Monk’s Favorite Barbecue Meals of 2019

Monk: I never got those “best of the year” lists that publish in early December, whether it’s barbecue, music, or film (yes, I understand deadlines but stay with me here). What, do they think they aren’t going to potentially eat a great barbecue meal (or discover a new album or film) sometime in the last three weeks of the year? Not me; I’m always going to give myself every opportunity to eat a meal which could possibly make the list. And then I’m going to post that list in January.

That being said, with no signs of the barbecue boom slowing down any time soon, some of the best meals I’ve had yet in the history of this blog happened in 2019. Here were the best of those, and here’s hoping 2020 is full of even more great barbecue.

Honorable Mentions: Brisket and pork from Farmhouse BBQ (review), Whole hog sandwich from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (review)

10 (tie). Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)

Sadly, shortly after my visit in March Mr. Barbecue experienced a fire in their stick burning brick pits that has temporarily closed the restaurant but hopefully they will reopen soon and continue slinging their Lexington-style barbecue to the lucky citizens of Winston-Salem.

10 (tie). Pork, brisket, ribs, burnt ends, chicken from Hubba Hubba Smokehouse (review)

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse has been quietly churning out great barbecue from their massive brick pits in the mountains of NC since the early 2000s. They had been on my list for years and I finally got a chance to check them out this year and also spend a little time with pitmaster Spencer Purcell. They are closed for the winter but any serious barbecue fan should check them out once they reopen in the Spring.

9. Bryan Furman’s whole hog and brisket at Sweet Lew’s BBQ (post)

In September, Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Atlanta and Savannah did a “pit takeover” of Sweet Lew’s and brought together several of Charlotte’s pitmasters for his overnight cook. He also brought his whole hog barbecue and brisket to Charlotte, and here’s hoping it was a trial run for a future restaurant in Charlotte.

8. Brisket, pork, ribs from Revenge BBQ (review)

Revenge BBQ is one of two places on this list from an unexpected barbecue location, with Revenge being in the scenic Hudson Valley town of Irvington, about 45 minutes north of New York City. And as is the case with just about any restaurant in an unexpected location, they adhere to the Texas tradition pretty closely and with good results. The brisket shone that day and the Kreuz Market-imported sausages were properly smoked, proving that disciples of Texas barbecue are continuing to spread the message far and wide.

7. Chopped barbecue tray with onion rings from BBQ King (review from 2017)

This meal from late December is exactly why I waited to publish my list until January. My previous stop at BBQ King was nearly 3 years before this visit but this simple tray of fresh barbecue on a Friday at 3pm on December 27 reminded me that I need to make it a point to stop by there more often. As should all barbecue fans in western NC.

6. Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)

While Apple City BBQ had been on my radar for some time, my visit this year was completely unplanned and only happened as a result of several detours on the way from Charlotte to the Wilkesboro area for a weekend getaway with the oldest Monkette. As soon as I passed Apple City in Taylorsville right at dinner time on that Friday, I turned the car around and made the stop. Thankfully I did, as it was a fantastic meal of pork, ribs, and brisket. Plus, those deep fried corn nuggets were a unique and noteworthy side.

5. Cheerwine hot link from Jon G’s Barbecue (Speedy’s take)

While the brisket, pulled pork, and ribs were on point each and every time I had Jon G’s Barbecue this year, the Cheerwine hot link represented a cool and exciting development for owners Garren and Kelly. From what I am hearing, 2020 is going to be a big year for them and I can’t wait for more folks in the Charlotte area to be able to try their barbecue. It is our #1 on the Charlotte Big Board, after all.

4. Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)

I certainly didn’t expect one of the best barbecue meals I had in 2019 to be in Denver, CO. While in the past I would have considered Denver to be a bit of a barbecue wasteland (from a local circa 2013: “Head to Texas if you want good barbecue”), that appears to be changing as part of the nationwide barbecue boom. Owlbear Barbecue owner and pitmaster Karl Fallenius is originally from Texas and previously worked at Franklin Barbecue and has brought that approach to Denver. The brisket rivaled some of the best I’ve had in or out of Texas and the pork belly was the best meat on the platter that day and one of the best meats I tasted in 2019.

3. Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)

The simplicity of the whole hog sandwich from Sweatman’s reminded me that, when done right, mustard-based barbecue isn’t some unholy union of sauce and pork. Plus, that hash and rice was life-changingly good.

2. The Miss Mary Platter (Lexington-style barbecue, brisket, turkey, ribs plus eastern and red slaw) and smoked wings from Noble Smoke (review)

In July, Noble Smoke gave Charlotte a true destination barbecue joint and based on several recent visits, locals and out-of-towners alike have shown up for it. I can only hope that with the recent additions of Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s BBQ, both in our top 3, Charlotte’s barbecue scene continues the momentum into 2020.

1. Mine and Speedy’s own whole hog (post)

2019 certainly was the year of whole hog barbecue, and that looks to be continuing into 2020 (Particularly in Raleigh, who is getting no less than 4 whole hog joints – Sam Jones BBQ, Wyatt’s Barbecue, Ed Mitchell’s new place The Preserve, and Lawrence BBQ). 2019 was also the year that I finally achieved what I had been hoping to do for several years – smoke a whole hog on a cinder block pit in my backyard. Speedy made the trip into town and the two of us took shifts manning the pit overnight. I was extremely pleased with how (relatively) easy it was and how good the barbecue turned out. For my first whole hog, I couldn’t have been happier (or more tired).

So that’s it. What were some of your favorite barbecue meals this year?

Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro – Lexington, NC

Name: Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro
Location: 4524 NC-150, Lexington, NC 27295
Order: Regular chopped tray with “extra brown” and red slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $

While my first two stops on the “Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor” were a bit mixed, my last stop unfortunately ended the mini-tour on a down note. I recall that Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro was at some point on the NC Historic BBQ Trail (which is how I became aware that there was another joint named Stamey’s) but that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, the Stamey’s in Tyro doesn’t compare in the least to the Stamey’s in Greensboro.

As a quick aside, while longtime owner Dan Stamey has been involved in a lawsuit due to similar naming, it apparently hasn’t been because of the Greensboro restaurant. In 1992, one of Dan’s other restaurants was Stamey’s Hog Rock Cafe and featured “pig-faced likenesses of Elvis, Tina Turner and The Rolling Stones” on the wall. Apparently, the name was too similar for the Hard Rock Cafe’s liking, and they sued owner Dan Stamey and forced him to change the name of the restaurant which resulted in a cost of $10,000. It was then changed to “Hog City.”

As for the barbecue, it was my least favorite of the afternoon. The extra brown on the barbecue was rather chewy and the barbecue was heavy on the dip. Curiously, no ramekin of dip was provided (the only one of the three that didn’t provide), but I wouldn’t have used it anyway.

Similarly, the hush puppies were not as successful as the previous two restaurants. I will note that this was the third different shape of hush puppy that day, with small orbs compared with the long cylinders of Arcadia Q and the more typical hush puppy shape at Tarheel Q.

One thing I’ve neglected on the past few reviews is the history and intertwining of these restaurants with other Lexington barbecue restaurants. This is worth pausing on for a bit. Dan Stamey’s father was Herman “Smiley” Stamey and the original owner of Smiley’s Barbecue on Highway 8 (which unfortunately will soon be closed due to highway expansion). The father of Roger Lohr, the former owner of Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia (now Arcadia Q), was Herman “Speedy” Lohr and trained under the legendary Warner Stamey at Stamey’s Drive-In in Lexington and Old Hickory Barbecue, also in Lexington. Speaking of Warner Stamey, there is no direct relation between him and Smiley and Dan Stamey, but there is a belief that they are distant relatives.

Stamey’s BBQ of Tyro has been in business since 1973 and was not thought to last very long in that small unincorporated area west of Lexington which for a while didn’t even have a stoplight. While I wasn’t the biggest fan that day, they have served their community for over 46 years and it doesn’t seem like that will stop anytime soon.

Final Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor Rankings

Barbecue
1 – Tarheel Q
2 – Arcadia Q
3 – Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro

Hush Puppies
1 – Arcadia Q
2 – Tarheel Q
3 – Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Stamey's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tarheel Q – Lexington, NC

Name: Tarheel Q
Location: 6835 West, US-64, Lexington, NC 27295
Order: Regular chopped tray with “extra brown” and red slaw
Pricing: $

The second stop on the “Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor” (it’s going to be a thing) was Tarheel Q, just 9 miles away from Arcadia Q (although more directly on Old Highway 64) and also owned by Leon and Becky Simmons. Based on this visit, Tarheel Q definitely has its own set of customers, as indicated by a packed dining full of workers, locals, and maybe a few out-of-towners like me.

