Pitmasters of Charlotte: Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ

While there is certainly good barbecue to be found in Charlotte, I wouldn’t quite say that it’s a barbecue city…yet. However, there are pitmasters out there doing great work, and I hope to spotlight that a little more in this series of posts called “Pitmasters of Charlotte.”

Our second profile (thus making it an actual series, woo hoo!) is Lewis Donald, who along with Laura Furman Grice opened up Sweet Lew’s BBQ in early December. Monk previewed them back in September as well as reviewed the restaurant, and is a big big fan.

How long have you lived in Charlotte and how did you get here?
I’ve been here 10 years. I came here to take a job at Charlotte Country Club, after I graduated the apprenticeship program at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.

How did you become a Pitmaster?
I don’t really use that term, not for myself. Those that came before me, those that learned the art through family generations, those that defined what we know as bbq today…they’re the pitmasters.

What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer? 
I like the staples, skin-on-shoulder, ribs, chicken, and brisket. It takes being able to cook all of them to offer a good bbq experience to family, friends, and customers. I prefer [smoking over] hickory and pecan.

What are your barbecue influences?
Simplicity, scratch cooking, consistency

What is your favorite barbecue joint or style?
I like them all, true bbq spot and styles. But I’m not a big sauce guy.

What is your earliest memory of barbecue?
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, it was a gas grill with burgers and dogs. In 2003 is when I was introduced to bbq.

What is the best thing about Charlotte barbecue?
I think it’s great that it’s served in restaurants.

What is a weakness or opportunity of Charlotte barbecue?
There’s not much of it, so there’s room to grow it!

Thanks to Lewis for his time. For more about Sweet Lew’s BBQ, check out their website, Instagram, Facebook page, or Lewis’ Instagram.

If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!

Linkdown: 7/26/17

– Congrats to Carolina Bar-B-Que in Statesville on being open for 32 years!

– Jon G’s BBQ (our current Charlotte #1) is moving up in the world with their spiffy new trailer

– As previously announced, the next location of Midwood Smokehouse will be in Birkdale Village in Huntersville in the old Smoke location

– John Lewis names his pitmasters of the future in Tasting Table

– Tasting Table had their list of America’s Top 11 BBQ Joints from an article back in May, which I don’t believe I saw until now

– Is it ever too hot to eat barbecue? Never.

– Atlanta’s gotten a 4 Rivers Smokehouse (the first outside of Florida) in its burgeoning westside

– A GQ feature on the Austin barbecue scene

– AV Club’s Supper Club explores Alabama’s white sauce, “smoked chicken’s best friend”

– The best barbecue sides in Austin

– Filing this away for future reference…

Linkdown: 9/2/15

– The BBC reports on black pitmasters being left out of the barbecue boom

“National press is infatuated with white, male hipster BBQ,” writes Robb Walsh on the blog First We Feast. “Believe it or not, blacks, Latinos, and women are involved in the barbecue biz too.”

– On a related note, Robert Moss’ list of the 15 most influential people in barbecue history

Here, arranged chronologically, is my list of the 15 most influential figures in American barbecue history. By “influential”, I don’t mean the best cooks or the most successful restaurateurs, necessarily. We’re talking about impact and legacy: the people who helped shape the South’s rich barbecue tradition and create and promote the diverse regional styles we enjoy today. It’s a list that cuts across lines of race and class.

– Moss also has the first part in a series for the “Best of Southern BBQ” Awards

– Just saw that Bill Spoon’s now has a barbecue food truck serving the greater Charlotte area

– La Barbecue – #1 in our recently released Austin rankings –  is moving again in order to stay open during nights for patrons of the neighborhood bars

– The Smoking Ho’s recap of the TMBBQ Behind the Pit Dinner at Snow’s BBQ

– Marie, Let’s Eat! continues his Alabama barbecue travels at Bar-B-Q Hut in Heflin and The Rocket in Jacksonville

– This list is from 2012 but worth a revisit since it has been retweeted in the past week

– The Southern Sauce Festival,  which combines the Q-City Charlotte Barbecue Championship and the Charlotte Beerfest, is one of the 10 things you must do in September, according to Charlotte Five

– From friend of the blog Johnny Fugitt, the most underrated barbecue in St. Louis

– More lists: Yahoo’s 50 best barbecue restaurants in the America by state; gotta say, some headscratchers in this one

– IT’S ALL HAPPENING:

-NPR article on how locals are turning 5-hour long lines at Franklin’s into cold hard cash

– The Daily Meal’s list of America’s 35 Best Ribs 2015 was compiled from 40 different “rib experts” and includes The Pit in Raleigh at #34; Louie Mueller takes the top overall spot (check out Rudy’s recent review here)

Linkdown: 9/24/14

– Check out our Taste Trekker’s list for Five Unique Barbecue Experiences in Charlotte, North Carolina; it was partially (ok, very) inspired by this list from Marie, Let’s Eat!

– The latest Arrogant Swine post on opening a barbecue restaurant on Serious Eats finds Uncle Ho trying to hire a staff

The saddest moment in any barbecue guy’s professional life is when you realize that the person you’re training to do the cooking just doesn’t give a royal fuck about barbecue. They’d be just as happy making pizza or ramen noodles. The food was coming out awful and Jack couldn’t care. “Just cover it with barbecue sauce and no one will tell the difference,” he once noted.

More information on the barbecue events at the World of Bluegrass festival in downtown Raleigh on 10/3

– More coverage on the NC BBQ Map from the Elkin Times and TWC News

– Andrew Carter’s column leading up to last weekend’s ECU drubbing of UNC took the pulse of fans at Parker’s Barbecue in Greenville and ends with this choice quote:

Down at Parker’s the lunch crowd had picked up and Parker went out to help work the register. A line began to form, a small version of what is coming Saturday.

“Everybody in this town needs to thank God for East Carolina,” said Parker, whose restaurant had already booked six catering events at the stadium on Saturday. “I mean, really. For the hospital and for East Carolina.

“(Without) those two things — well, Greenville would be Kinston.”

“The pitfalls of barbecue reportage” examines how barbecue journalists such as Daniel Vaughn attempt to report on pitmasters without romanticizing them

– Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen (our current #1) has posted an updated schedule for their foodtruck and they will be at a few upcoming Charlotte beer festivals starting with this weekend’s Charlotte Oktoberfest

– Marie, Let’s Eat!’s latest barbecue stop is Log Cabin Smokehouse Bar-B-Que in Rome, GA

– Barbecue Rankings had a lot of posts in the last week: Dallas, Seattle, Detroit, Pecos, Albuquerque, and Phoenix

– Aaron Franklin brought his smoked meats to Feast Portland last weekend; TMBBQ has the photos and story

– As is to be expected, barbecue is the signature food of several states including North Carolina