Monk: A lot (and I mean, a lot) has changed since the last time I did a “Best of Charlotte” series in 2016. Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen and Queen City Q, both winners in several categories, are both no longer in business. Neither are Sauceman’s or Bill Spoon’s, who in 2016 placed in ribs and pork respectively.
The Smoke Pit had the best brisket at the time and since then Jon G’s, Sweet Lew’s, and Noble Smoke have all opened their doors with wood-smoked brisket that each edges out the offerings from The Smoke Pit.
Midwood Smokehouse didn’t top any one category in 2016 but still had a strong showing by being in the top three in each of the five categories: pork, brisket, ribs, sausage, and other. Thankfully, they are still around and are well represented on this list.
Now, onto our picks for the “Ultimate Charlotte Barbecue Plate.”
Pork – Noble Smoke
Jim Noble and team are carrying on the 100+ years-old legacy of Lexington-style barbecue at Noble Smoke in west Charlotte. Simply rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked directly over wood coals in their custom brick masonry pit (named “John”) whose design was borrowed with permission from family friends the Monk family of Lexington Barbecue, upon tasting the pork transports you an hour or so north up I-85.
Honorable Mention: Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Brisket – Jon G’s Barbecue
The meat that put Jon G’s on the map. Of their many spectacular smoked meats, the brisket is the one must order every time you go. Do it and you won’t be disappointed. Trust me.
Honorable Mention: Noble Smoke
Ribs – The Smoke Pit
This one was a surprise from a recent trip that Speedy and I took to the Gastonia location of the local mini-chain of restaurants in late 2020. On that visit, Speedy noted that the dry rub ribs had the perfect bite with just the right amount of spice. I couldn’t agree more and it was the standout meat of that meal.
Honorable Mention: Jon G’s
Sausage – Cheerwine Hot Link from Jon G’s
A truly unique sausage made in-house at Jon G’s, with Salisbury, NC-based Cheerwine taking the place of the water used in the sausage-making process. The end result isn’t overly sweet or “Cheerwine-y” but it does impart a slight sweetness to counteract the heat of the jalapeno.
Honorable Mention: Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Beef Rib – Midwood Smokehouse
The beef rib is a weekend special at Midwood Smokehouse and upon my last visit is available every week for a cut-rate price of $32, well below what you would pay if it were charged by the pound.
Honorable Mention: Jon G’s BBQ (not available all weekends)
Side – Hash and rice from Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Hash and rice isn’t something you find in Charlotte, much less North Carolina, as its almost strictly a South Carolina barbecue dish. Sweet Lew’s differs from what you would find at True BBQ in West Columbia or Sweatman’s in Holly Hill in that instead of the off parts of the pig it uses pork as well as brisket, but I just love that they now offer it fulltime on their menu whereas it used to be a Wednesday special only.
Honorable Mentions: Pork skins from Sweet Lew’s BBQ, Smoked Meatballs from Midwood Smokehouse, Smoked wings from Noble Smoke
After a few weeks in soft open mode, Sam Jones BBQ’s downtown Raleigh location has finally opened; the latest opening towards Raleigh staking its claim as a modern barbecue capital. Next up in some order is Ed Mitchell’s The Preserve, Wyatt’s Barbecue (from the team behind Picnic in Durham), Lawrence Barbecue, and Longleaf Swine. More coverage on Sam Jones BBQ can be found in this article from industry trade publication QSR Magazine.
In the next few months, a visit to Raleigh will certainly be called for, as our Capital brethren continue to beat out the Queen City in barbecue openings. Step up your game, Charlotte!
Robert Moss explores the origin stories of 5 southern sauces, including Scott’s Barbecue Sauce from Goldsboro which is available across the US thanks to its distribution via Wal-Mart
Monk: In a bit of a break from our regularly scheduled programming, we have a guest post from lead singer Christopher Harold Wells of the San Francisco “psychadelic shoegaze rock band” The Neverlutionaries. Christopher has recently gotten into barbecue but you can tell he definitely has a passion for it – in both eating it as well as smoking it himself. He’s been spending his quarantine time in Raleigh (where he grew up), and reached out to us wanting to share his thoughts.
As you may be aware, Raleigh is about to have a barbecue renaissance, so Christopher will have a lot more places to try out very soon, including the already opened Prime BBQ in Knightdale and Sam Jones BBQ downtown as well as soon-to-be opened joints like Lawrence Barbecue, Wyatt’s Barbecue, Ed Mitchell’s The Preserve, and Longleaf Swine. I’ll be curious what if his list changes later this year, particularly the two non-NC chain restaurants on his list. I definitely hope he checks them out and broadens his horizons when it comes to NC barbecue restaurants.
Christopher: I’ve always been a HUGE fan of BBQ. When I was able to travel/tour, one of my favorite things to do was to check out the different BBQ spots in the places I would visit. I loved the regional variations of it. St. Louis has its mustard vibe (Editor’s Note: Hmm….), Nashville has its twangy tomato vibe, and NC has the vinegar-based tomato thang going which is my favorite of them all.
After I finished freaking out and got my head together after Corona reared its ugly head, I started experimenting with smoking meats with different kinds of woods etc. as a way to relax. It reminds me of my music creation process.
