salivating thinking about ribs the whole drive over. The dry ribs served at Jon G’s were seasoned well and cooked nearly perfectly. I don’t think I’d change a thing and would consider this a must order meat.

Monk: Man, those ribs are so good and I couldn’t agree more. They might even merit a revisit to my Ultimate Charlotte Barbecue Plate in the not-too-distant future.

I think they’ve really dialed in their Cheerwine hot link but I know Garren is really high on their newish Cheesy-Tex sausage made with cheese from Brown Creek Creamery in nearby Polkton So I’ll have to try that next time around when I’m not around Speedy, who is unyielding in his lack of tolerance for lactose.

Speedy: The bacon burnt ends were a special of the day. They had great flavor, as expected, but weren’t totally consistent. There were a couple pieces in our order that were a little dry. Overall, I’d still order again, but in a near perfect meal, this was my nit to pick. 

Monk: My experience with smoking my own bacon burnt ends is that the variance in cubing leads to some getting overdone while they larger ones cook through. Unavoidable but understandable. 

The jalapeno cheddar grits had a little more heat than usual on this visit, which was not unwelcome. Speedy ordered the apple crisp which I’m not sure I’ve ever had from them. It’s a simple but delicious way to end the meal. 

Speedy: Like all Texas-style Barbecue, it’s not something I can eat every day, as I was left with a bit of a gut bomb later in the day. So maybe Jon G’s has it right with the Saturday only thing. But overall, Jon G’s Barbecue is ridiculous. One of the best barbecue meals you’ll get anywhere. If you get the chance, don’t just stop by; make a plan to get there early and spend a Saturday morning out there. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Sausage – 4.5 hogs
Bacon Burnt Ends – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

Charlotte Barbecue News from the First Quarter of 2021

Monk: After nearly a year of various stages of lockdown and a big spike in COVID cases in January, the first quarter of 2021 had mostly positive news as restaurants managed through relaxed restrictions starting in March.

Here in Charlotte, restaurants are finding new and different ways to diversify their food offerings to attract customers and some are even in expansion mode. Let’s hope that trend continues into Q2.

January

1/5 North State BBQ announces it is opening a second location in Lake Norman off Statesville Rd

1/10 RayNathan’s in Gastonia celebrated their 2 year anniversary

1/13 Sweet Lew’s BBQ hires its first “barbecue apprentice” in Keywon Dooling from the local culinary school at Central Piedmont Community College

1/29 Jon G’s Barbecue gets their first national magazine feature

February

2/7 Pitmasters from Bobby’s BBQ, City Limits Barbeque, and Fork Grove BBQ have a “barbecue Saturday Texas BBQ Pitmaster Meatman meat-up” meet up at Jon G’s Barbecue

2/12 Jon G’s Barbecue introduces some awesome Coors Banquet Beer-inspired t-shirts

2/15 Noble Smoke launches taco kits now available every Tuesday

2/16 Bar-B-Q King makes this list of “50 must-try cheap eats in Charlotte under $10” from Axios Charlotte (formerly Charlotte Agenda)

2/24: Axios Charlotte posts their list of the 4 best barbecue spots in Charlotte, with another 4 worth the drive; we even get a brief shoutout in reference to Jon G’s

March

3/1 Jon G’s Barbecue acquired their restaurant one year ago on 3/1; they would open for business about 3 months later

3/2 Roddey’s BBQ food truck in Rock Hill changes locations

3/3 Noble Smoke introduces the “Mini Mary,” a smaller version of their “Miss Mary” platter that feeds 4

3/4 Sweet Lew’s Barbeque and Midwood Smokehouse make the Eater list for Charlotte

3/9 Mac’s Speed Shop and Noble Smoke have two of the best patios in Charlotte

3/12 Sweet Lew’s Barbeque announces a “Bootcamp and BBQ” event on April 17

3/19 Noble Smoke introduces “The Noble Smoke Pitmaster Experience” where you can learn from their pitmasters for the somewhat steep price of $500 a spot; the initial spots have since sold out

We are offering an exclusive opportunity to learn the step-by-step process of smoking meat first-hand from our pitmasters, Stuart and Ed. You get to take home the meats of your labor which includes a whole brisket and pork butt (5 lbs each). But that’s not all! 3 sauces, a hat, a pitmaster t-shirt, lunch, and a post-smoke beer are also included.

