Linkdown: 10/30/19

The Old Hampton Store & Barbeque is part barbecue joint, part general store, and part music venue.

John Tanner’s BBQ Blog really batted for the proverbial Barbecue Bros cycle of NC barbecue in the Charlotte area with Lexington Barbecue, Noble Smoke, Sweet Lew’s BBQ, and Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Houston’s Blood Brothers BBQ makes the Smithsonian Magazine

Last weekend’s 36th Annual Barbecue Festival sounds like it was a success

The 90th Mallard Creek Barbecue was heavy on barbecue (as per usual) but light on politicians

Keaton’s BBQ in Cleveland does serve pork barbecue but its really known for its friend chicken that is dipped in Lexington-style barbecue sauce

How three Harvard students enhanced the Kamado Joe cooker with computer modeling

Adrian Miller’s Black Smoke research hits the Richmond area this weekend

Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC

Name: Noble Smoke
Date: 8/24/19
Address: 2216 Freedom Dr, Charlotte, NC 28208
Order: The Miss Mary Platter (1 lb brisket, 1 lb pork, 1 rack ribs, 1 lb turkey, red slaw, coleslaw, pickled veggies), 12 wings, hush puppies (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$ 

Monk: In 1919, the first Lexington-style barbecue stand was set up across the street from the courthouse in Lexington, NC by Sid Weaver. Shortly after, Jess Swicegood set up his own stand and both businesses thrived to the point of building permanent restaurants. Eventually, they would go on to train Warner Stamey in the ways of Lexington-style barbecue, and he continued to spread that gospel all over the Piedmont of North Carolina to owners who would go on to open such famed joints as Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Alston Bridges Barbecue, Lexington Barbecue, and Stamey’s own namesake restaurant, Stamey’s Barbecue

Exactly 100 years later and 60 miles to the south in Charlotte, Chef Jim Noble has finally opened up his passion project restaurant in the form of Noble Smoke, continuing the Lexington-style barbecue tradition (though he does offer a variety of smoke meats). Everyone knows Noble as the chef and restaurateur behind higher-end restaurants like Noble Grill, Rooster’s, and King’s Kitchen, but a Lexington-style barbecue restaurant has been 25 years in the making.

Speedy: Monk and I got to spend a couple hours with Noble before the restaurant opened and, though we didn’t get a chance to sample anything, I left that meeting confident that the man knew his ‘cue and had a true passion for it, so I was more than excited to sample the goods. The space Noble built is fantastic – rustic but refined, with ample seating, a large bar, a nice outdoor space, and a brewery joining next door. 

Monk: For our group of 5, the Miss Mary Platter was the perfect order as it gave us a chance to try just about all of the meats and in the right quantity. At the time of our visit, Noble Smoke still hadn’t fired up the brick masonry pits that were styled after Lexington Barbecue, so our pork was smoked in one of the six large offset smokers occupying the smoke room. As he is doing across the board, Noble is using high-quality ingredients (which you pay for, as the platter was $88) and in this case its Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork. On this day, the pork wasn’t quite the crowd favorite while still being very good. I can’t wait to try them now that they’ve fired up those brick pits.

Speedy: Noble clearly studied up on the Texas brisket he was trying to emulate. And I’ll say, he did a nice job. The prime brisket was moist, peppery, and flavorful. I had previously sworn off ordering brisket in the Carolinas, but Noble Smoke is joining Lewis Barbecue on the exception list. I rank it just a tad behind Lewis, but still a top ten brisket I’ve had in my life. I think any Texan would be impressed.

Monk: I couldn’t agree more, and also think that any Texan would also be impressed with the ribs that Noble Smoke is slinging. Rubbed generously with salt and pepper, I was relieved that Noble avoided the temptation to offer a saucy, sweet rib and instead something far more nuanced. North Carolina isn’t known for ribs and they can often be an afterthought, but these were more Texas Trinity than KC Masterpiece. By far, these were the favorite meats on the table in our group that day.

