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.

Southern Smoke BBQ – Garland, NC

Name: Southern Smoke BBQ
Address: 29 E Warren St, Garland, NC 28441
Order: Chopped barbecue, ribs, and smoked chicken with jambalaya and Dr. Pepper
Pricing: $$

I’m a Lexington-style barbecue guy through and through – as the saying goes, you prefer what you grew up on – but 8+ years into this barbecue journey I’ve learned not to be too dogmatic about my barbecue. I’ve learned that a slice of properly smoked brisket can be the best thing I’ve eaten in a long, long time and that a well smoked sausage in a snappy case can be something both my wife and I happily share when I inevitably drag her and the kids to yet another barbecue restaurant. Also, the other style of NC barbecue in the state rivalry – that is, eastern NC style – can wow me just as much as a sandwich from Lexington #1. Recently, Southern Smoke BBQ in the small town of Garland, NC (pop. 621) in eastern NC did exactly that.

Southern Smoke is the creation of Matthew Register, whose book I recently wrote on post on, and as the story goes was started in 2014 after he got inspired by reading “Holy Smoke” by John Shelton Reed and his late wife Dale. Others have covered his story better than I will attempt to here, but he and I have been circling each other on social media for the past few years and I’ve been meaning to find a way to get to Garland ever since. Not an easy feat, mind you, since its 3.5 hours away from Charlotte and 1.5 hours from even the Brunswick County beaches we often visit as a family. Recently inspired by an excellent John Tanner’s BBQ Blog entry, I made the decision to finally bite the bullet and go during the Monk family’s week-long stay at Ocean Isle Beach.

A side note – besides the barbecue itself, it was a real joy to drive the county roads and through the small towns of eastern NC that I hadn’t had the pleasure of passing through before. I lived in Fayetteville, NC for about 6 years until 6th grade but certainly hadn’t been on highways 701 or 211 or passed through the towns of Elizabethtown or White Lake.

On this day, a Washington Post reporter and photographer was in town interviewing Register as part of a story spotlighting Garland. Meanwhile, workers were speculating about who might be purchasing the Brooks Brothers shirt factory in town that had recently shuttered. Their hope was that it would help restore jobs for the 150 or so workers who were laid off earlier this year, and re-energize the local economy. I’m not giving up the city for a small town anytime soon, but its certainly nice to visit.

Once I reached Garland and Southern Smoke, I parked underneath the massive magnolia tree across the street and walked up to place my order outside of the restaurant where they’ve transitioned to taking orders during the pandemic. From there, I took my order of barbecue, ribs, and chicken (graciously comped but by no means affecting this review) out to their backyard seating area, which under normal times is used for their themed “South Supper Series” dinner parties they host at different times of the year. I would love to somehow take the vibe of it and drop it in my own backyard in Charlotte.

And I’ll be danged if the eastern style chopped pork didn’t hit the spot that day. It had the perfect balance of smoke and tang and my taste buds immediately thanked me for making the journey. My understanding is that Register and team smoke pork butts instead of whole hog before dressing it with their eastern style sauce. Say what you will about other types of barbecue, but the simplicity of that style of barbecue (perhaps the original style of barbecue in America) just makes sense. It definitely did on this day.

Each day that they are open – currently Thursdays and Fridays but adding Wednesdays next month – ribs and chicken of some sort (sometimes smoked, sometimes fried) are usually available in addition to the barbecue. The ribs are meaty baby backs and as with the barbecue were well smoked with a perfect balance of smoke, salt, and sweet in each bite. As for chicken, I’m not usually a chicken at a barbecue restaurant kind of guy but these two quarter chickens are certainly worthy of an order.

The sides at Southern Smoke rotate daily, and not all are your typical barbecue sides (Register jokes that he has a reputation on the barbecue food festival scene of being the guy with “pretty sides”). In fact, on this day I got jambalaya which shouldn’t be at all surprising if you’ve read Register’s book which not only features classic barbecue dishes and sides but also pulls from the Lowcountry and Mississippi Delta. The cornbread was on the sweeter end of the spectrum (which I always enjoy) and appeared to be cooked in a skillet. It was mouth-wateringly wonderful.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew for a good bit after I finished my meal, and the conversation certainly wasn’t limited to barbecue. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy and our conversation ranged from soccer (we are both big Manchester United fans) to music to books to the current state of affairs. Of course we talked a good bit of shop as well, and it was great to hear his perspective on barbecue.

Southern Smoke BBQ is a destination-worthy barbecue restaurant in a small town in eastern NC. While you might be tempted to describe Garland as being in the middle of nowhere, the barbecue from Matthew Register and team is at least 200 mile barbecue – if not more. Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Chicken – 4 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

Lexington Style Trimmings – Lexington, NC

Name: Lexington Style Trimmings
Order: Large chopped tray with red slaw, hush puppies, and Cheerwine (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Since last fall, it has been my pet project to finish trying every Lexington area barbecue restaurant. As of February, I was making good progress and had just one or two more to try…before COVID 19 hit and shut the country down. Like a lot of things, my quest fell by the wayside.

As North Carolina entered phase 2 in late May and restaurants were slowly allowed to reopen with reduced capacity, I knew that it didn’t have to be too long before I was able to try the next restaurant on my list: Lexington Style Trimmings (although they closed for about a month between mid-June and mid-July due to a kitchen fire). Other than the name, I didn’t know too much about LST and even after doing research afterwards detail are a bit hard to come by other than it is a “longtime” barbecue restaurant at the same exit as the Bob Timberlake Gallery exit in Lexington.

Regardless, on first glance, Lexington Style Trimmings fits the bill of a Lexington joint. It sits at the end of a small strip mall, has car hop service (even pre-pandemic), and is a diner-style restaurant that serves barbecue in addition to other southern foods in two small, no-frills dining rooms.

However, the barbecue didn’t live up to Lexington standards. The chopped pork was mushy and had a rather unappealing texture. Not to mention a disappointing lack of smoke. For one of the last joints on my Lexington barbecue quest, this was quite a letdown and only made me want to revisit the better joints on the list post haste.

The red slaw was standard and while the hush puppies were a bit overdone and perhaps a tad too crispy, they were slightly sweet and by far the best part of the meal.

There is now one more joint to try – the newly discovered Blazin’ BBQ and Kickin’ Chicken in downtown Lexington – and there are some joints I need to revisit in my Tier 1 of Lexington joints (like Speedy’s and Smiley’s, which I last visited in 2012), so I’ve still got just a little more work to do. As for Lexington Style Trimmings, now that I’ve punched this one on my card I think I’m good.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 2.5 hogs
Pork – 1.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 1.5 Hogs

Linkdown: 5/20/20

Heim Barbecue laments rising meat prices in this piece from the local Fort Worth paper: “I’m afraid these meat shortages are going to be the final nail in the coffin for a lot of independent BBQ joints” 

In NC, JD’s Smokehouse in Connelly Springs has been having issues procuring meat

Rodney Scott’s newest barbecue store won’t open in Atlanta by the end of the spring as originally planned, but they are still moving forward

For those barbecue fans looking for a new ebook

Pork prices have increased by 3%

Five spots for “quarantine barbecue” in Asheville, according to the AVL Today blog

NYC barbecue takeout options

Quite the photo here

Even the NC Museum of History is getting in on “The Last Dance” memes