Charlotte Barbecue News from the First Quarter of 2021

Monk: After nearly a year of various stages of lockdown and a big spike in COVID cases in January, the first quarter of 2021 had mostly positive news as restaurants managed through relaxed restrictions starting in March.

Here in Charlotte, restaurants are finding new and different ways to diversify their food offerings to attract customers and some are even in expansion mode. Let’s hope that trend continues into Q2.

January

1/5 North State BBQ announces it is opening a second location in Lake Norman off Statesville Rd

1/10 RayNathan’s in Gastonia celebrated their 2 year anniversary

1/13 Sweet Lew’s BBQ hires its first “barbecue apprentice” in Keywon Dooling from the local culinary school at Central Piedmont Community College

1/29 Jon G’s Barbecue gets their first national magazine feature

February

2/7 Pitmasters from Bobby’s BBQ, City Limits Barbeque, and Fork Grove BBQ have a “barbecue Saturday Texas BBQ Pitmaster Meatman meat-up” meet up at Jon G’s Barbecue

2/12 Jon G’s Barbecue introduces some awesome Coors Banquet Beer-inspired t-shirts

2/15 Noble Smoke launches taco kits now available every Tuesday

2/16 Bar-B-Q King makes this list of “50 must-try cheap eats in Charlotte under $10” from Axios Charlotte (formerly Charlotte Agenda)

2/24: Axios Charlotte posts their list of the 4 best barbecue spots in Charlotte, with another 4 worth the drive; we even get a brief shoutout in reference to Jon G’s

March

3/1 Jon G’s Barbecue acquired their restaurant one year ago on 3/1; they would open for business about 3 months later

3/2 Roddey’s BBQ food truck in Rock Hill changes locations

3/3 Noble Smoke introduces the “Mini Mary,” a smaller version of their “Miss Mary” platter that feeds 4

3/4 Sweet Lew’s Barbeque and Midwood Smokehouse make the Eater list for Charlotte

3/9 Mac’s Speed Shop and Noble Smoke have two of the best patios in Charlotte

3/12 Sweet Lew’s Barbeque announces a “Bootcamp and BBQ” event on April 17

3/19 Noble Smoke introduces “The Noble Smoke Pitmaster Experience” where you can learn from their pitmasters for the somewhat steep price of $500 a spot; the initial spots have since sold out

We are offering an exclusive opportunity to learn the step-by-step process of smoking meat first-hand from our pitmasters, Stuart and Ed. You get to take home the meats of your labor which includes a whole brisket and pork butt (5 lbs each). But that’s not all! 3 sauces, a hat, a pitmaster t-shirt, lunch, and a post-smoke beer are also included.

3/19 Charlotte-based Mac’s Hospitality Group, the parent company of Mac’s Speed Shop, eyes growth across the Southeast in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Florida under the leadership of recently-hired president Shang Skipper

3/19 Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ will open a location of its fast casual concept in Concord in the coming weeks

Linkdown: 3/10/21

Featured

This week marks the one year anniversary of the lockdown due to COVID-19. However, with the light at the end of the tunnel seemingly in sight (don’t let up now, though!), it’s fun to start thinking about all the things we used to take for granted that we will once again soon be able to do. Things like concerts, having a beer at the bar, lazily perusing the used section at a record store, and perhaps most pertinent, having huge parties centered around smoking and/or grilling.

In this article from Munchies, the author fantasizes about days to come and gives recommendations for smoking and grilling accessories to stock up in advance. He gets a quote from Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly (whom he mistakenly refers to as David) about how he plans to smoke a whole hog on cinderblocks in his backyard once its safe to do so and I couldn’t be more in. I have been itching to do it again after my first successful attempt Father’s Day 2019 and I’m now officially in planning mode for that to-be-determined day.

So let it be known: whole hog party at the Monk residence this Fall. Mark it down.

Native News

More coverage of The Preserve’s delivery service which began last Friday

Though it looks like they have a few kinks to work out; as I wrote last week, let’s hope they do

Dank Burrito owner Chef Clarke Merrell has opened Social Q Smokehouse in Morehead City, a restaurant “years in the making”

Sweet Lew’s Barbeque and Midwood Smokehouse make the Eater list for Charlotte

Non-Native News

*Raises hand*

More coverage of Rodney Scott’s and Adrian Miller’s upcoming books

The BBQ Review visits Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston

And now, for dessert

Did someone say “drive thru banana pudding?”

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

Linkdown: 1/20/21

Featured

Lewis Donald’s goal for Sweet Lew’s BBQ has always been more than just crafting great barbecue. He is wanting to give back to the community, whether that’s hiring workers from the Belmont neighborhood where his restaurant is located, hosting back-to-school carnivals with free haircuts at the restaurant, and now hiring a barbecue apprentice from the local culinary school at Central Piedmont Community College. Watch the video at the link below to learn more about Keywon and how he was introduced to Lewis. I’m looking forward to seeing big things from Keywon in the future.

Native News

While the Ed Mitchell’s The Preserve restaurant is still delayed, starting this Friday they will be offering a takeout/pickup service running out of the Carolina Ale House off Falls of Neuse

Non-Native News

Steven Raichlen of Barbecue Bible links to his piece from last summer on the contributions of Black pitmasters to the world of barbecue

Evan LeRoy of LeRoy & Lewis reflects on questions you should ask yourself before you open a food truck

The story behind Estrada’s Texas Barbeque

Ruthie’s All Day is a True ‘Cue certified joint in Arlington that John Tanner recently tried for brunch but vows to return for a regular visit

Burnt BBQ & Tacos in Plano is the latest example of a pivot to barbecue

One more tribute to Mike Mills