Speedy: I’m on record saying I don’t know why anyone would order smoked turkey at a barbecue restaurant given the choice of other delectable meats from our hooved friends. Well, I’m man enough to admit it – I was wrong. The turkey at Noble Smoke was probably the best I’ve had. Like the brisket, it was seasoned with just salt and (plenty of) pepper, but that was enough to tease out an incredible amount of flavor, all while retaining moisture. This is a hard thing to do with turkey, so hats off to Jim Noble for this. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing I had that day (that goes to the ribs), but it was the biggest surprise for me.

Monk: Like everything else, the wings from were delicious and well smoked, even if they were a bit on the small side. Noble gets his heritage chicken from Winston-Salem-based Joyce Farms, which is nice to see them source from a North Carolina operation. 

We ordered a side of the hush puppies made with Anson Mills heirloom grain corn (again, note the high quality ingredients) and the table gobbled them up pretty quickly. The Miss Mary’s Platter came with small sides of both eastern and western (red) slaw as well as pickled veggies in the form of onions, pickles, and beets. The beets were definitely different.

Speedy: Sometimes new restaurants take a few months to get up to speed and everything rolling, but Chef Jim Noble is clearly a pro and the meal we had at Noble Smoke was one of my top barbecue meals all year. Noble Smoke was designed to be a destination barbecue joint, and I think it will be just that. I’m certainly adding it to the list for every time I visit Charlotte. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Wings – 4 hogs
Turkey – 4.5 hogs 
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Linkdown: 8/21/19

Sweet Lew’s Barbeque, Buxton Hall Barbecue, Lexington Barbecue, Grady’s BBQ, and Skylight Inn BBQ all represent NC on this Thrillist list

Is the North Carolina Department of Transportation Anti-Barbecue? John Tanner things maybe perhaps so.

NC DOT, careless of the thousands of victims of The Great Wilber’s Debacle, now turns its guns on Lexington.  NC Dot has determined that the Smiley’s-Speedy’s section of Winston Road apparently gets a fair amount of traffic.  Of course it does.  It contains two barbecue places.   

Robert Moss reflects on Charleston’s dining scene so far, including the barbecue scene which went from “minor outpost to [an] acclaimed destination”

USA Today advocates for Clyde Cooper’s BBQ in Raleigh, saying its “a key stop on any tour of America’s pantheon of BBQ joints”

Bryan Furman will be at this November’s Savannah Food & Wine Festival

Can any city rival Austin’s BBQ? Austin-based food writer Rob Balon says no.

The 36th Barbecue Festival will take place October 26th in Lexington

Noble Smoke (Finally) Opens Its Doors

Monk: Personally, I have been following the Jim Noble barbecue restaurant quest for just short of four years. The first article I ever linked that mentioned Jim getting into the barbecue business was from an August 2015 linkdown and I’ve been tracking them on the Charlotte Big Board ever since. Though of course, as has been well established, Jim’s been looking to open a barbecue restaurant for over two decades but wasn’t going to open one without the right location, which Speedy and I got a behind the scenes look at last month. Well, after a visit during their soft opening, I’m happy to report that Noble Smoke is finally here and its spectacular.

While the official grand opening of Noble Smoke is July 25, they officially opened for business for a nearly 2-week period of soft openings (dubbed “The Little Smoke”) on Friday, July 12 meaning the restaurant opens at 4, food is served at 5, and they close once they sell out of meat. On the first Friday, the reduced menu comprised of pork and brisket (served either in sandwich form or by the ¼, ½, or 1 lb) as well as a several slides and a “hand pie” dessert.

And of course, with their on-site partnership with Suffolk Punch Brewing (who hasn’t opened this second location yet), they have plenty of beer on tap in addition to wine and cocktails. They even have a beer called “Noble Toast” which is a Vienna lager and was brewed in honor of their partnership with Noble Smoke. Once the brewery opens, it will surely cement its status as a destination barbecue restaurant.

