Monk: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I quietly posted my Lexington rankings a few months back through the top navigation bar. Before the pandemic hit, it was my pet project to hit all of the current Lexington-area barbecue restaurants for my definitive* Lexington rankings. I’ve been a longtime fan of Lexington Barbecue and in recent years, The Barbecue Center. But as the self-proclaimed “Barbecue Capital of the World” (one of many cities claiming that title, it should be noted) boasting at times one barbecue restaurant per 1,000 restaurants (though this is not currently the case), I needed to explore the others to understand the quality and depth of the other restaurants.
I’ve broken the 14 restaurants I’ve reviewed thus far into three tiers. Someday I will get to the curiously named Lexington Trimmings for completeness sake but in the meantime, here is the most definitive list of Lexington-area barbecue restaurants on the internet*. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lexington Big Board.
I need to revisit both Smiley’s and Speedy’s asap, as they may no longer be in business for too much longer as a result of the NC Department of Transportation widening Highway 8 that they both sit on. Also, both were reviewed very early in this blog’s life and while I really enjoyed both, I’ve had a lot of barbecue since.
Name: Randy’s Restaurant Address: 3129 US-64, Lexington, NC 27292 Order: Chopped barbecue tray with hush puppies, red slaw Pricing: $
Monk: Three barbecue restaurants in on this latest Lexington run, and this was the worst of the bunch. Randy’s Restaurant is on the side of highway 64 just off I-85 in eastern Lexington. While it it says on the sign above the restaurant “Lexington style BBQ” it really is more of a country style cooking diner. In theory, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have good barbecue.
…Except in the case of Randy’s, it actually does. The lukewarm chopped pork had a bad taste and no hint of real smoke. It did have a hint of something bitter and off in the after taste, and unfortunately I suspect that I may now know what liquid smoke tastes like in barbecue. This truly was one of the worst barbecue experiences I’ve had in recent memory, going back at least a couple of years.
Not much better can be said for the minced slaw or the hush puppies, which were almost certainly from frozen. I politely boxed up 90% of my food with the ready-made excuse that I was full in case the waitress inquired (she didn’t). I would promptly toss that box of leftovers as soon as I hit the parking lot.
I can’t speak to the other food on the menu, but avoid Randy’s Restaurant for barbecue. On the plus side and looking at the big picture, another barbecue restaurant down and I’m getting closer than ever to publishing my Lexington barbecue big board. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for that.
Name: Rick’s Smokehouse Date: 1/21/20 Address: 6043 Old U.S. Hwy 52, Lexington, NC 27295 Order: Chopped barbecue tray with hush puppies, red slaw, and Cheerwine (link to menu) Pricing: $
Monk: In a continued effort to get to know Lexington Barbecue joints better, I recently made another Lexington run to try three new-to-me barbecue joints. These three are ones that you really don’t hear about, so I was a bit apprehensive as to what I might find on this trip. I’m beginning to think about the Lexington-area barbecue restaurants in terms of tiers so the looming question was: in which tier(s) would these restaurants land?
My first stop was Rick’s Smokehouse which has a Lexington address but is in the small community (or “census designated place” if we’re being technical) of Welcome which is north of Lexington proper. Welcome is home to Richard Childress Racing and North Davidson High School, who I played soccer against 20 or so years ago. And yes, it does have a sign that reads “Welcome to Welcome” as you enter on Old Highway 52.
Rick’s is located off that same Old Highway 52 and actually burned down approximately 10 years ago as a result of a fire in the smokehouse that damaged the kitchen and dining room. Thankfully, they rebuilt their brick pits and reopened a year later and have continued to smoke over wood these days. Despite being a newer barbecue restaurant relatively-speaking (it was opened in 2009), Rick’s has also continued the old Lexington tradition of curb-side service for folks who want to stay in their car and have their cue brought out to them.
I’m happy to report that Rick’s serves a tray of wonderfully smokey and fresh barbecue, which was a bit of a revelation for me. Thinking about those Lexington tiers, this one could definitely challenge for the top tier. The red slaw and hush puppies matched the quality of the pork, so it all added up to a very good meal.
Perhaps I was overly skeptical, but I hadn’t expected such a wonderful and tasty experience, particularly when the restaurant was basically empty when I arrived a little after 11am (to be fair, I was on the early side of any potential lunch rush).
I wouldn’t be so lucky with the other two restaurant visits I made on this Lexington run, but thankfully I did get a very good meal at Rick’s Smokehouse to start off the day. It truly is a hidden gem in the Lexington barbecue landscape.
Monk: For this Pitmaster Profile, we are staying in Western North Carolina. Jordan Smith is a second-generation pitmaster at Bar-B-Q King in Lincolnton, who we recently re-reviewed. Much like Spencer Purcell, our last profile, Jordan is a new and different voice in North Carolina barbecue, and I hope you enjoy hearing from him.
If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!
How long have you lived in Lincolnton and what’s your family’s history there?
I’ve lived in Lincolnton my whole life, I was born and raised here. I only left for college where I played basketball. My dad Keith, has worked at BBQ King for 40 years. He started working for Steve (owner and founder) when he was 15 years old. Keith quickly became Steve’s right hand man and bought into ownership in the late eighties.
How did you become a pitmaster?
I started working on and off at the King at 15 years old. After college I became a full time pitmaster/manager. Barbecue has always been a passion of mine since I was a child and I was excited to dive right into the business after college. I’ve always said barbecue is a labor of love because it is not a quick process. Smoking ‘que the right way takes time but it is well worth it.
What other types of roles do you do for Bar-B-Q King?
Other roles than pitmaster/manager include social media manager and catering manager. I do a little bit of everything around here and I love it!
What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer?
My favorite meat to smoke is pork shoulder over hickory wood coals. We’ve smoked over hickory wood for almost fifty years and have always used a pork shoulder for the restaurant. Although for caterings we have smoked whole hog and briskets and I thoroughly enjoy those meats as well.
What are your barbecue influences?
My barbecue influences are my Dad (Keith Smith) and Steve Abernethy. They have taught me everything I know about barbecue. I’ve read plenty of books about barbecue but nothing compares to someone actually showing you the process from start to finish.
What is your favorite barbecue joint or style?
BBQ King is obviously my favorite joint and I love Lexington style barbecue. Pork shoulders with a tangy sauce is my go to. I have an appreciation for all styles of barbecue though and have tremendous amounts of respect for old school joints that have been in business for many years. And I also appreciate the new school barbecue joints smoking barbecue the old school way!
What is your earliest memory of barbecue?
When I was around 5 years old I can remember riding up to BBQ King in the wee hours of the morning to “help” my dad smoke barbecue, and I’ve been in love ever since. There is nothing better than that primal feeling of standing in front of a fire and smoking meat. Many employees/friends that I met at BBQ King as a child still work here to this day. Employees like Kelly Lineberger and Charlie Reep, who have been here for many years, have played a pivotal role in my life and the restaurants success.
What is the best thing about barbecue in western North Carolina?
Western NC BBQ has many great qualities but my personal favorites are the meat, sauce, and wood. The meat is usually pork shoulder or butts. The sauce has just enough vinegar with a hint of ketchup. And the wood is usually hickory or oak. These techniques are tried and true in this part of the state and I’m thankful to be a part of it.
What is a weakness or opportunity of barbecue in western North Carolina?
Weaknesses of western NC BBQ are restaurants that don’t smoke BBQ over wood. Oven baked pork is not barbecue. Another weakness is some restaurants use too much ketchup in the sauce and not enough vinegar. Barbecue smoked over live wood coals and a well-balanced sauce is a recipe for true success!
Anything else you’d like everyone to know about you or Bar-B-Q King?
My younger brother, Jared, is also a pitmaster/manager and has a passion for BBQ just like me. My fiancée, Stephanie, works at BBQ King as well. Stephanie is great with customers and she is a staple up front at the counter. Her parents (Steve and Becky Abernethy) are the founders of BBQ King. My mother, Kelly Smith, does the payroll. Stephanie’s mother (my future mother-in-law), Becky, helps decorate the restaurant for different seasons. BBQ King is family run from all angles. It is a blessing being able to work with family and share the workload. We are excited to celebrate 50 years in September 2021!
Thanks again to Jordan for his time, and if you ever find yourself in the Lincolnton area stop by BBQ King and say hi.
If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!