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

The Ultimate Charlotte Barbecue Plate (2021)

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

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

Monk’s Favorite Barbecue Meals of 2020

Monk: Our last piece of business before we close the door on 2020, here are my favorite barbecue meals of 2020. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d get to a full list of 10 like I did for 2019, but even with everything going on I still had some great meals.

10. Beef rib from Midwood Smokehouse

Midwood Smokehouse has a weekend beef rib special available every weekend for the (relatively) low price of $32 per bone. Midwood charges a flat fee and compared with what you’d pay if you had to pay by the pound, that’s a saving of at least $10-15.

9. “Bird is the word” smoked then fried chicken sandwich and smoked gulf shrimp from Leah and Louise (Charlotte)

“Bird is the Word” is a smoked then fried chicken sandwich topped with pickles and comeback sauce from Leah and Louise from James Beard-nominated chef Greg Collier and his wife Sabrina. It was also one of the best sandwiches I ate all year, even if it was technically not at a barbecue joint. The other smoked item I enjoyed on that visit was the “On My Way Home” which was “big a$$ smoked gulf shrimp” in a lemon, butter, and worcestershire sauce with cornmeal brioche.

If you are anywhere near Charlotte, get yourself too Leah and Louise at Camp Northend.

8. Smoked beef tenderloin from my backyard

My big Christmas smoke this year was both a smoked turkey breast but most importantly, a smoked beef tenderloin. I dry rubbed the tenderloin with kosher salt earlier that day before rubbing it with Billy Twang’s Old No. 3 Rub (review here) as I got my Oklahoma Joe’s offset up to temp. Two hours later, I had a perfectly medium tenderloin that sliced into perfect medallions. Yet another winner to file away for future smokes.

7. Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of last year’s Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center and the re-review of Smiley’s (see below). Nonetheless, Rick’s is a winner that carries on the Lexington tradition for a relatively new restaurant (opened in 2009).

6. Tres Amigos platter (brisket, pork, and ribs) with smoked turkey and jalapeno cheddar sausage from The Smoke Pit

Mine and Speedy’s full review is forthcoming, but we enjoyed our visit to the newest location of the expanding local restaurant chain, which started in Concord and has grown to 4 locations. Charlotte-area folks: don’t sleep on The Smoke Pit.

5. Texas Trinity and beef rib from Prime BBQ (story)

At last February’s media event for Prime BBQ (in before times), after an extensive tour of the then-in construction Prime BBQ, the group was treated to a lovely meal of brisket, ribs, and sausage (aka the Texas Trinity) and a small beef rib. Eventually I will make it back to Knightdale for an official review, but this was quite the meal.

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

While I still 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 in 2021. I still dream about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

3. Chopped barbecue sandwich with hush puppies and a Cheerwine from Smiley’s Lexington Barbecue (review)

Eight years after my first and only visit to Smiley’s, I wanted to get another visit end in case it truly does end up closing due to road expansion. And what I found was a 5 hog joint in limbo, unsure of the timing when it will be forced to close. Nevertheless, the sandwich I got on that day was the perfect Lexington barbecue sandwich.

2. 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 out to Peachland, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). One of my barbecue new year’s resolution is to make the trip more often and continue to spread the word of Jon G’s.

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

Southern Smoke was my favorite barbecue at the midpoint of last year and that carried on through to the end of 2020. Matthew Register and team are doing great things in Garland, and I urge folks to make the trip like I did.