3/19 Charlotte-based Mac’s Hospitality Group, the parent company of Mac’s Speed Shop, eyes growth across the Southeast in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Florida under the leadership of recently-hired president Shang Skipper

3/19 Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ will open a location of its fast casual concept in Concord in the coming weeks

What It’s Like to Open a Barbecue Restaurant in the Middle of a Pandemic

Good news: Garren and Kelli Kirkman of Jon G’s Barbecue finally realized their dream of opening a barbecue restaurant this year. Bad news: the restaurant opening was in the middle of a global pandemic with all of the social distancing and protective measures that go along with that. A little over three months into their dream, I reached out to Garren and Kelly to see how the first few months have gone.

How has the reception been the past 3 months or so after opening your long-awaited brick and mortar?
Pretty humbling to say the least. It blows our minds when people from all walks of life start lining up to eat our food. From local Anson county natives all the way to people from Texas and beyond, we truly feel so honored to get to do this week to week in our own building.

What were you able to learn from your three soft openings in June and July?
Those soft opening days were crazy and hectic, but we knew that we needed to train our staff that had never worked on the food truck before. 

It was also a goal of ours to help people understand how the line would work and make the wait seem like more of a party than a wait at all. 

The biggest thing (more from a business perspective) was to dial in our ticket times. We wanted to be very similar in the food truck times, but still engage in our customers with conversation and a welcoming atmosphere. Amazingly, every week, be it a $10 ticket or a $300 ticket it is still a 1-3 minute turnaround. 

What are some of the unexpected things you didn’t realize you’d have to do as part of running a restaurant? 
Well, food truck life is definitely not for the faint of heart. It prepared us in ways that we didn’t even know we needed until we opened the restaurant doors. It felt like a relief and a dream to have our own space to cook in. It is nice to not have to drive ourselves to where we are serving worrying about flat tires, generator issues, praying the food stays put in the trailer while traveling and serving in 107°or 30°. 

Changing gears, how early have you been selling out each Saturday?
The earliest was 3:30, but on average around 5:00 pm. Sometimes what we have on special, Brunswick Stew for example, is sold out by noon. We did Pork Chops on special (which we thought were phenomenal, by the way) that we were giving away at the end of the night. Sometimes it’s just a gamble.

What’s been the most popular menu item?
Overall, brisket continues to take the top spot, but we sell double (sometimes triple) the amount of sandwiches in the restaurant versus the food truck days.

Any plans for opening outside of Saturdays in the near future?
We’d love to, but not sure what that schedule looks like at this point. A very large (75% or more) of our guests are people who drive from 1+ hours away and couldn’t necessarily make that trip for a weekday lunch break.

We are finally getting catering calls again, which has been null since March. Catering is typically a weekday job, so we are at the restaurant prepping and delivering that for people as well. 

With a small building comes limited refrigeration and warming space. We have to keep everything at safe temperatures and grow into whatever is next for us. 

That makes a lot of sense. In terms of upcoming specials, are there any you’d like to tease?
We just rolled out our Brunswick Stew, and my gracious it went FAST. We’ll continue to have that through the Fall. We are also toying with the idea of a burnt end. Posted one picture on social media and we think people will enjoy those as well. 

What would you like every customer to know before they make the trip out to Peachland?
Don’t let the line be a downer. The best part is that it’s outside (covered for rain and such). You can social distance and still feel somewhat back to normal in these crazy times we live in today. Make friends, BYOB, share stories and talk to us when it’s your time to order. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without our amazing customers and staff. We love getting to know you. At the end of the day, we are a small business and it’s still us (Garren and Kelly) working the front lines and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Thanks to Garren and Kelly for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk with us.

Jon G’s Barbecue is located off Highway 74 at 116 Glenn Falls St in Peachland, NC (about 40 minutes east of Charlotte). They are open Saturdays from 11 until 6pm or until the meat runs out.