On that day, I wasn’t yet aware that Arcadia Q and Tarheel Q were owned by the same husband and wife duo (though looking back there were definitely clues in the logos of each as well as the use of a #GR8BBQ4U hashtag), but I also never would have guessed based on the barbecue. Tarheel Q’s barbecue was fresher and tastier than the tray that I had just had at Arcadia Q. The smoke flavor was more intense, and I preferred this pork by far. I’m curious if the barbecue at Arcadia Q is smoked on site or is perhaps trucked in from Tarheel Q (my experience that day might suggest just that, but this would be me speculating).

The hush puppies, however, were a different story. I preferred the hush puppies at Arcadia Q, though the ones at Tarheel were still above average, with the shape being more typical. As was the case at Arcadia, the red slaw was fine.

As I was leaving, the smokestacks were going full bore as more wood and pork was being added to the brick masonry pits out back. Any experienced barbecue traveler know this is a welcome scene, in the middle of the day and on this day, Tarheel Q definitely had the upper hand of the first two places I tried on the Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor.

Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor Rankings (so far)

Barbecue
1 – Tarheel Q
2 – Arcadia Q

Hush Puppies
1 – Arcadia Q
2 – Tarheel Q

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Tar Heel Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Arcadia Q – Lexington, NC

Name: Arcadia Q
Location: 8000 N, NC-150, Lexington, NC 27295
Order: Regular chopped tray with “extra brown” and red slaw
Pricing: $

Monk: Lexington, NC is mentioned in some circles as the “barbecue capital of the world” with its ratio of roughly 1 barbecue restaurant per 1,000 residents. However, up to this point I’ve mostly focused on Lexington Barbecue and more recently, the Bar-B-Que Center on my barbecue visits to the city. Recently, I’ve decided to expand my horizons to see what else the other 16 or so barbecue options in Lexington have to offer. On a Friday in November, I decided to take on three Lexington barbecue restaurants on what I have dubbed the “Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor:” Tarheel Q, Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro, and my first stop, Arcadia Q.

Arcadia Q was known until recently as Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia before owners Roger and Lisa Lohr retired earlier this year and reached out to Tarheel Q owners Leon and Becky Simmons to see if they’d be interested in opening a second location of their restaurant. Both Simmonses worked for the Lohrs approximately 25 years ago, and Tarheel Q is located just 9 miles southwest of Arcadia, just off Highway 64. The result is the now-renamed Arcadia Q.

For my tour of three barbecue joints on the Highway 150 Corridor of Barbecue, I decided to make the same order at each restaurant as a means of comparison: a regular chopped tray with extra brown, red slaw, and hush puppies. I did order a Cheerwine at Arcadia Q before deciding that would be the only soft drink order of the day because as much as I like Cheerwine, I didn’t want the empty calories along with all the food I’d be eating for lunch that day.

The hush puppies at Arcadia Q were a shape I hadn’t come across at a Lexington-style barbecue joint before. They were longer cylinders than the typical hush puppy, as if perhaps they were squirted out of an icing squeeze bag directly into the fryer (this is only my speculation). They are somewhat reminiscent of the shape of corn sticks in eastern North Carolina joints like Parker’s, though I don’t have any personal experience with those (yet). Regardless of the curiosity of the shape, these were my favorite hush puppies of the mini tour.

As for the barbecue, I didn’t get a lot of smoke on it and the temperature was slightly lukewarm. Unfortunately, the outside brown was chewy and tough and not until I dug into the tray below the top layer of outside brown did I start to enjoy the texture of the barbecue. Of all the red slaws I tried that day, none really stood out more than the other so I won’t be commenting too much on them other than the say that they did the job they were supposed to.

So my mini-tour on the “Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor” (it’s going to be a thing) was off to an inauspicious start at Arcadia Q. From here I would head southwest along the aforementioned Highway 150. Of my next two stops, one was a bit better and one was a bit worse. Which would be which? Tune in next Monday to see…

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Speedy Lohr's BBQ of Arcadia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato