Monk: Southern Living readers pick their favorite barbecue in each state in the South for the annual “Best in the South” issue. While Robert Moss provides a foreword, please remember that this is a reader chosen list and not his South’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints list. So address your ire at the masses and not Moss’ inbox.
Moss does note that half of the 14 are repeat, with the other half being new to the list. For North Carolina, the reader’s pick this year was Lexington Barbecue but it was not a repeat winner as last year’s choice was Buxton Hall Barbecue.
Check out the Southern Living reader’s pick at the link below.
Steve and Gerri Grady get profiled in the local paper, the Mount Olive Tribune
Monk: I never got those “best of the year” lists that publish in early December, whether it’s barbecue, music, or film (yes, I understand deadlines but stay with me here). What, do they think they aren’t going to potentially eat a great barbecue meal (or discover a new album or film) sometime in the last three weeks of the year? Not me; I’m always going to give myself every opportunity to eat a meal which could possibly make the list. And then I’m going to post that list in January.
That being said, with no signs of the barbecue boom slowing down any time soon, some of the best meals I’ve had yet in the history of this blog happened in 2019. Here were the best of those, and here’s hoping 2020 is full of even more great barbecue.
Honorable Mentions: Brisket and pork from Farmhouse BBQ (review), Whole hog sandwich from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (review)
10 (tie). Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)
Sadly, shortly after my visit in March Mr. Barbecue experienced a fire in their stick burning brick pits that has temporarily closed the restaurant but hopefully they will reopen soon and continue slinging their Lexington-style barbecue to the lucky citizens of Winston-Salem.
Hubba Hubba Smokehouse has been quietly churning out great barbecue from their massive brick pits in the mountains of NC since the early 2000s. They had been on my list for years and I finally got a chance to check them out this year and also spend a little time with pitmaster Spencer Purcell. They are closed for the winter but any serious barbecue fan should check them out once they reopen in the Spring.
9. Bryan Furman’s whole hog and brisket at Sweet Lew’s BBQ (post)
Revenge BBQ is one of two places on this list from an unexpected barbecue location, with Revenge being in the scenic Hudson Valley town of Irvington, about 45 minutes north of New York City. And as is the case with just about any restaurant in an unexpected location, they adhere to the Texas tradition pretty closely and with good results. The brisket shone that day and the Kreuz Market-imported sausages were properly smoked, proving that disciples of Texas barbecue are continuing to spread the message far and wide.
This meal from late December is exactly why I waited to publish my list until January. My previous stop at BBQ King was nearly 3 years before this visit but this simple tray of fresh barbecue on a Friday at 3pm on December 27 reminded me that I need to make it a point to stop by there more often. As should all barbecue fans in western NC.
6. Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)
While Apple City BBQ had been on my radar for some time, my visit this year was completely unplanned and only happened as a result of several detours on the way from Charlotte to the Wilkesboro area for a weekend getaway with the oldest Monkette. As soon as I passed Apple City in Taylorsville right at dinner time on that Friday, I turned the car around and made the stop. Thankfully I did, as it was a fantastic meal of pork, ribs, and brisket. Plus, those deep fried corn nuggets were a unique and noteworthy side.
While the brisket, pulled pork, and ribs were on point each and every time I had Jon G’s Barbecue this year, the Cheerwine hot link represented a cool and exciting development for owners Garren and Kelly. From what I am hearing, 2020 is going to be a big year for them and I can’t wait for more folks in the Charlotte area to be able to try their barbecue. It is our #1 on the Charlotte Big Board, after all.
4. Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)
I certainly didn’t expect one of the best barbecue meals I had in 2019 to be in Denver, CO. While in the past I would have considered Denver to be a bit of a barbecue wasteland (from a local circa 2013: “Head to Texas if you want good barbecue”), that appears to be changing as part of the nationwide barbecue boom. Owlbear Barbecue owner and pitmaster Karl Fallenius is originally from Texas and previously worked at Franklin Barbecue and has brought that approach to Denver. The brisket rivaled some of the best I’ve had in or out of Texas and the pork belly was the best meat on the platter that day and one of the best meats I tasted in 2019.
3. Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)
The simplicity of the whole hog sandwich from Sweatman’s reminded me that, when done right, mustard-based barbecue isn’t some unholy union of sauce and pork. Plus, that hash and rice was life-changingly good.
2. The Miss Mary Platter (Lexington-style barbecue, brisket, turkey, ribs plus eastern and red slaw) and smoked wings from Noble Smoke (review)
In July, Noble Smoke gave Charlotte a true destination barbecue joint and based on several recent visits, locals and out-of-towners alike have shown up for it. I can only hope that with the recent additions of Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s BBQ, both in our top 3, Charlotte’s barbecue scene continues the momentum into 2020.
2019 certainly was the year of whole hog barbecue, and that looks to be continuing into 2020 (Particularly in Raleigh, who is getting no less than 4 whole hog joints – Sam Jones BBQ, Wyatt’s Barbecue, Ed Mitchell’s new place The Preserve, and Lawrence BBQ). 2019 was also the year that I finally achieved what I had been hoping to do for several years – smoke a whole hog on a cinder block pit in my backyard. Speedy made the trip into town and the two of us took shifts manning the pit overnight. I was extremely pleased with how (relatively) easy it was and how good the barbecue turned out. For my first whole hog, I couldn’t have been happier (or more tired).
So that’s it. What were some of your favorite barbecue meals this year?
Monk: It’s been a pretty darn good year in terms of new-to-me barbecue joints. Here’s my five favorite in no particular order…
Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)
More to come soon on this recent visit by Speedy and me, but Owlbear Barbecue in Denver had perhaps the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas (yes, that includes Lewis Barbecue). The pork belly was not far behind.
Lexington-style barbecue and brisket from Noble Smoke (preview)
Finally, Charlotte has some legitimate Lexington-style barbecue in the form of Noble Smoke from Chef Jim Noble. Noble is a lifelong fan of Lexington Barbecue (the restaurant) and has even styled his brick pits after the famed Lexington Barbecue smokestacks (with the Monk family’s permission, of course). This barbecue restaurant is decades in the making, and Jim Noble is certainly doing it right.
Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)
While Apple City BBQ had been on my list, my stop there was completely unplanned. But afterwards, I felt fortunate that my route to the foothills took me right by the joint as all three meats I tried that day were ridiculously good. As I stated in my review, Apple City BBQ is a must-stop for any serious North Carolina barbecue fan.
Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)
Sweatman’s Bar-b-que made me a believer in South Carolina whole hog that happens to be drenched with that mustard stuff. It’s legitimately that good. The hash and rice is otherworldly, too.
Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)
Let’s hope that Mr. Barbecue can rebuild quickly from its smokehouse fire back in the spring, because its an unheralded barbecue joint in Winston-Salem that deserves more attention. Legit Lexington-style barbecue from a classic NC joint in one of the larger cities in the state.
Name: Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que Address: 1427 Eutaw Rd, Holly Hill, SC 29059 Order: Barbecue sandwich with hash and rice and banana puddin’ (link to menu) Pricing: $
Monk: Holy crap, you guys. I mean, holy crap. Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que has been on my list for a few years now, considering how I tend to get to Charleston a couple times a year and Holly Hill is not super out of the way if you are willing to take the scenic route off I-26 just east of Columbia around Orangeburg. Based on my visit, its a detour well worth taking.
Sweatman’s has been around since 1977 and according to Grant’s story over at Marie, Let’s Eat! in 2016, the current owners Mark and Lynn Behr bought the restaurant from their friends and original owners Bub and Margie Sweatman in 2011. Thankfully, it appears they have continued the practice of cooking whole hogs over coals for 12-14 hours.
As this was going to be a late afternoon snack, I did not opt for the full buffet line, instead ordering a a sandwich with a side of hash and rice. The waitress obviously sensed a weakness for ‘naner pudding in me by suggesting I also get it, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch considering its only $1.50 with tax.
The main building of Sweatman’s appears to have had a larger dining room added onto it at some point over the years, and that thing was like stepping back into the 80’s in the south but in the best way.
I bit into my barbecue sandwich and darnit if it wasn’t a near transcendent bite of barbecue. The wood smoke shone through each bite and was accentuated by the sweet and tangy mustard barbecue sauce. This was different than almost every other midlands South Carolina mustard-based barbecue sandwich I’ve had where the shredded pork is drowning in the sauce. The sauce here still let the wood smoke be the star and was content to act as a supporting actor.
The hash and rice was the co-star, if my forced metaphor hasn’t begun to completely break down yet. I’ve only had one other “200 mile” hash and rice before and that was at True BBQ in West Columbia. This was on par with that. I still don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe hash and rice, but this savory-gravy-over-rice-dish is a must-order at Sweatman’s.
Briefly about that banana pudding – it was quite simply one of the best naner puddings I’ve had ever. I wish I had gotten at least 2 more for the rest of the weekend (slash the rest of my meal). What a capper to the meal.
Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que is absolutely worth the detour but be aware that its only open two days a week on Fridays and Saturdays. So be sure to plan your pilgrimage accordingly.
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