10. Brisket, sausage, pork ribs and a taste of the beef rib from Louie Mueller Barbecue (review)
I was a little let down by the brisket at Louie Mueller’s (as was Rudy) but I’ll chalk that up to a bad day. However, the beef rib and sausage more than made up for it. Plus, the number of of legendary Texas joints I’ve visited is quite low so I was glad to visit one of the OG’s.
At the NC State BBQ Camp, I was honored to be a guest panelist for a barbecue roundtable led by none other than Bob Garner. After that chat, the campers and panelists all partook in a whole hog pig pickin’ with some dang fine whole hog. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch who did the smoking but whoever you are, well done.
My takeout meal the day after Thanksgiving of pulled pork and brunswick stew only proves that I need to make it a point to get to Stamey’s more often.
5. Chopped pork and brisket from Sweet Lew’s BBQ (review)
There are certainly big things coming for Sweet Lew’s BBQ which only opened in early December. I look forward to many more meals here over the coming months and years.
4. Big Poppa Sampler (Full Rack Ribs, 12oz Pork, 12oz Brisket, ½ Chicken) and 6 Memphis dry rub wings from Martin’s BBQ Joint (review)
I couldn’t have been more impressed with everything on our visit to the downtown Nashville location of Martin’s in late summer – from the space itself to the open air beer garden to each and every delicious meat. Speedy is quite lucky to have Martin’s as his local joint.
3. Whole hog platter with barbecue hash from Buxton Hall Barbecue (review from 2016)
A visit to Buxton Hall once every two years simply isn’t gonna cut it for me. With the consistently amazing whole hog, the fantastic barbecue hash, and at least a couple other items I haven’t even tried such as fried catfish and smoked fried chicken, it should be at least a twice per year affair for me.
As confirmed by the #hogtripping crew of the Tales from the Pits podcast as well as The Smoking Ho during their travels in late August, Lewis truly is legit Texas barbecue in the lowcountry. The Carolinas and in particular the lowcountry should count itself very lucky.
1. Brisket, chopped pork, Porky Brewster sandwich, and taco from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)
My only complaint with Jon G’s Barbecue is that lately they’ve focused more on catering gigs instead of public servings. In any case, Garren and Kelly continue to kill it.
While there is certainly good barbecue to be found in Charlotte, I wouldn’t quite say that it’s a barbecue city…yet. However, there are pitmasters out there doing great work, and I hope to spotlight that a little more in this series of posts called “Pitmasters of Charlotte.”
Our second profile (thus making it an actual series, woo hoo!) is Lewis Donald, who along with Laura Furman Grice opened up Sweet Lew’s BBQ in early December. Monk previewed them back in September as well as reviewed the restaurant, and is a big big fan.
How long have you lived in Charlotte and how did you get here? I’ve been here 10 years. I came here to take a job at Charlotte Country Club, after I graduated the apprenticeship program at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.
How did you become a Pitmaster? I don’t really use that term, not for myself. Those that came before me, those that learned the art through family generations, those that defined what we know as bbq today…they’re the pitmasters.
What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer? I like the staples, skin-on-shoulder, ribs, chicken, and brisket. It takes being able to cook all of them to offer a good bbq experience to family, friends, and customers. I prefer [smoking over] hickory and pecan.
What are your barbecue influences? Simplicity, scratch cooking, consistency
What is your favorite barbecue joint or style? I like them all, true bbq spot and styles. But I’m not a big sauce guy.
What is your earliest memory of barbecue? Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, it was a gas grill with burgers and dogs. In 2003 is when I was introduced to bbq.
What is the best thing about Charlotte barbecue? I think it’s great that it’s served in restaurants.
What is a weakness or opportunity of Charlotte barbecue? There’s not much of it, so there’s room to grow it!
In 1971, when Keith was 19, he quit his butchering job at the A&P, sold his landscaping equipment, and borrowed $3,000 to open a restaurant. He gave it the same name as the one his father owned in Chatham County, where Keith worked the barbecue pit from the age of 10. Ever since, he’s gotten to his Allen & Son at 2:30 a.m. five days a week — splitting every piece of hickory, roasting every shoulder, chopping and seasoning every serving. “Nobody’s hands but mine touch my barbecue,” he likes to boast, “until the customer’s do.”
A recipe for collard chowder from Matthew Register of Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland; his cookbook comes out in May but is available for preorder now
The latest from J.C. Reid explores the barbecue explosion in Houston from a geographic standpoint:
Name: Sweet Lew’s BBQ Date: 12/5/18 Address: 923 Belmont Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 Order: NC smoked pork shoulder plate with red slaw, collards, and cornbread plus ¼ lb of brisket (link to menu) Price: $$ (out of $$$)
Monk: With Jim Noble’s forthcoming barbecue venture Noble Smoke delayed until next Spring, the title of “most anticipated Charlotte barbecue opening for 2019” fell to Sweet Lew’s BBQ by default (though not without merit). I got a chance to sample some of Sweet Lew’s chopped pork a few months back and while they had hoped to open in October, construction delays and permitting being what it is they weren’t able to open until the first week in December. I showed up eagerly on opening day right before 12 noon,
Sweet Lew’s is located in the Belmont neighborhood in a converted service station with a brand new pit room built out back. There Lewis Donald, co-owner (along with Laura Furman Grice) and pitmaster, smokes the meat on a Myron Mixon smoker. As you walk in through the front door, guests are greeted by the welcome sound of chopping by Lewis himself. At Sweet Lew’s, the meat is sliced or chopped to order and the sides are served cafeteria-style similar to how a lot of Texas places do it (as did Midwood Smokeshack, RIP). They’ve got a small dining room and a patio that will come into play more when the weather warms back up in the Spring.
The coarsely chopped pork is described as Lexington-style pork on the menu and while it is very good, I don’t find that label to be completely accurate. The pork butts (sourced from Beeler’s Pure Pork in Iowa) are rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked over wood before being finished with a vinegar sauce. Mix it with some red slaw and Texas Pete and you’ve got a pretty good version of classic NC barbecue, just no quite true Lexington-style.
I was lucky enough to get a fresh brisket pulled out just before my order. Sweet Lew’s sources their briskets from Creekstone Farms in Kansas and are smoking them Central Texas style. There’s a lot of flavor in the bark of the lean slices, but I got a little bit of a sodium overload by the end of the meal. Still, this is one of the better briskets in Charlotte for sure.
To be a true Lexington red slaw, I found that it needs a little more ketchup for the sweetness to balance the vinegar tang. Each combo plate comes with a slide of cornbread and while I would have preferred hush puppies, I’ll take it. The collards were pretty standard but next time I’ll probably order the Virginia boiled peanuts instead. I’m excited for the daily specials, which start this week and consists of Turkey Tuesday, Hash Wednesday, Sausage Saturday, and Fried Chicken Sunday.
Sweet Lew’s BBQ has hit the ground running and sold out of meats on the couple of days, a feature they had been touting since the venture was announced that would set them apart from other Charlotte spots. I’m sure the smoking will ramp up in the comings weeks to meet demand but its comforting to know that the meat will always be fresh and not reheated from the previous day. For this among many other reasons, we should all be very excited that Sweet Lew’s has raised the stakes in the Charlotte barbecue scene and should only continue to get better.
The “Milestone” Edition: In this week’s linkdown, we have links on a new barbecue restaurant opening, a big expansion of an existing one, plus Chef Vivian Howard’s favorite eastern NC barbecue restaurants and a milestone birthday for the city of Charlotte.
Congrats to Sweet Lew’s BBQ on finally opening today!
Chef Vivian Howard, a NC State grad who just finished her acclaimed PBS show “A Chef’s Life”, grew up in eastern NC and lives there now. You can bet she definitely knows her stuff when it comes to eastern NC barbecue.
One day about six months ago, when the sixth and final season of “House of Cards” was filming on a set outside of Baltimore, two fictional men discussed a plate of real pork ribs. “They’re from a place called Federalist Pig,” one character says to another, adding, “I’ve been told it’s the next best thing to Freddy’s.”
After working at various chef positions at resorts, country clubs, and, most recently, for the upscale grocer Reid’s Fine Foods, Lewis Donald will be bringing a community barbecue restaurant to the Belmont neighborhood later this fall in the form of Sweet Lew’s BBQ.
Lewis may be originally from Cleveland, Ohio but has been inspired by southern barbecue at places such as Lewis Barbecue in Charleston and Lexington Barbecue (he recently met Rick Monk, who he hopes will visit Sweet Lew’s once it opens). The plan for Sweet Lew’s is to have pork, chicken, and ribs on the regular menu with daily specials like brisket on Saturdays, smoked turkey on Tuesdays, and hash on Wednesdays.
Speaking of meats, Sweet Lew’s will use high quality meats sourced from ethical farms across the US; his pork will come from Beeler’s Pure Pork in Iowa, the briskets will come from Creekstone Farms in Kansas, and chicken from Springer Mountain Farms in Georgia. Lewis will also keep it simple when it comes to rubs, for instance using only salt and pepper on his pork butts. All of the smoking will be done on a Myron Mixon H2O Water Smoker that will use wood such as pecan and hickory as its primary fuel source; there will be no gas or electricity assistance in the smoking of these meats.
The sandwich I tasted a few weeks back was NC barbecue at its simplest perfection. Hand-pulled pork shoulders mixed with Lewis’s vinegar-pepper sauce, topped with a vinegar slaw, and placed onto a simple white hamburger bun. Sure, I had the benefit of having it prepared freshly off the smoker in front of me, but the process is simple enough that I am expecting the same quality once the restaurant opens.
The house made pickles were a nice compliment to the sandwich (I kept them on the side as opposed to topping the sandwich), but I can’t wait to try the boiled peanuts that will be a standard side. If you’ve read anything about Sweet Lew’s up to this point you’re likely aware of them but this is a menu item that makes it stand out from other barbecue restaurants in town.
Lewis has already embraced the Belmont community through catering neighborhood events and he has plans to partner with local businesses such as the Salvation Army, with whom he shares the back boundary of his property. He wants Sweet Lew’s to have a family and community feel to the restaurant, and Lewis has promised a higher level of service to patrons of the restaurant.
I predict Charlotte barbecue fans are going to go crazy for Sweet Lew’s BBQ. It fills a niche in Charlotte that we just haven’t had – a joint that plans to sell its freshly smoked meat until its sold out, then close for the day. I enjoyed meeting and speaking with Lewis and love the concept; late October can’t get here earlier enough.
In the meantime, if you want to try Sweet Lew’s BBQ before the opening in late October, look out for his pop ups around Charlotte including a stop at Birdsong Brewing on 9/22 from 5-9pm.