You must begin with quality basic ingredients, then add seasonings to the point where they are just right and of course timing is of the essence in both. The most important ingredient is love. You can tell by the taste if someone loves what they are doing. We all have had an instance where you get your favorite meal somewhere and it tastes different depending on who is preparing it. If the person cooking loves what they do it will be awesome. On the other hand, if the preparer isn’t feeling it (his cooking mission) you can taste that as well. It’s about the passion of cooking and BBQ that makes us want to get better each time and to experience the reward we get when someone takes a bite of your ‘cue, they smile and possibly get goosebumps. Food and music both do that for me…
Now, to my top 5 barbecue spots in Raleigh:
5. Dickey’s Barbecue (Raleigh, NC)
I discovered Dickey’s by accident though I’d seen their catering truck at many events that I attended. Now I get it. Dickeys’ NC style pulled pork is in my top faves for sure. They smoke everything with hickory wood, have great Brunswick Stew and they also feature next level stuffed potatoes and when I say stuffed, I mean stuffed! Loaded with BBQ or literally any way you want them. I never had pulled pork on a potato before and now I am a fan and will continue doing so. They also have classic sides and desserts to round out your meal to perfection! 6552 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27612
4. Ole Time Barbecue (Raleigh, NC)
This cool little spot on the edge of Downtown Raleigh is a NC staple and has been feeding nearby North Carolina State University students and locals for close to 25 years and they are still going strong. Simplicity is the first word that comes to mind, actually, I digress, delicious is a better word to describe this old school spot that has consistently tasty BBQ. OTB also features the classic Southern offering of a “meat and three” vegetable plate fairly priced and seriously filling. They have superb fried chicken as well and yummy slaw which we know can be a BBQ Pork’s sandwiched best friend. They also have sandwiches, chicken pastry and a rocking Brunswick Stew. And did I say affordable? You get your money’s worth here for sure! 6309 Hillsborough St #1148, Raleigh, NC 27606oletimebarbecue.com
(Editor’s Note: This was a favorite of mine and friend of the blog Boomsauce while at NC State in the early 2000’s)
3. City Barbecue and Catering (North Raleigh, NC)
North Raleigh has a BBQ spot that is worth the drive called “City Barbecue” that has the best brisket I have ever eaten. I have recently started trying to smoke brisket and pork shoulder and I’m getting better but still have a long way to go. What they do at the award-winning City Barbecue is damn near magical. Featuring on-site smokers and hickory wood, the brisket almost disintegrates upon contact. It’s just that tender! And the flavor is outstanding. As any brisket lover knows, the secret is in the bark and they dialed in their seasonings like a champ on this one! 9424 Falls of Neuse Rd #108, Raleigh, NC 27615
2. The Pit Authentic Barbecue (Raleigh and Durham, NC)
You may want to make a reservation for this super popular Downtown Raleigh and Durham eatery! Their celebrated cuisine has been featured on Good Morning America, The Morning Show on CBS and even heralded food publication, Bon Appetit. Hey, they even beat Bobby Flay in a rib challenge.. The Pit not only features Pit-smoked free-range whole hog pork to make their classic North Carolina BBQ but they also have authentic Texas-style brisket and other amazing offerings. They proudly feature North Carolina raised pork. Their entire menu is great! I’ve never had anything bad there, and I’m a bit finicky! 328 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601thepit-raleigh.com
1. Clyde Cooper’s BBQ (Raleigh, NC)
Clyde Cooper’s in downtown Raleigh has been open ever since 1938 and believe me, there is definitely a reason that they have been open for 82 years! A no-frills casual eating spot with Pig memorabilia donning their walls, they have it nailed with their beef brisket, ribs, pulled, coarse and chopped North Carolina style BBQ pork. They proudly use their own signature vinegar based sauce, and cook with wood or a combination of wood and gas which helps give the exquisite smoke rings that make it super tender and a flavor that will have you smiling after your first bite! 327 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601clydecoopersbbq.com/
Thanks to Christopher for his time and be sure to check out The Neverlutionaries’ new album.
Monk: Christopher Prieto was interviewed by Kevin’s BBQ Joints in a podcast that was posted last November, a few months into the restaurant opening during a pandemic. The restaurant opening is the focus of the interview, and they decide to save Christopher’s origins story for a future podcast. Kevin doesn’t have to prompt him too much, as Christopher certainly has his long-winded spiel down pat, much like I experienced in my preview of the restaurant nearly a year ago. Bonus for viewers on YouTube as opposed to the podcast: Christopher gives a tour of his restaurant, which he is clearly proud of (and for good reason).
Description: In this episode I chat with Chris Prieto from PRIME Barbecue in Knightdale, North Carolina.
PRIME Barbecue Hours: Tuesday – Saturday. – 11AM – Sold Out Located at: 403 Knightdale Station Run, Knightdale, NC 27545
Be sure to check out the complete restaurant tour at the end of the video.
This chat was so great. It was actually supposed to happen over a year ago, but it seems like it was fate to happen now because we got a chance to explore what it was like to open a dream restaurant(one he bad been planning for 2 years) during the pandemic. He opened Cinco de Mayo and goes into depth the build up to realizing that his opening would be completely different than he imagined and all the hurdles and fluctuations they had to go through to turn a sit-down business into a completely to-go one.
For his restaurant he obsessed over every single detail and goes into great depth about this in our chat. He also talks about his relationship with his mom and dad and how upsetting it was to not have them there for the opening.
He goes into insane detail about everything they are offering and the logic that goes into why they are on the menu. It sounds incredible. Especially options like Creekstone Brisket, scratch-made sausage, lechon and red beans and rice.
This restaurant is 100% of what he dreamt about and he has been preparing himself for his entire life for this.