Linkdown: 1/11/17

– A nicely written, in-depth article from Robert Moss about the uptick in whole hog barbecue restaurant openings:

– BBQ Hub breaks down the worst barbecue news of 2016

– On this episode of Charlotte Magazine’s #DiscussCLT podcast, Frank Scibelli reveals that the Midwood Smokehouse Park Rd location should open in March(ish) and they are planning to open another one in Lake Norman this year

– Speaking of Midwood, they have a new burnt ends recipe that’s more in line with traditional KC style

– Marie, Let’s Eat! checks out a “Chattanooga-style” barbecue joint called Porkers Bar-B-Que

– Congrats to The Smoke Pit on the opening of their Salisbury location

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: 12/14/16

– John Shelton Reed expands on his Hillary/Midwood vs Trump/Stamey’s theory though I must admit I hate to see Midwood Smokehouse get dragged into this

– Grant’s latest barbecue joints includes a visit to the Atlanta outpost of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue which looks awesome

Now, let’s step aside from talking about this restaurant and the trip and let’s look at the big picture. Four months in Tennessee and the barbecue that I’ve found has been a few pretty good places, a bunch of so-so ones, and a handful of unspeakable disappointments. Nine hours in Georgia and one, two, three, that’s a hat trick, three barbecue meals better than any that I’ve had since moving. Now, next week, I’ll tell you about a very good place we’ve found in Chattanooga, by far my favorite in the city. But as much as I enjoyed it, it is still not anywhere close to being as good as Cleve Edmunds, or Heavy’s, or B’s. My search continues.

– Grant’s other recent reviews: Heavy’s Bar-B-Q in Crawfordville, GA and Old Plantation Bar-Be-Que in Chattanooga, TN

– Q-4-Fun reviews Texas-style joint The Beast in Paris (France  not Texas) and had “the best beef rib [he’s] ever had” (again, France not Texas)

– In case you need some barbecue book recommendations for gifts, the BBQ Hub has you covered:

– Kathleen Purvis, ladies and gentlemen

Midwood Smokeshack – Matthews, NC

img_6574Name: Midwood Smokeshack
Date: 9/30/16
Address: 3335 Siskey Pkwy #400, Charlotte, NC 28105
Order: Well-Fed combo platter with pulled pork (x2), brisket, and sausage with creamed corn, collards, and cornbread  (link to menu)
Price: $24

Monk: Readers may recall that I had previously checked out Midwood Smokeshack in early September on the invitation of FS Food Group owner Frank Scibelli for the primary purpose of meeting the new pitmaster, Michael Wagner. I didn’t want do an official review of that visit but this time around I took the family there on a Friday night to check it out on my own dime.

During our couple of minutes wait in a short line, I was able to convince Mrs. Monk to go in on the “Well-Fed” platter containing 4 meats and two sides with the stipulation that two of the meats be pork since she she wasn’t interested in eating any brisket (we also got sausage as our fourth meat).

Midwood Smokeshack is utilizing the same rotisserie-style, stick burning smoker used at the full-sized Midwood Smokehouse locations and while there may some slight variations, all in all I found the meats to be pretty consistent in quality and flavors. The chopped pork had flavorful chunks of bark throughout and I really enjoyed mixing some of the eastern NC sauce in. I requested a mix of fatty and lean brisket and it had the peppery bark you would expect from Midwood Smokehouse. And the sausage with the South Carolina mustard sauce was a hit with both myself and the missus.

I’m usually pretty consistent when it comes to sides at Midwood Smokehouse: slaw and hush puppies. But with Mrs. Monk picking out sides (another stipulation of getting the Well-Fed platter), we were a bit more adventurous. I hadn’t tried the creamed corn before and after tasting it, I’m not sure why I hadn’t – I loved it and will definitely order it again. The collards with chunks of brisket mixed in were just ok and I’ve tasted better.

The other difference between Smokeshack and Smokehouse is they have opted for cornbread over hush puppies. Partially for logistical reasons – a deep fryer in a crowded serving area would be dangerous – but I also got the sense from speaking with Frank last time that they also wanted to try something different. Their version of cornbread was little bite-sized muffins and was delicious.

I love the original Midwood Smokehouse and will continue to frequent that establishment when the occasion calls for it. But fast casual is increasingly the way people want to eat these days (families, in particular) so its really smart for FS Food Group to build out the Midwood Smokeshack concept (along with their Mediterranean concept Yafo). The fact that they execute a slimmed-down version of the same menu with no drop off in quality is impressive, and I predict that I will find myself frequenting this establishment pretty darn often.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Linkdown: 9/14/16

– Jim Noble is smoking barbecue for the Tabor Bungalow Social this coming Saturday, presumably as a test run for his forthcoming barbecue restaurant Noble Smoke

– Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis stopped by Robert Moss’ podcast The Winnow to discuss Charlotte food, restaurant decor and Maurice’s Piggie Park and their tainted history with the Confederate flag at the 30:03 mark

– Grant’s latest stop is a second take at Kevin Brown’s Burgers & Bar-B-Q in Ooltewah

– Rodney Scott’s neighbor-blessed design passed the Charleston Board of Architectural Review (BAR) last Thursday

– Destination BBQ mulls over on the potential restaurant approach for Rodney Scott’s Bar-B-Que

– A pop-up donut shop will be at Franklin Barbecue on October 2

– Midwood Smokehouse has 3 packages for your gamedays this fall

Photo Gallery: Midwood Smokeshack and Pitmaster Michael Wagner

I recently was invited by Frank Scibelli to meet new pitmaster Michael Wagner at the recently-opened Midwood Smokeshack in Matthews. Midwood Smokeshack is the fast-casual brother of Midwood Smokehouse, with cafeteria-style counter service and a slimmed-down menu. Which makes sense since Midwood Smokeshack is a Texas-style joint and as Frank pointed out to me, most Texas joints really are fast casual (and have been before that term was coined). Over a platter of all the meats and most of the sides  (including corn bread, a change from the hush puppies offered at the bigger brother) doled out by Michael himself, the three of us sat down for lunch and a conversation about barbecue.

