Name: Southern Smoke BBQ
Address: 29 E Warren St, Garland, NC 28441
Order: Chopped barbecue, ribs, and smoked chicken with jambalaya and Dr. Pepper
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.
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Chicken – 4 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs