Barbecue Bros Book Club: The One True Barbecue by Rien Fertel

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Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

IMG_8196A collection of profiles on whole hog pitmasters throughout the southeast, “The One True Barbecue” by Rien Fertel is an enjoyable if not somewhat controversial read. In particular, Fertel ruffled feathers with his chapters on Wilber Shirley and Ed Mitchell. He portrayed the former’s restaurant as a joint with a racial division of labor between the front of the house and the back and the latter as a marketing gimmick in overalls that cooks hogs in a non-traditional manner (hot and fast rather than the traditional low and slow). However fair Fertel’s representation may or may not be (and he is but one man with his opinion), the fact that he spoke with neither for the purposes of this book only added more embers to the burn barrel.

Fertel ties the profiles together through narrative, following his path from New Orleans to the Carolinas and back, with even a stop in Bushwick to visit Arrogant Swine. Each chapter not only explores the pitmaster(s) themselves but in some cases the history of an entire town with Ayden, NC and its two joints Skylight Inn and Bum’s. He particularly favors Scott’s-Parker’s Barbecue in Lexington, TN, visiting with pitmaster Ricky Parker in the first chapter and then his sons after his death in the last chapter. In between, Fertel visits 12 other whole hog joints in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and the aforementioned Arrogant Swine in NY.

I enjoyed Fertel’s writing and found this to be a quick read that I devoured over just a few sittings. Fertel cut his teeth writing oral histories for The Southern Foodways Alliance, and his experience writing on southern food showed. A small complaint would be that the only color photographs are confined to a section at the center of the book – I would have loved to see them throughout as opposed to the smaller black and white ones within the chapters. In any case, I can’t recommend “The One True Barbecue” enough.

Monk

Linkdown: 3/15/17

– Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to receive barbecue and a subscription to Our State Magazine (among other items) for his comments on Greensboro “adding no value” in hosting the ACC Tournament

– A review of the Barbecue documentary film

– TMBBQ has a post about the Texas smokehouses and barbecue pits of the 20th century

– Marie, Let’s Eat! finds Bears Den BBQ in Ocoee, TN to be similar to Herb’s in Murphy, NC

– A short film on Scott’s-Parker’s Barbecue from the Southern Foodway Alliance

– This article from the Washington Post’s Jim Shahin covers Heirloom Market BBQ among others

Linkdown: 3/8/17

– As part of its Project 543 (named for the 543 miles between Manteo on the coast and Murphy in the mountains), Visit NC has a short profile on Lexington though it curiously says you can “go whole hog” in a city where they smoke pork shoulders

– Pitt County (around Greenville, NC) is working on lining up barbecue joints for a beer and barbecue trail

– Mississippi barbecue isn’t just Memphis’s lesser cousin

“Gas station barbecue is a phenomenon in the South and especially Mississippi,” Hatten said. “It’s servicing a population of the state that otherwise probably wouldn’t have lunch because they have to get back to work … a family-run joint is the archetype in the state.”

– The News & Observer editorial board: Bill Ellis was an inspiration to employees, all

Now here’s a story every North Carolina school child should learn. It is that of a kid who grew up on a Wayne County tobacco farm in the Great Depression, dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family, worked at a variety of jobs and at 29, bought himself a hot dog stand.

– Marie, Let’s Eat! tries the brisket at potentially the best barbecue joint in Chattanooga’s, Shuford’s Smokehouse

– Daniel Vaughn on smoking barbecue in west Texas, where there are no trees

– Euphoria Greenville’s launch event in April will feature Elliott Moss

– Well this looks dang good

– More on Wofford College’s barbecue course held last January

– Barbecue is worth seeing at SXSW; also here’s an interview with director Matthew Salleh

-From an News and Observer sports writer at this week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn:

Ten Underrated Barbecue Joints in North Carolina

(A version of this article was published last year on Tabelog here)

Everybody knows that North Carolina is one of the greatest states in the country to travel around eating barbecue, and there are some amazing, legendary restaurants around which have been open for decades and garnered a whole lot of press and attention, but they’re not the only ones. There are more than four hundred barbecue restaurants in the Tarheel State. Many of them are outstanding even if they fly under the media’s radar. Here are ten that should not be overlooked.

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Backyard BBQ Pit – Durham (link to review)
The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, or Triangle, is the DMZ between the two styles of Carolina barbecue. In that zone, you don’t find an easy boundary between eastern and western (or Lexington-style). Such is the case with Backyard BBQ Pit, whose approach is similar to the great Allen & Son in Chapel Hill in that they smoke pork shoulders (the Lexington-style cut) served with an eastern style sauce with red pepper flakes to give it a little kick. Having been previously featured on Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food” you would think that Backyard BBQ would be mentioned more in the conversation of best barbecue in the Triangle. For some reason its not, but it definitely should be.

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The Barbecue Center – Lexington (link to review)
The Barbecue Center is just two miles from Lexington #1 and doesn’t get nearly as much publicity despite the fact that its recently passed owner Sonny Conrad was the major force behind The Barbecue Festival, which draws crowds of 100,000 to the city on one Saturday each October. As for the food itself, it is a classic Lexington-style joint though its dip (table sauce) can be a little sweeter than I prefer. Having grown up on Lexington #1 I certainly have my bias, but many out-of-towners without such bias (as well as plenty of locals) have stated that The Barbecue Center is the best in town. Depending on the day, they might just have a rightful claim.

Pork, brisket, ribs, wings, brunswick stewBoone’s Bar-B-Q Kitchen – Charlotte (link to review)
Dan “Boone” Gibson has his own family traditions when it comes to barbecue that don’t strictly follow the eastern/Lexington taxonomy, but you’d be silly to dismiss his barbecue right off based on that. Having had a hand in starting two Charlotte-area barbecue chains, Boone tired of that life and struck out on his own in a food truck to serve his smoked wares (pork, brisket, sausage, and ribs) directly to the people. Look for him at various food truck festivals around the Charlotte area, and you won’t be disappointed.

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Fuller’s Old Fashion BBQ – Lumberton (link to review)
Heading towards the NC coast can be hit or miss when it comes to barbecue restaurants, but this buffet-style barbecue joint off I-95 is a nice find. While the buffet has salad and seafood as well as fried chicken, the wood smoked barbecue is the main feature and rightly so. Just don’t be surprised if you get there right as it opens and find a line of folks chomping at the bit to get in.

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Johnson Family BBQ – Durham (link to review)
When you are greeted by a sign that states “It’s All About the Wood” and a simple smoker covered by an aluminum shed at a barbecue joint, you know that’s a good start. And oh, did I mention the joint is connected to a gas station off a country highway between Raleigh and Durham? Thankfully, the barbecue follows through with well-smoked eastern style barbecue with a higher ratio of light meat to dark served in a modest dining room covered with red gingham table cloths.

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Midwood Smokehouse – Charlotte (link to review)
Charlotte has been oft overlooked as a barbecue town (and usually for good reason), but Midwood Smokehouse is helping to change that perception with its focus on wood smoked meats from a variety of barbecue cuisines. While it does have an eastern carolina style pork as well as the Lexington style red slaw, Midwood draws from Central Texas in its brisket and sausages, from St. Louis in its ribs, as well as from Kansas City in its burnt ends. Throw in a full bar and you might be tempted to refer to it as “yuppie-que” but whatever you call it just know that the are serving some of the finest smoked meats in the region (the brisket is arguably the best in NC).

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Porkey’s Bar-B-Que – Mount Airy (link to review)
Similar to the coastal plans of NC, once you head west of the Piedmont of NC towards the mountains the barbecue becomes very hit or miss. Which is why stumbling across a Lexington-style joint like Porkey’s in Mount Airy was a nice surprise. It may not quite measure up to the best in Lexington, but if you are exploring the nearby wineries in the Yadkin Valley you can do a lot worse than the chopped pork at this wood smoking joint.

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Richard’s BBQ – Salisbury (link to review)
When it comes to barbecue, Salisbury is very much the little brother to Lexington. According to some, “Lexington style” barbecue – that is, chopped pork shoulders with a vinegar and ketchup-based sauce – may have even originated there. Richard’s is a wood smoking joint that serves coarsely chopped pork with plenty of bark mixed in. Add some nearly perfect hush puppies with the right mix of savory and sweet as well as a classic red slaw, and you’ve got a joint that competes with many of the better ones in Lexington.

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The Smoke Pit – Concord (link to review)
A relative newcomer, The Smoke Pit models its barbecue and presentation after Central Texas. Order a combo platter and you get a tray of meat and sides arranged like what you’d expect in just about any joint in Austin. But with the choice to drink it with a SunDrop (which along with Cheerwine is nearly the perfect drink for barbecue), it still retains some of that North Carolina charm. Much like Charlotte, Concord isn’t known for its barbecue but I’d recommend The Smoke Pit to just about anyone in the area.

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Troutman’s Bar-B-Que – Denton (link to review)
Troutman’s is the archetypal NC barbecue joint: a small, standalone wood shack off a country highway in a rural part of the state. There’s a wood pile out back, two modest dining rooms, and waitresses that take your order as soon as you find your seat. The pork is consistently moist and smokey and paired with the red slaw, hushpuppies, and a Cheerwine, it’s at a price that’s hard to beat.

What other underrated NC joints did we miss?

Linkdown: 12/7/16

– J.C. Reid of the Houston Chronicle: “The death of North Carolina barbecue has been greatly exaggerated”

– The Matthews location of Mac’s Speed Shop is set to open just after New Year’s

– Charlotte’s Got A Lot has 19 side dishes to order at Charlotte-area barbecue restaurants in this Charlotte Agenda post

– Buxton Hall Barbecue is of course on Atlanta Magazine’s list of places to go in Asheville

– Asheville also nabs Lonely Planet’s best places to visit in the US in 2017 list, and Buxton Hall gets a mention there as well

The South Slope area is quickly emerging as a gastronomic hotspot. Housed in a former skating rink, Buxton Hall (buxtonhall.com) offers a modern take on traditional barbecue in this throwback space. Enjoy plates of impossibly tender pork with vegetables cooked in the meat drippings, surrounded by the faded images of decades-old skating figures still visible on the walls. It also benefits from an in-house pastry chef who turns out superb sweet treats such as banana pudding pie to finish off a hearty, hog-based meal.

– The Daily Meal has the best sandwich in every state and for NC it is a chopped bbq sandwich from Lexington Barbecue

– Grant had a great sandwich Duke’s Bar-B-Que in Orangeburg, SC and found a solid spot in August, GA in Cleve Edmunds Bar-B-Que

– Does Georgia have the most bbq joints per capita? BBQ Hub explores that claim but finds that based on some quick and dirty spreadsheets Lexington, NC probably has the strongest claim to that title 

– NC joints get a shout out from Daniel Vaughn in this piece

Despite the difference in preferred protein, I think the closest style to Texas barbecue is in North Carolina. They cook primarily pork, but they still value cooking with wood just as much as we do in Texas.

Linkdown: 11/23/16

– North Carolina apparently smells like blackberry and barbecue according to Homesick Candles

– The Atlanta Journal Constitution blog has a first look at B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue

– Hickory Tree BBQ in Greensboro sells turkey barbecue, and not just for Thanksgiving

– Grant continues his tour of the NC Historical Barbecue Trail with stops at Switzerland Cafe and Speedy Lohr’s of Arcadia

– Marie takes a turn writing a chapter on Stamey’s  for Marie, Let’s Eat!

Linkdown: 11/16/16

– Kings BBQ in Kinston has reopened for the first time since Hurricane Matthew

– A trip to Raleigh should include a visit to The Pit, says this writer for the Columbus Dispatch

– Dallas News documents a roadtrip to Lexington for The Barbecue Festival and then to Asheville for Buxton Hall Barbecue

– Daniel Vaughn with a little shade for David Chang’s ssäm

– Grant visits Nooga-Q Smokehouse in Chattanooga and likes the chicken a lot more than everything else he tried

– Poogan’s Smokehouse has been open for one year in Charleston’s East Bay

– How John Lewis made his way from Texas to Charleston

Friday Find: NC Now on Lexington’s Barbecue Discovery

UNC TV’s NC Now visited Lexington, NC last year after the discovery of a barbecue pit at the renovated Town Hall building.

For most North Carolinians the words “barbecue” and “Lexington” go hand-in-hand. While many of us have had the chance to enjoy a plate of barbecue in Lexington, we may not know much about the history of it. Producer Katherine Johnson explains why a recent unique discovery is creating renewed interest in the history of Lexington’s barbecue, and how that history lives on today.

Linkdown: 11/2/16

– This week in “that’s so NC” barbecue: a new barbecue joint called Redneck Barbecue Lab will take over a space that formerly housed a Dairy Queen attached to a BP off I-40 in McGee’s Crossroads

– NY Times’ 13 essential barbecue stops includes Lexington Barbecue

– Speaking of Lexington, the city’s marketing campaign is apparently paying off

– Photos from last week’s 87th Mallard Creek Annual BBQ

– Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew in Austin is expanding but the new location won’t simply be “Stiles Switch 2” according to its owner

– New York Times writer Ethan Hauser: I Hopped a Plane Just for a Barbecue Sandwich. I’d Do It Again.

I can tell you with complete assurance that 532 miles is not too far to travel for a sandwich. That is the distance between my home in Ridgewood, Queens, and theSkylight Inn in Ayden, N.C., where a man in a black apron fills the cutout between the kitchen and the cash register and wields cleavers as if they were weapons from “Game of Thrones,” one in each substantial hand.

Linkdown: 10/12/16

– Hurricane Matthew causes some supply chain issues for the whole hog barbecue at Buxton Hall Barbecue

– Once again, the train will stop in Lexington for The Barbecue Festival on October 22

– Grant’s latest barbecue stops: Dead End BBQ in Knoxville and The Hickory Pit in Chattanooga

– Thrillist on John Lewis: This Man Spent 10 Years Perfecting America’s Best Brisket

Lewis figured out the exact thickness and material to insulate the walls to keep the heat in too. And because the long, round tanks and smooth edges on Lewis’ smokers are the perfect shape to keep heat and smoke circling consistently through, there’s no need to get up and move product around. Smoke stacks are rolled to a specific diameter. When I asked Lewis what that diameter was, he demurred. These specs are top secret.

– Lewis Barbecue makes the list of Eater’s Heat Map for Charleston for October

– Next year’s Cuegrass will be April 5 in front of The Pit

– Speaking of downtown Raleigh, will they be getting more Ed Mitchell soon?