Last fall, FS Food Group (the parent company of Midwood Smokehouse and Midwood Smokeshack) posted a job posting for a Texas pitmaster to relocate to Charlotte. After a lengthy interview process, they hired Michael Wagner who previously ran his own food truck before training at Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart and then working at Kent Black’s in San Marcos, TX for nearly two years. After hiring him, they met up earlier this year in Texas while Frank and Plaza Midwood location pitmaster Matt Barry were buying new smokers for both Smokeshack and the upcoming Park Road location of Midwood Smokehouse (this will be a larger capacity smoker than the current ones they use at each location; the Park Road location will open by the end of the year). Michael then made the move to Charlotte just a few weeks ago prior to the opening of Midwood Smokeshack.

So far, Michael says he’s really enjoying his time in Charlotte and spent the first couple of weeks trying new restaurants around town, not having a bad meal among them. He clearly knows his stuff when it comes to barbecue, and Frank hopes that in time he will be able to move between the Midwood Smokehouse and Midwood Smokeshack locations to help up-skill the staffs on the smoking process of the meats (particularly brisket). I look forward to seeing Michael’s growing influence on the franchise over the near future.

I also couldn’t waste the chance to ask Frank about President Obama and Hillary Clinton stopping by the original Plaza Midwood location back in July. He got to speak with the president for about five minutes (who he said was very friendly to him and the staff) and even got to hold his black card to pay for one of the orders (the Clinton campaign paid for the rest). Clinton spent most of her time speaking with patrons in the restaurant that day. Apparently the reason they stopped in was due to secret service personnel having stopped in a few day before and recommending it. They received a lot of exposure from the visit, with photos even appearing in London’s The Daily Mail.

Thanks to Frank and Michael for the opportunity to try out all of the meats at the 2-week old Midwood Smokeshack. I plan to be back soon.

Monk

(Update: an earlier version of this entry incorrectly stated that Michael worked at Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart for 2.5 years)

Linkdown: 5/11/16

– We were fortunate enough to be considered “experts” (shh…don’t tell them) and submitted nominees for 10Best.com’s Best BBQ Pork Sandwich in NC contest. Voting ends June 6 at 12pm ET.

– Some coverage of the 10Best contest from Pitt County, Asheville, and Garland

– Creative Loafing profiles Seoul Food Meat Co.

– Over at Marie, Let’s Eat!, Grant visits the last remaining Old Hickory House, located in Tucker, GA, as well as Big Cove BB-Q in Owens Cross Roads, AL

– Whole-hog Carolina barbecue converts Louisiana-native Rien Fertel

Mr. Fertel locates the birthplace of whole-hog barbecue in eastern North Carolina. In aptly named Pitt County, he visits three whole-hog establishments. The agriculture-and-livestock-rich region, he says, is “a bastion, or pit, as it were, where the nation’s oldest vernacular barbecue tradition has been slowly smoking for nearly two centuries.”

– Matthew Odam recently went on a 16-stop barbecue tour throughout Texas

– Midwood Smokehouse’s crinkle cut fries makes this list of best fries in Charlotte from Charlotte Agenda

– Always worth a link:

Linkdown: 5/5/16

– Interesting from Anthony Bourdain, who had previously declared love for both Eastern NC and Kansas City barbecue

Where to find regional styles of barbecue in NYC, including North Carolina-style from Arrogant Swine

– Robert Moss on “early airport barbecue”

The period between 1930 and 1960 saw a great flourishing of barbecue enterprises throughout the South, as one resourceful cook after another threw up a canvas tent or wooden stand and started selling slow-smoked meat wherever they saw potential customers.

– Ed Mitchell is having a pig pickin’ for Raleigh Homeless next Thursday

– Here’s an example 3 day Lexington Barbecue itinerary

– Midwood Smokehouse once again lands on the Voters Choice for Best Barbecue in Charlotte

– Charlotte Magazine profiles the newly opened Seoul Food Meat Co.

Linkdown: 3/30/16

Voting ends tomorrow for Thrillist’s America’s Best BBQ Bracket (vote for Red Bridges!)

– The fast casual concept of Midwood Smokehouse, named Midwood Smokeshack, will open its first location in Matthews

– Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis has 5 styles of brisket to try around Charlotte, including the smoked version at Sauceman’s

– Purvis also explores the black/white cornbread divide; loyal readers will know which side I fall on

– Yet another NC barbecue roadtrip list

-The Indy Week out of NC’s triangle has a feature on Picnic:

– Speaking of which, Picnic is now open on Sundays

– Fox Bros. in Atlanta is expanding with a barbecue kiosk at the up-and-coming Armour Yards

– Robert Moss takes a quick trip to Houston and focuses on the boudin sausage

– Red Clay Soul has a Georgia Mild BBQ Sauce Bracket

– The origin story of Heirloom Market’s spicy korean barbecue sandwich