Monk: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I quietly posted my Lexington rankings a few months back through the top navigation bar. Before the pandemic hit, it was my pet project to hit all of the current Lexington-area barbecue restaurants for my definitive* Lexington rankings. I’ve been a longtime fan of Lexington Barbecue and in recent years, The Barbecue Center. But as the self-proclaimed “Barbecue Capital of the World” (one of many cities claiming that title, it should be noted) boasting at times one barbecue restaurant per 1,000 restaurants (though this is not currently the case), I needed to explore the others to understand the quality and depth of the other restaurants.
I’ve broken the 14 restaurants I’ve reviewed thus far into three tiers. Someday I will get to the curiously named Lexington Trimmings for completeness sake but in the meantime, here is the most definitive list of Lexington-area barbecue restaurants on the internet*. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lexington Big Board.
I need to revisit both Smiley’s and Speedy’s asap, as they may no longer be in business for too much longer as a result of the NC Department of Transportation widening Highway 8 that they both sit on. Also, both were reviewed very early in this blog’s life and while I really enjoyed both, I’ve had a lot of barbecue since.
– BBQ Jew has some deets on the Allen & Son (Pittsboro, not Chapel Hill) expansion into a former Jackson Bros BBQ in Sanford
– The Red BBQ sauce from Mac’s Speed Shop beat over 250 competitors to win first place in the Tomato Sauce category at this year’s Memphis in May; you can’t have that recipe but here’s the recipe for their vinegar sauce
Speedy: With Monk fresh back from a two week barbecue hiatus, we decided it would be best to hit one of the heavy hitters for our next barbecue experience. As such, we took a day trip up to Lexington to visit Speedy’s Barbecue Inc. Speedy’s sits just off Business 85 in Lexington in an unassuming brick building. It looks exactly what you’d expect a traditional barbecue joint to look like – complete with a smokehouse attached to the back. The front is adorned with a sign advertising Speedy’s as the “Best BBQ Anywhere” on one side and displaying their motto “Quality, Quantity, and Quick Service.”
Monk: So while I enjoyed the meal, I did a little research afterwards and learned that apparently Speedy’s cooks with electricity. This may explain the lack of smokiness (links here and here).
Rudy: I know this is a legendary place, but how do we feel about it being cooked with electricity? I want to say that I don’t care as long as the taste is there. But it is still hard to get so much quality from electricity instead of a smoker. I feel like the electricity is cheating. I saw a show on tv the other day where a barbecue place reheated their ribs in a microwave when they were ordered. Blasphemy.
Speedy: I’m a little dubious to the links mentioned above. While I trust the BBQ Jew, he only states that it’s not wood-burning. The other link is just a comment. Either way, electric smokers can produce good meat and the smokiness can be achieved by using hickory wood chips. I myself own an electric smoker (though as soon as I have a yard, I’ll be purchasing a big green egg). So while it’s not the best, I can’t hate too much on the electricity, if that is in fact accurate.
Monk: Ideally, I think barbecue should be cooked low-and-slow over burning wood. But the reality is, in North Carolina these days that is the exception rather than the rule (apparently something like 99% use gas or electricity, according to this interview with NC Barbecue Society founder Jim Early). In any case, barbecue was at the top of my list of things to eat as soon as I got back from my vacation abroad. So this quick road trip to Lexington was a perfect way to get some good barbecue and visit a spot that I hadn’t visited before. So Speedy, my question for you is how pumped were you to go to your namesake restaurant?
Speedy: I suppose I was pretty excited. Honestly, I probably haven’t been in ten years, because with Lex #1 just a mile or so away, there’s really no reason to go anywhere else in Lexington. I think it used to be open on Sundays (though apparently it is not anymore), which would give a reason to go. I do remember it being good, and for the sake of our readers, we thought it important to review as many places as possible. Of course I was super pumped to eat Lexington style barbecue (aka “the best style”).
Monk: The inside of Speedy’s is adorned with movie and tv posters from all eras, some of which are autographed, and is kind of kitschy in a non-pretentious way. We were seated with no wait and happened to be seated in front of a “Friends” poster with a cast-signed photo. A good sign, I guess?
Speedy: Sitting down and talking to the waitress was pretty amusing. She automatically assumed we were tourists – probably due to Monk’s incessant photo taking.
Rudy: I guess he wasn’t fully acclimated back from vacation yet.
Monk: …c’mon, it wasn’t that bad…
Speedy: She asked us if we had any questions and explained that they had a “local drink” called Cheerwine. Monk and I played along for a bit, though I did try to amp up my southern drawl to let her know it wasn’t my first rodeo. I think once we ordered, she realized that we were no amateurs.
Rudy: There you go with the Cheerwine stuff again. I have grown a huge appreciation for my new Texas barbecue, but they have nothing to compare to that. Just keep rubbing it in my face.
Monk: I feel like this kind of thing has happened a few times. Maybe we need someone to announce our arrival at each spot so folks know we aren’t messing around – whether it’s the difference between Eastern and Western NC barbecue or telling us what Cheerwine is. Nevertheless, I went to the bathroom and when I came back our order had already arrived – literally 2 minutes after we had ordered. Talk about “quick service” – the third “Q.”
Speedy: So Speedy’s is not just a clever name.
Speedy: The second “Q” mentioned in Speedy’s mantra is quantity and boy they aren’t kidding. The plate came piled high with plenty of pork, slaw and fries – too much for even a seasoned barbecue eater such as myself to finish. The pork is chopped fine, not pulled, which I personally prefer. It’s moist and tender and downright delicious. The waitress brought out an extra cup of dip (that’s Lexington for “sauce,” y’all) for us, and we did end up using it, though it probably wasn’t necessary. I like to add a little Texas Pete to my ‘cue as well, giving it a little bite and helping make sure it’s not dry. If I do have one complaint, it’s that the ‘cue did not have a noticeable smoke flavor. It’s easy to overdo it with smokiness, but I do think the hint of it is important. This is a minor thing, though, and I enjoyed the pork very much.
Monk: One thing I especially love about going to a proper barbecue restaurant is that the sides are choices in addition to hush puppies (aka “the way it should be”). We both went with fries and barbecue slaw – pretty standard for both of us. The hush puppies were pretty much spot on, the barbecue slaw was vinegary with a slight pepper kick as it should be, and the fries – well they were fries. I really didn’t eat too many of them since unlike Speedy, I was able to actually finish my huge portion of barbecue.
Rudy: I’m a little embarrassed that happened, and that he admitted to it. If anything needs to be sacrificed, it is sides and not the meat.
Speedy: I will say this, I thought the slaw could have been a little colder. I really like the contrast of hot ‘cue and cold slaw when eating a proper barbecue plate. The taste and chop were good, but the temperature left me a little lacking.
Monk: So while the barbecue “quality” (the first “Q”) was definitely strong-to-very-strong (albeit a notch or two below, say, Lexington #1), we can’t give it higher marks due to the lack of smoke flavor. But in a pinch, Speedy’s will definitely do. And they take credit cards, which isn’t always a given at these mom and pop barbecue joints.
Speedy: Overall, I was really pleased with my meal. It’s not the “best barbecue anywhere,” as advertised on the sign. Hell, it’s not even the best barbecue within a square mile. But it is pretty damn good. Did Monk and I drive an hour each way for a ten minute meal? Yes we did. Do either of us regret it even a little bit? Nope.