Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the First Half of 2020

Monk: A little later than I’d normally like to post a first half look-back but then again, I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a weird year. At least barbecue is (mostly) back. After a lot of backyard smoking (a little more on that below) and an attempt at mail order, barbecue restaurants started to reopen in late spring and adapted to the current situation with all formerly extinct practices like curbside service and carhops that made perfect sense in a pandemic environment.

In alphabetical order:

Chopped pork tray from Backcountry BBQ (review)

A barn full of firewood out back was a sign of good things to come when it came to Backcountry Barbeque, an unassuming barbecue joint south of Lexington that landed in the top tier of my Lexington barbecue rankings.

Pork belly burnt ends and sliced pork belly from my backyard (story)

While I haven’t quite lived up to my promise that I would smoke pork belly again very soon, it is very much on my to-do list for upcoming backyard smokes. Particularly as the weather starts to cool down this fall. I still think about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

Beef rib, brisket, ribs, and cheddar bossa sausage from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

You guys all know how I feel about Jon G’s by now, so not too much more needs to be written here except that you should make the trip, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). I’ll also reiterate how glad I am that Garren and Kelly finally opened their store and are doing it their way.

Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of my recent Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center.

Pork, ribs, and chicken from Southern Smoke BBQ (review)

Not too much more to add from my recent review other than Southern Smoke was my absolutely favorite new barbecue I’ve tried this year. I’ll repeat myself from my review: “Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.”

What should I try in the second half (or what’s remaining of it) of 2020? Leave a comment with your recommendation.

Quarantinication: My First Time Smoking Pork Belly Will Not Be My Last

Monk: During the pandemic, more people are resorting to backyard smoking. Between the meat shortage due to supply chain issues and inventory being picked up by restaurants, selection can be hit or miss. This means I can’t just walk into my neighborhood grocery store and pick up a pork butt like I used to. However, this does allow for the opportunity to try some different cuts, assuming I come across them.

Pork belly is one such cut I’ve been looking to smoke but hadn’t come across it, even pre-pandemic. However, on a recent trip to Costco they were flush with pork bellies even though the rest of the beef and pork meat case was pretty bare.

But what to do with the 9 pound pork belly? Should I cube it and make pork belly burnt ends or smoke it whole with a salt and pepper rub a la a brisket? Robbie from City Limits Q down in Columbia suggested over Instagram that I split it in half and do both, which only made too much sense. His big thing, however, was to be sure I brine the belly and I did exactly that with kosher salt overnight the night before.

That morning, as I fired up the smoker and let it get to temp, I sliced the pork belly in half and cubed one half and sprinkled in with Hardcore Carnivore’s Red rub. For the “whole” half, I sprinkled the same kosher salt and coarse ground pepper rub I’ve used on tri-tip and other beef cuts. Then, onto the smoker they went.

After 2 hours at 250-275 degrees, the burnt ends were done with their smoke bath. The next step was to toss them in barbecue sauce, honey, and butter and put back on the smoker in a covered pan.

After 1.5 hours, I took off the foil and finished the final 30 minutes uncovered. Then, they came out in sauced little nuggets of pork and fat. About 4 hours total, and I got this perfect sweet and savory bite.

As for the other half of the belly, a little after 3 hours it was already up to 200 degrees internal temperature. I wrapped in butcher paper and rested in a cooler for a few hours until dinner time.

…But not before slicing off a couple slices and throwing onto a potato roll with some homemade pickles I made a few weeks back. The pork belly is such a fatty, rich cut that the acid from the pickles nicely counteracts it. The combination of which makes a pretty darn good sandwich.

I’m not saying this will replace my pork butt as my go-to but it’s nice to have it in the arsenal. While a pork butt will take me 10-12 hours depending on the size of the butt and how fast I’m smoking, I smoked this pork belly two ways and got two fantastic dishes in less than 5 hours total (both of which I have received really good feedback on). On one hand, it was nice to knock out the smoke before lunch but on the other, I didn’t get any extended beer drinking time.

As others have urged, if you are apt to smoking, use this weird time of pandemic as a reason to try something new. You may just love the results.

Linkdown: 11/27/19

More on Wyatt’s Barbecue, coming to downtown Raleigh in late 2020

Pork belly burnt ends were first served at Fort Worth’s Heim BBQ, writes Texas Monthly BBQ Editor Daniel Vaughn

Photographer Kelly Yandell has some photos from the TMBBQ Festival earlier this month

Wood’s Chapel BBQ makes Thrillist Atlanta’s list of Best New Restaurants of 2019

Doug Saul’s BBQ and Seafood in Nashville, NC has temporarily closed due to salmonella, the first such incident in its 42 years

Boulevard Barbeque is coming to Morganton later this year or early next year, and will be smoking all the meats on a gas-assisted Old Hickory

New Zion Church BBQ in Huntsville, TX has closed after 53 years

Just gonna leave this here:

Linkdown: 5/22/19

Charlotte Magazine has released their barbecue issue. Several of the stories are below but consider buying a physical copy at one of their newstand locations

Oh Lordy:

The Improper Pig is relocating from its orignal Cotswold location to south Charlotte

A brief history of barbecue, according to Chowhound

A guide to Carolina barbecue sauces, also according to Chowhound

Barbecue and mountain biking: when you want some ‘cue after hitting the trails

LOL from Kathleen Purvis:

Midwood Smokehouse’s Barbecue Month special while it’s available: