Monk: I first posted the Lexington Big Board two years ago in June 2020 in the early months of the pandemic and have maintained it ever since but it was only in recent months that we’ve had some actual movement in the rankings. And unfortunately it was due to closures.
As a result of the NC Department of Transportation widening of Highway 8, Smiley’s Barbecue has officially closed as of February 2022 but I did get to check them out one last time in October 2020. They will surely be missed. Speedy’s appears to be open for the time being but their days are numbered as a result of the same project. And, in a shock Facebook post at the end of April, Rick’s Smokehouse (previously my overall Lexington #3) closed. Currently they are listed on Facebook as “temporarily closed” but I’ve seen no indications that they will reopen, despite numerous pleas from comments on Facebook.
That leaves us with 13 open restaurants by my count, which I continue to divide into three tiers. I did try Lexington Trimmings after the publish of the initial list but they slotted into the third tier. Blazin’ BBQ and Kickin’ Chicken was another on my list but they closed in October 2020 after only 4 months open
With that out of the way, the current Lexington Big Board
Monk: You may recall Mark Wiens from his whole hog journey in eastern North Carolina I featured a couple months back. He’s back, and featuring Lexington-style barbecue. While he hit up 5 whole hog joints in his eastern NC video, he focuses on just two restaurants here: Lexington Barbecue and Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro. While I’m of course always happy to see Lexington Barbecue featured, I like that Mark also visited Stamey’s and met with fourth generation owner/operator Craver Stamey and many of the Vietnamese pitmasters and kitchen staff who have worked for Stamey’ for years.
Description: LEXINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA – There are two main styles of North Carolina BBQ, the whole hog and vinegar based sauce in Eastern North Carolina (watch the full video here: https://youtu.be/3u3KJOqrZsQ) and the pork shoulder bbq with ketchup based sauce in Lexington, North Carolina. Today we’re going to eat, learn about, and fully experience Lexington style North Carolina BBQ!
Lexington Barbecue (https://goo.gl/maps/WN8DFKw7UDJ6Qiaf6) – Right in the heart of Lexington, North Carolina, Lexington Barbecue is known to be one of the best places for bbq in North Carolina. They slow smoke pork shoulders using a time proven process. The pork is ready, it’s chopped, mixed with sauce, and you can specify the different chopped coarseness you prefer. Along with outstanding pork barbecue, you have to order the hush puppies, which are little deep fried corn fritters that go perfectly with any bbq meal.
Stamey’s Barbecue (https://goo.gl/maps/4uzT92ErRGEip6PM7) – Next up on this tour of Western North Carolina bbq, we drove over to Greensboro, North Carolina to eat at Stamey’s Barbecue, again one of the most renowned bbq institutions in North Carolina. Their recipe is similar and again they make use of pork shoulders. Pork was fantastic, so tender and smoky with a depth of flavor and all the sides were incredibly tasty. It was another day of delicious food in North Carolina and experiencing the incredible barbecue culture of the Carolinas.
Monk: On a perfect spring day in a perfect setting, the first annual Carolina BBQ Festival capped off Barbecue Month in style at the Boileryard at Camp North End in Charlotte in late May.
My hopes were high, as I had previously written, and I was heartened to see that first the VIP then the General Admission tickets sold out in the weeks ahead of the festival. As someone who can now be considered a longtime Charlottean (having lived here for 17+ years), sometimes you can never tell whether Charlotte is going to show up for a brand new festival but Lewis Donald and team can build off a sold out festival going into next year’s edition.
Of course, the big selling point for the festival was the barbecue talent rubbing elbows together, and on that front it did not disappoint.
The biggest lines on the day were for former Charlottean Bryan Furman’s whole hog served with his signature bourbon peach sauce that pulled from his current Georgia roots. Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, SC handled the sides of slaw and an almost dessert-like sweet potato side dish that seemed to be a fan favorite.
Elliot Moss built a behemoth cinder block pit on the Boileryard grounds and smoked his eastern NC (though more accurately SC Pee Dee-style) whole hogs overnight. Matt Register of Southern Smoke brought the elevated sides of a BBQ saltine cracker casserole with a tomato salad and cornbread.
Not to be outdone, Nathan Monk, the 3rd generation pitmaster of Lexington Barbecue, brought a bunch of Lexington-style pork shoulders and red slaw smoked the night before in the storied Lexington Barbecue pits while Brandon Shepherd of Shepherd’s Barbecue in Emerald Isle handled the sides of Mexican street corn and baked beans.
For those fortunate enough to snag a VIP ticket, Jon G’s brought the heat with their beef rib croissant and jalapeno cheddar grits with a burnt end garnish while Sweet Lew’s provided a pickled ramp sausage and cheesy potatoes and a side of his version of hash and rice.
Oysters were provided by North Sea Oyster Co and Crystal Coast Oysters. Oysters plus a couple of mimosas or bloody marys made for a very filling experience for VIP customers, for sure.
Before I go any further, I should pause to give props to all of the pitmasters who came from all over NC and the southeast, many of which were running off of a lack of sleep due to running their restaurants or handling catering gigs. Not to mention the hogs provided by Ronald Simmons and Master Blend Family Farms.
On the entertainment front, several local bands kept the crowd entertained. Carolina Gator Gumbo started off the afternoon with their cajun creole music before giving way to Justin Fedor & the Denim Denim. Fedor, who also spends time in Charlotte psych-rock band Ancient Cities, channels his country-rock troubadour in this band of his. Finally, Emanuel Wynter capped off the afternoon with his unique blend of his violin skills with a talented band behind him switching easily between genres. In between sets, DJ That Guy Smitty kept the crowd’s heads bopping with his mix of funky and soulful tunes.
As successful as the debut festival was, next year I’d like to see a second wave of customers enter after the initial rush moves through because while there are lengthy lines for the first hour or two, there was not as much activity at the tents in hours 3 and 4 while there was still plenty of food. No doubt Lewis and team are working through that and more tweaks for next year’s festival.
Speaking of which, Lewis told me he has even bigger and better plans for next year’s edition, and I can’t wait until he unveils them to the public. The first Carolina BBQ Festival was certainly a great start to what hopefully becomes a Spring tradition in Charlotte. For me, it more than delivered on its promise to put Charlotte barbecue on the map.
Monk: In this short feature from UNC TV’s NC Weekend, host Deborah Holt Noel traverses across the city, taking in all the tastes and experiences it has to offer. From wakeboarding to donuts to breweries and wineries.
But of course, there’s also barbecue. On that front, she visits the barbecue pit that was discovered during the renovation of City Hall in 2014 (1:01) which also contains all of the posters of The Barbecue Festival (2:00) which brings in 150,000 visitors each October and will continue next year.
No trip to Lexington is complete without actually eating barbecue, and she wraps up the barbecue content in this video by visiting the two most prominent restaurants in Lexington Barbecue (3:19 and Bar-B-Q Center (4:45), which started as an ice cream parlor.
Description: There’s so much to do in Lexington that you can spend an entire weekend there and that’s just what we did with visits to breweries, wineries, restaurants, donut shops, even a wake park! Lexington, NC https://visitlexingtonnc.com/
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