I stopped in for a quick snack at the bar and am happy to report that they have hit the ground running at Noble Smoke. I ordered a ¼ each of pork and brisket as well as their Lexington-style red slaw. The pork is of course smoked in their custom brick pits fashioned with permission after the famous pits at Lexington Barbecue (Jim’s favorite barbecue joint along with Skylight Inn). I don’t believe they are serving it with the Lexington-style dip chopped in, instead allowing diners to add their choice of sauce. Adding a few dashes of the “Lex” sauce and mixing in the red slaw created the familiar taste of Lexington-style chopped barbecue. Next time I’ll try it on a sandwich. Also available is a sweeter “19” sauce and a mixture of the two, dubbed “Smoke.”

The brisket was what I was probably most interested in, having previously tried the pork at Suffolk Punch Brewing’s first location (then known as Hyde Brewing) for St. Patrick’s Day last year. As Speedy and I were shown a few weeks ago, Noble has 6 custom-built offset smokers that handle the brisket (and I’m guessing the rest of the forthcoming smoked meat items which I’m presuming will including chicken, sausage, pork ribs, and beef ribs). And what they put out is some seriously legit brisket. I was served both the flat and the point. The flat (or lean) had a great peppery bark and was not dry at all. The fatty cut from the point had well-rendered fat which melted in my mouth. Jim Noble’s focus has always been Lexington-style pork but (perhaps unsurprisingly) the man can make a mean brisket.

As I mentioned above, Noble Smoke has hit the ground running. The huge restaurant filled up quickly and had a line out the door by the time I left but I observed no major servicing hiccups. There was a little confusion at the bar as to when we were able to order but once ordered, the food came out promptly. Hospitality was great and all of the servers at the bar were friendly.

Once the soft opening period finishes later this month and the menu expands, I expect that Noble Smoke will be in serious contention for best barbecue restaurant in Charlotte. It’s that good.

Noble Smoke will raise the bar for Charlotte barbecue when it opens this summer

Jim Noble will officially enter the barbecue restaurant world with the opening of Noble Smoke in the coming few weeks, but he is certainly no newcomer when it comes to barbecue, having grown up in High Point and spent his life going to Lexington Barbecue. Noble Smoke will be the culmination of a decades-long idea that’s been rumbling around in Jim’s head ever since he got started in the restaurant business. Jim may have started off in french cuisine and fine dining, but from spending some time with him getting a behind the scenes tour of the upcoming restaurant, it’s pretty evident that barbecue (and in particular, North Carolina barbecue) is a passion of his.

We’re still a few weeks ago from the opening, but its pretty clear to me that once opened, this will be a destination barbecue joint. The touches that you would expect from a Jim Noble restaurant are there – there will be a full service bar, the design is impeccable, and the dining experience will be well thought-out – but where it will really stand out is what’s housed in the custom built smokehouse out back.

That is where there are 6 custom-built reverse-flow offset smokers (each one named for Jim’s great aunts and uncles) as well as a brick pit that pays homage to Lexington Barbecue via a slightly tweaked design of their pits. This was probably the coolest part of the tour for Speedy and me, as longtime readers will know that Lexington Barbecue is our #1 all-time favorite restaurant (Rudy too). Jim is also a huge fan and has learned from the Monks, the family behind Lexington Barbecue, for years. With Noble Smoke, he will be very much looking to continue the Lexington-style barbecue tradition that began with Sid Weaver and Jess Swicegood and their stalls across the street from the Lexington courthouse in 1919.

Besides the smoked meat, the other part of the experience that will help make Noble Smoke a destination barbecue spot will be Suffolk Punch Brewing, which shares the other side of the old bus depot that will house the restaurant. A beer garden and killer patio will make the strong case for customers to stick around well after their meals are done, and Suffolk Punch will be doing some lambic style brewing of sours onsite at this second location, which will surely help differentiate it in the Charlotte market.

Let’s not forget Bossy Beaulah’s, the chicken shack that will sit on the property down a small hill closer to Freedom Drive. Jim has named that after his Aunt Beaulah, whom he named a mobile smoker trailer after and whose fried chicken he grew up on. That will have a smaller menu but patrons in the beer garden will be able to order from it with the servers running up a small hill to bring them brined and buttermilk breaded fried chicken sandwiches.

Jim Noble is a North Carolina guy who is passionate about North Carolina barbecue and I am confident that he will raise the bar when it comes to barbecue in Charlotte. Midwood Smokehouse brought back wood smoked barbecue to Charlotte in 2012 and Sweet Lew’s BBQ has contributed greatly to the scene to it with its opening last December, but Charlotte has so much more room to grow when it comes to its barbecue scene. If Houston’s barbecue scene is blowing up, there’s no reason why Charlotte can’t do the same. I think it just takes more passionate folks like Jim. Noble Smoke will continue the upward trend of barbecue in Charlotte with its opening this summer and I predict will stake a worthy claim to be Charlotte’s flagship barbecue restaurant.

Linkdown: 6/5/19

Congrats to the 2019 Barbecue Hall of Fame inductees, including Lexington Barbecue’s Wayne Monk

Meet the men and women behind several of Birmingham’s barbecue restaurants

Speaking of Birmingham and Big Daddy, his daughter says he would be “overjoyed”

Southern BBQ Belt Roadtrip, per Robert Moss:

Paying it forward at Skylight Inn: please read this somewhat long, somewhat meandering but ultimately worthwhile story about barbecue and tradition and generosity

John Lewis is definitely as good a person as any to give you brisket tips

Sam Jones’ local paper writes up his latest book, Whole Hog BBQ

<Homer Simpson voice> Doh!

Now Available: Barbecue Bros “Forefathers of Lexington Barbecue” T-shirts!

Link: Barbecue Bros Forefathers of Lexington-style Barbecue Shirt

In the spirit of the pioneers and innovators of our favorite style of barbecue, the Barbecue Bros are pleased to make available our first t-shirt featuring those men in the classic Helvetica list style. We hope that Lexington-style barbecue fans will purchase and wear this acknowledgement of history proudly. The shirts are $24.99 and ship for free if you have an Amazon Prime account.

  • Lightweight, Classic fit, Double-needle sleeve and bottom hem
  • Available in Men’s, Women, and Child sizes S-3XL
  • Solid colors: 100% Cotton; Heather Grey: 90% Cotton, 10% Polyester; All Other Heathers: 50% Cotton, 50% Polyester

Click to purchase

A brief history of Lexington-style Barbecue

In 1919, Sid Weaver set up a tent across the street from the Lexington courthouse and began selling what would later become “Lexington-style” barbecue. He was the first man to sell this style of barbecue.

Weaver later teamed up with Jess Swicegood and those two men perfected Lexington-style barbecue and helped spread the technique across the Piedmont of North Carolina. Lexington-style means pork shoulders are smoked as opposed to whole hogs because shoulders are fattier and more forgiving than the leaner hams and loins found in a whole hog and yield more barbecue. They took the vinegar-pepper sauce of the eastern part of the state and added ketchup to provide sweetness to balance it out while maintaining the tang of the vinegar.

In 1927, Warner Stamey began working under Weaver and Swicegood while in high school, and for me this is where things began to pick up. After a few years under the tutelage of Weaver and Swicegood, Stamey moved 100 miles southwest to Shelby, NC. There, he taught the Lexington-style technique to his brother-in-law Alston Bridges as well as Red Bridges (oddly enough, not related). They, of course, opened their own respective restaurants in 1956 and 1946 respectively, both of which still exist today.

Stamey moved back to Lexington in 1938 and bought Swicegood’s restaurant for $300. It was there that he taught the legendary barbecue man Wayne Monk, who went on to open Lexington Barbecue (aka “The Honeymonk”) in 1962, which just so happens to be the Barbecue Bros’ collective favorite barbecue restaurant ever. Stamey would of course go on to open Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro, where his grandson Chip Stamey still owns and operates to this day. Warner Stamey is also widely credited with bringing hush puppies to barbecue restaurants.

Much of the information above was taken from Robert Moss’s seminal book Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. If you want to read more on the history of our favorite food, I highly recommend it.

Linkdown: 3/28/18

– Southern Living’s best barbecue joint of 2018 is…a tie between Lexington Barbecue and Southern Soul BBQ.

– I’m sorry, what? A recipe for “NC vegan barbecue”

– Happy Birthday on Monday to Grady’s pitmaster Steve Grady

– Speaking of eastern NC barbecue, Scotty McCreery will definitely be serving some at his wedding in the mountains of NC this summer

“I can tell you barbecue is definitely going to be part of the wedding,” he said. “One of my loves about North Carolina is Eastern North Carolina barbecue, so that will be in the wedding.”

– RIP Joe Swicegood, owner of Little Pigs BBQ in Asheville

– Marie, Let’s Eat! visits the legendary Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous in Memphis and finds that he prefers “Rendezvous style” (dry ribs and mustard slaw) to “Memphis style” (wet ribs and may slaw)

– Thanks to Nobly for including us in their list of 121 Ultimate Food Blogs for 2018!
The Noblys 121 ultimate food blogs for 2018

The 10 best NC barbecue joints in Western NC

Monk: I still need to work my way through the eastern part of the state (it’s been on my to-do list for 5 years and counting…) in order to be able to make a more comprehensive North Carolina-wide list, but in the meantime here’s my list of the best NC barbecue restaurants in the western part of the state.

Please note: For the purposes of this list, I’m defining “western NC” as west of, but not including, Raleigh. In essence, I am dividing the state geographically by the two styles of barbecue but not limiting this list to purely Lexington-style/Piedmont-style/western-style barbecue joints. Make sense?

10. Old Etowah Smokehouse – Etowah (review); NOW CLOSED

A few years back Old Etowah Smokehouse was part of a trend of new whole hog joints opening up outside the eastern half of the state (more on that later). The trend may have cooled somewhat since – the amount of labor involved may have something to do with that – but Old Etowah is honoring the style properly in the shadows of the Nantahala National Forest hear Hendersonville. 6577 Brevard Rd, Etowah, NC 28729 facebook.com/oldetowahsmoke

9. Barbee’s Bar-B-Que – Peachland (review)

This was my biggest barbecue discovery of 2017, a classic highway barbecue joint off highway 74 where they are slinging near perfect Lexington-style barbecue. A true hidden gem in the small town of Peachland, which is outside of Marshville, which is outside of Monroe, which is outside of Charlotte. Glenn Falls St, Peachland, NC 28133 facebook.com/Barbee’s-Bar-B-Q

8. Backyard BBQ Pit – Durham (review)

Backyard BBQ Pit gets somewhat overlooked in the Research Triangle Park area, but they definitely shouldn’t be. Which is somewhat curious, considering they’ve gotten coverage on Food Network’s “Man vs. Food”. Don’t make the same mistake as everyone else, and check them out. 5122 NC Hwy 55, Durham, NC 27713 sweetribs.com

7. The Barbecue Center – Lexington (review)

This underrated joint in Lexington often lives in the shadow of Lexington Barbecue not 2 miles away but many locals claim it to be the best in the city. I don’t personally happen to agree with them, but they aren’t necessarily wrong. 900 N Main St, Lexington, NC 27292 bbqcenter.net

6. Allen & Son Bar-B-Que – Chapel Hill (review); NOW CLOSED

When Speedy and I checked out Allen & Son in 2012, we dinged them for their ribs instead of simply focusing on the pork. This was a mistake, and the hybrid of chopped pork shoulder with eastern sauce earned 5 hogs from us on that trip while the ribs knocked the overall rating down to 4 hogs. A return trip is surely in order to properly reassess Allen & Son (add it to the list…). 6203 Millhouse Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 facebook.com/Allen-Son-BBQ

5. Bar-B-Q King – Lincolnton (review)

Residents in the small town of Lincolnton (20 minutes north of Gastonia and 50 minutes from Charlotte) are lucky to have had a great barbecue joint such as Bar-B-Q King serving them for the past 46+ years. This is barbecue certainly worthy of a short detour if you are on driving in 321 in that part of the state.  2613 E Main St, Lincolnton, NC 28092 barbqkingnc.com

4. Stamey’s Barbecue – Greensboro (review)

One irony of the #BrooklynBBQ controversy was that the following week the ACC Tournament was being hosted for the second year in a row in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center instead of in its spiritual home at the Greensboro Coliseum with Stamey’s just across the street. While I am still in the camp that there is good barbecue in Brooklyn, there just isn’t anything that approaches Stamey’s. 2206 W Gate City Blvd, Greensboro, NC 27403 stameys.com

3. Buxton Hall Barbecue – Asheville (review)

I’ve been thinking about the whole hog from Buxton Hall Barbecue for nearly two years and can’t wait to get back to Asheville. From what I can tell though, Elliot Moss and team continue to blow it out of the water in South Slope. 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC 28801 buxtonhall.com

2. Bridges Barbecue Lodge – Shelby (review)

I rarely make it through Shelby without finding a reason to stop at Bridges Barbecue Lodge. It might more accurately be described as more of a 1a for me behind my number 1 below, and it has yet to really let me down ever. 2000 E Dixon Blvd, Shelby, NC 28150 bridgesbbq.com

1. Lexington Barbecue – Lexington (review)

Lexington Barbecue aka Lexington #1 aka The Honeymonk is first, my last, my everything. 100 Smokehouse Ln, Lexington, NC 27295 lexbbq.com

Well, what do you think? What joints have I missed the mark on or left off my list entirely? Let me know in the comments below.

Linkdown: 3/7/18

When a re-posting of a 2014 article takes over the internet on a Sunday; Munchies on how one food writer noticed a micro-trend of barbecue restaurants around the world modeling their restaurants on Fette Sau in Brooklyn

– The Charlotte Observer had not one but two separate stories in response to the tweet (again, on a story that was 4 years old)

Lexington Barbecue fans react; Allen & Son fans react

– The Washington Post even weighed in; again, this story was 4 years old

– Then came the tweets. The awesome, awesome tweets.

– Oklahoma sushi:

– Brooklyn doughnuts:

– A solid mini-tweetstorm (click on Tweet to see follow-ups)

– There’s just way too many to pick from:

– I’m actually not one of those who don’t believe that Brooklyn doesn’t have good barbecue. I’ve certainly had bad barbecue in Brooklyn, but Hometown Bar-B-Que is very, very good (our review). Arrogant Swine is pretty good too (our review). Heck. even Dinosaur Barbecue wasn’t bad for a regional chain (our review). You may recall that Matthew Odam of the Austin-Statesman took a pulse check last November.

– Sam Jones agrees, and is a friend of Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que

– A few NC sportswriters in Brooklyn for this week’s ACC Tournament actually tried Fette Sau and the verdict? Actually pretty good!

When all was said and done, the four Carolina boys that showed up on their barbecue high-horse were left with little room to eat their words — fat and surprisingly happy — after chowing down on a couple pounds of meat.

– The NC State beat writer from the News & Observer tried The Smoke Joint near Barclays and didn’t mind it (we hated it nearly 6 years ago)

– But for reals, here’s a solid PSA: