The Carolina BBQ Festival Delivered on its Promise to Put Charlotte Barbecue on the Map

Monk: On a perfect spring day in a perfect setting, the first annual Carolina BBQ Festival capped off Barbecue Month in style at the Boileryard at Camp North End in Charlotte in late May.

My hopes were high, as I had previously written, and I was heartened to see that first the VIP then the General Admission tickets sold out in the weeks ahead of the festival. As someone who can now be considered a longtime Charlottean (having lived here for 17+ years), sometimes you can never tell whether Charlotte is going to show up for a brand new festival but Lewis Donald and team can build off a sold out festival going into next year’s edition. 

Of course, the big selling point for the festival was the barbecue talent rubbing elbows together, and on that front it did not disappoint. 

The biggest lines on the day were for former Charlottean Bryan Furman’s whole hog served with his signature bourbon peach sauce that pulled from his current Georgia roots. Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, SC handled the sides of slaw and an almost dessert-like sweet potato side dish that seemed to be a fan favorite.

Elliot Moss built a behemoth cinder block pit on the Boileryard grounds and smoked his eastern NC (though more accurately SC Pee Dee-style) whole hogs overnight. Matt Register of Southern Smoke brought the elevated sides of a BBQ saltine cracker casserole with a tomato salad and cornbread.

Not to be outdone, Nathan Monk, the 3rd generation pitmaster of Lexington Barbecue, brought a bunch of Lexington-style pork shoulders and red slaw smoked the night before in the storied Lexington Barbecue pits while Brandon Shepherd of Shepherd’s Barbecue in Emerald Isle handled the sides of Mexican street corn and baked beans.

For those fortunate enough to snag a VIP ticket, Jon G’s brought the heat with their beef rib croissant and jalapeno cheddar grits with a burnt end garnish while Sweet Lew’s provided a pickled ramp sausage and cheesy potatoes and a side of his version of hash and rice.

Oysters were provided by North Sea Oyster Co and Crystal Coast Oysters. Oysters plus a couple of mimosas or bloody marys made for a very filling experience for VIP customers, for sure.

Before I go any further, I should pause to give props to all of the pitmasters who came from all over NC and the southeast, many of which were running off of a lack of sleep due to running their restaurants or handling catering gigs. Not to mention the hogs provided by Ronald Simmons and Master Blend Family Farms.

On the entertainment front, several local bands kept the crowd entertained. Carolina Gator Gumbo started off the afternoon with their cajun creole music before giving way to Justin Fedor & the Denim Denim. Fedor, who also spends time in Charlotte psych-rock band Ancient Cities, channels his country-rock troubadour in this band of his. Finally, Emanuel Wynter capped off the afternoon with his unique blend of his violin skills with a talented band behind him switching easily between genres. In between sets, DJ That Guy Smitty kept the crowd’s heads bopping with his mix of funky and soulful tunes.

As successful as the debut festival was, next year I’d like to see a second wave of customers enter after the initial rush moves through because while there are lengthy lines for the first hour or two, there was not as much activity at the tents in hours 3 and 4 while there was still plenty of food. No doubt Lewis and team are working through that and more tweaks for next year’s festival.

Speaking of which, Lewis told me he has even bigger and better plans for next year’s edition, and I can’t wait until he unveils them to the public. The first Carolina BBQ Festival was certainly a great start to what hopefully becomes a Spring tradition in Charlotte. For me, it more than delivered on its promise to put Charlotte barbecue on the map.

More sights from the festival:

Linkdown: 3/16/22

Native News

A couple of the pitmasters for the upcoming Carolina Barbecue Festival in Charlotte on May 22nd: Bryan Furman and Matthew Register

Not to be outdone, the Pinehurst Barbecue Festival has been announcing pitmasters for the Prieto Pitmaster Invitational at its festival, including Brandon Shepard of Shepard Barbecue, Melanie Dunia of The Pit, Ron Simmons of Master Blend Family Farms, and Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ

Noble Smoke’s stall has opened at Optimist Hall as of Monday, 3/14

Jon G’s will be smoking meat for a barbecue and wine event on the last day of the Charlotte Wine & Food Festival

Pretty cool: actor Eric Wareheim made it all the way from LA to Peachland for a Barbecue Saturday last weekend

Non-Native News

Blake’s BBQ has its final days in the trailer this week

In Austin for SXSW?

The latest reader-generated list from Southern Living

Linkdown: 8/25/21

After taking the summer off to recap Food Network’s BBQ Brawl, we’re back with our weekly rundown of barbecue news. We start by first celebrating the fantastic folks over at Bar-B-Q King in Lincolnton, who we featured on the blog earlier this week ahead of their big 50th anniversary coming up September 1.

At the risk of repeating myself, its fantastic to be celebrating a milestone in longevity as opposed to mourning the closing of yet another classic NC barbecue joint, which Kathleen Purvis so eloquently did in a story for Garden & Gun in 2019 (third link). Let’s hope it continues to be more of the former and less of the latter.

Native News

The Charlotte Observer covers Bar-B-Q King’s upcoming 50th anniversary

…as does WBTV who had owners Steve and Keith on TV

..which is a nice contrast from this story from Kathleen Purvis originally from 2 years ago

Buxton Hall Barbecue reopened last week with brisket on the menu (but thankfully keeping whole hog on as well)

Southern Smoke BBQ is collaborating with Wilmington’s Flying Machine Brewing Company on an upcoming beer

Mac’s Speed Shop is expanding to Fort Mill

Cheerwine has some thoughts

After founder Jim Early’s passing earlier this year, the North Carolina Barbecue Society plans to keep things moving

Non-Native News

Congrats to Fox Bros Bar-B-Q on 14 years!

Jiyeon Lee of Heirloom Market BBQ discusses their Korean-influenced sides

John Tanner checks in at The Federalist Pig in DC, whose upcoming Hyattsville location will smoke with all wood

Both Martin’s and Peg Leg Porker make this diary of Nick Solares

Eddie Jackson describes Flay as a “mentor” and “great friend” after working with him on BBQ Brawl

Speaking of BBQ Brawl, ICYMI from last week

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.