Southern Soul Barbeque – St. Simon’s Island, GA

Name: Southern Soul Barbeque
Address: 2020 Demere Rd, St Simons Island, GA 31522
Order: Three meat platter with pork, brisket, and sausage with Brunswick stew, hush puppies, collards, and potato salad (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Southern Soul Barbeque is a highly-regarded barbecue joint located in the Golden Isles of Georgia, specifically St. Simon’s Island. In 2018 it tied with Lexington Barbecue in a Southern Living reader’s poll after winning the 2017 poll. On my way back from Spring Break in Amelia Island, I made the family take an hour’s detour to check it out. My expectations were sky high.

Southern Soul is housed in an old gas station and smokes their barbecue in Lang Smoker stick burners, so they immediately check a couple of important boxes. For a first time visitor, parking is a bit of a mess seeing as how it is situated on a traffic circle, but that could also be considered part of the experience.

For our three meat combo I went with with pork, brisket, and sausage. Even though there will almost certainly be a line when you visit during the lunch hours, the line moves quickly and the food came out within just a few minutes. We got a picnic table underneath the awning and I dug in.

Starting off, the pork was on the dry side and a buddy who visited later in the same week noted the same thing. It cried out for one of their excellent sauces.

The brisket was haphazardly cut and was quite fatty with not all the fat rendered completely. While not the prettiest it had actually did have pretty good flavor. A carefully arranged Central Texas tray this was not.

The sausage had good flavor but was also on the dry side. The mustard sauce paired quite well with it.

Each platter comes with Brunswick stew and although you can substitute it for something like fries, I wouldn’t suggest it. This was the best Brunswick stew I’ve ever had, which is a nice tribute to the nearby town of Brunswick that (apparently incorrectly) claims to be the birthplace of the stew. Whatever you do, be sure to get the Brunswick stew.

Our hush puppies came out fresh and were perfectly cooked orbs with a slight hint of sweetness. The collards were somehow both too bland and too spicy; it needed several dashes of vinegar. The potato salad was solid.

Overall, I left a little Southern Soul Barbeque a bit disappointed. I was all set to load up on their well designed merch but after the slightly disappointing meal I opted not to. They’ve got a great reputation, so perhaps I hit them on an off day.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Jon G’s Barbecue – Peachland, NC (Speedy’s take)

Name: Jon G’s Barbecue
Address: 116 Glenn Falls St, Peachland, NC 28133
Order: 1.5 lbs brisket, 0.5 lbs pork, 0.5 lbs bacon burnt ends, 1lb rib, 2 Cheerwine hot links, jalapeno cheese grits, apple crisp (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Speedy: Finally, I was in the Charlotte area on a Saturday and able to make it to the Jon G’s Barbecue brick and mortar location, after Monk’s continual praise and an impressive experience with the food truck a few years back. As a non-NC resident, I am only able to pop in and out of Charlotte a few times a year, and Saturday’s are not always convenient times for a trip over to Peachland, so I have one plea: give the people what they want! More barbecue! But I digress.

Monk: I’m pretty sure Speedy gets it now, but even though they are only open Saturdays it’s not like Garren and Kelly are sitting around the rest of the week between prep, catering gigs, and the food truck. Plus, the Saturday only aspect makes it more of an experience. 

Speedy: After loading up from Charlotte around 9:15 AM, we arrived at a small building off highway 74 with a picnic shelter out back around 10:00 and found our place in line for the 11:00 opening. Even an hour early, we were about 10th in line, but we didn’t mind the wait, as we were greeted with a cooler full of (free) Burial beer. A nice touch.

Monk: You know I love free beer and the fact that it’s one of my favorite breweries (NC or otherwise) only adds to it. We each grabbed and beer and joined in on the tailgating atmosphere. This is the one thing I try to convey when convincing anyone to make a trip to Peachland – it’s an experience that’s worth the trip. After all, Saturdays are for the boys!

Speedy: Let’s start with the brisket and not bury the lede. Similar to my experience with Jon G’s food truck a couple years ago, the brisket was fantastic. With apologies to both Jim Noble and John Lewis, this is the best brisket I’ve had in the Carolinas, and rivals Owlbear for the best outside of Texas. The peppery goodness pleased me greatly. I was actually a little worried about the brisket when I saw that Jon G’s uses a rotisserie smoker instead of the Texas standard barrel offset, but it worked out just fine.

For some reason, Jon G’s brisket is still ever so slightly behind my personal Holy Quadrumvirate of brisket (Franklin’s, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s) but maybe because there’s just something different about eating brisket in Texas.

Monk: Of course that rotisserie smoker is an Oyler from Texas-based J&R Manufacturing, but I get Speedy’s concern when it’s not coming from an army of offset smokers made from old propane tanks (like the original Jon G’s smoker). 

I don’t always get the pork at Jon G’s, but that’s not to say they don’t do a good job with it. And on this visit, it was up to par even if it’s not what we were there for. 

Speedy: As you loyal readers know, I’m very much a rib man. When I visited the food truck ribs were not on the menu, so I had been salivating thinking about ribs the whole drive over. The dry ribs served at Jon G’s were seasoned well and cooked nearly perfectly. I don’t think I’d change a thing and would consider this a must order meat.

Monk: Man, those ribs are so good and I couldn’t agree more. They might even merit a revisit to my Ultimate Charlotte Barbecue Plate in the not-too-distant future.

I think they’ve really dialed in their Cheerwine hot link but I know Garren is really high on their newish Cheesy-Tex sausage made with cheese from Brown Creek Creamery in nearby Polkton So I’ll have to try that next time around when I’m not around Speedy, who is unyielding in his lack of tolerance for lactose.

Speedy: The bacon burnt ends were a special of the day. They had great flavor, as expected, but weren’t totally consistent. There were a couple pieces in our order that were a little dry. Overall, I’d still order again, but in a near perfect meal, this was my nit to pick. 

Monk: My experience with smoking my own bacon burnt ends is that the variance in cubing leads to some getting overdone while they larger ones cook through. Unavoidable but understandable. 

The jalapeno cheddar grits had a little more heat than usual on this visit, which was not unwelcome. Speedy ordered the apple crisp which I’m not sure I’ve ever had from them. It’s a simple but delicious way to end the meal. 

Speedy: Like all Texas-style Barbecue, it’s not something I can eat every day, as I was left with a bit of a gut bomb later in the day. So maybe Jon G’s has it right with the Saturday only thing. But overall, Jon G’s Barbecue is ridiculous. One of the best barbecue meals you’ll get anywhere. If you get the chance, don’t just stop by; make a plan to get there early and spend a Saturday morning out there. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Sausage – 4.5 hogs
Bacon Burnt Ends – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

Pinehurst Brewing Company – Pinehurst, NC

Name: Pinehurst Brewing Company & Smokehouse
Address: 300 Magnolia Road, Pinehurst, NC 28374
Order: Smokehouse sampler with hush puppies, mac and cheese, and collards (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

In 2019 as part of Pinehurst’s efforts to maintain and improve upon their courses and resort offerings, Pinehurst Brewing Company opened in the brick building that housed the town’s former steam plant that had powered the resort since 1895. On the beer side, they recruited the head brewer Eric Mitchell from the well-regarded Heist Brewing in Charlotte. As for food, smoked meats plays a huge part in the menu and head smoker Chris Dowd also originally came from the Queen City (though he moved to Laurinburg in 1989). He quit his office job about 20 years ago for barbecue and eventually made his way to Pinehurst Brewing when they opened in 2019.

Inside the historic brick building, they have certainly played up the heritage of the old plant. Weathered photos cover the walls, In the sunroom where we were seated, all tables were made from a single tree that was on the property including the two large high top tables that each can seat 10-12. Underneath the naturally-edged table, the legs are comprised of old pipes, valves, tanks, dials and fittings.

The menu states that the meats from the smokehouse are smoked on “high quality local oak and hickory woods” and while I wasn’t able to lay eyes on the smoker itself, this interview with Dowd claims they are using a stick burner.

As is standard, I went with the sampler to try a bit of everything on the menu. The chopped pork was a large large portion that had some rub sprinkled on top but unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of smoke and found it to be just average. There are four sauces to choose from including an eastern NC vinegar sauce, which gave the barbecue the tang I was looking for.

Brisket came in just one thin slide and had good bark and flavor. The sausage was a bit overdone; charred on the outside, but paired well with the IPA beer mustard sauce. The smoked chicken was well smoked and they managed to make the skin crispy, not rubbery

The sides were strong at Pinehurst Brewing. The sampler comes with two sides and we added another; we went with mac and cheese, collards, and hush puppies. All were well executed and Mrs. Monk gave the collards praise, which isn’t always a given considering how seriously she takes her collards.

Pinehurst Brewing Company will be part of the recently announced Pinehurst Barbecue Festival in September, and they have a good thing going in less than two years up and running. On a warmer day, they have a great beer garden and outdoor bar which would be a nice way to enjoy a beer after a round of golf or after a meal.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Chicken – 3 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

The Smoke Pit – Gastonia, NC

Name: The Smoke Pit
Address: 421 Cox Rd, Gastonia, NC 28054
Order: Tres Amigos combo (brisket, pork, and ribs) with turkey, sausage, hush puppies, fried okra (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Since the last time Speedy and I visited The Smoke Pit’s original location in Concord four years ago, they’ve steadily expanded into other cities across the Piedmont of NC. I visited the downtown Salisbury location in early 2017 and they’ve since opened up in Monroe and more recently Gastonia about a year ago. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to The Smoke Pit but for whatever reason tend to forget about them a little bit. However, with BIll Spoon’s closing in September and Speedy in Charlotte for the day, it was time to figure out if The Smoke Pit was worthy of a top 5 spot on our Charlotte Big Board.

Speedy: Well if we must eat more delicious barbecue, Monk, then we must. We pulled up to The Smoke Pit Gastonia, which was a stand-alone building in a larger shopping center. Barbecue in commercial shopping centers always worries me, and this was a pretty ugly building, so the real question was whether this incarnation of The Smoke Pit could overcome these challenges. So Monk and I entered, waited in line for a few minutes, and placed our order to find out.

Let’s start with the star of the show: the St. Louis-style ribs. When tasting ribs, you always hope and pray, but rarely receive, the perfect bite. Tender meat that is easy to bite through but doesn’t fall off the bone. That’s what we got at The Smoke Pit. Monk and I ordered the dry ribs, which were meaty, well seasoned, and flavorful. A truly outstanding effort.

Monk: Definitely glad we went for dry over sauced. One of the better pork ribs I’ve had recently, and agree that it did have that perfect bite. 

The brisket came out a little on the dry side and was mostly lean even though we asked for a mix of both lean and fatty. Still, it had a nice bark and a good taste. The sausage at The Smoke Pit appears to rotate regularly and on this day they had a solid jalapeno cheddar version, which Speedy sadly couldn’t partake in. All in all, I think what he did miss out on was a solid but unspectacular sausage.

Speedy: The chopped pork was cooked well and had a bit of smoke flavor, but was a little dry. Adding some Lexington style sauce quickly remedied this, but I would have liked a little more bark chopped in. Still, the pork was quite good and worth ordering. Not to jump the gun on the sides, but Smoke Pit also has a good red slaw, so the pork sammie would make for a strong order.

On the drive over to The Smoke Pit, Monk and I had a conversation about how smoked turkey tends to be a little underrated at the best ‘cue joints, and can be incredibly flavorful. So we decided that if Smoke Pit had turkey, we’d order it, and sure enough, it was listed as a new menu item. It was worth it. You always worry about turkey being dry, but that was not the case at Smoke Pit. Their turkey is cajun seasoned, which is a nice touch. My one complaint is that I wish the seasoning penetrated the meat a bit further, as there were some bites where I wasn’t able to taste the seasoning. 

Monk: Speedy already touched on the red slaw, which complimented the slightly dry pork perfectly. We also got hush puppies (of course) and fried okra, which was a bit of a last minute audible. Both were above average, though I was unable to tell if they were scratch-made or not.

Speedy: The meal at The Smoke Pit’s Gastonia location was solid all-around. There wasn’t a single item that I wouldn’t order again, and we had a standout meat in the ribs. For my money, it’s worthy of the big board.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Turkey – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs