Linkdown: 2/6/19

Little boy found in North Carolina, that is such happy news. But in a tragic twist, he will have to spend his life eating North Carolina barbecue…”

“I welcome your vinegar-stained letters you poor flavor-deprived bastards”

Stephen Colbert

Governor Roy Cooper responded to the Colbert: “Y’all have a mustard problem”

The mayor of Lexington invited him to town for a tasting

As did The Barbecue Center in Lexington

The NC Pork Council reminded everyone of a declaration by former Governor Bob Scott

However, according to D.G. Martin, the real barbecue crisis is not Stephen Colbert slandering the good name of NC barbecue; its the closing of its classic joints

Nevertheless, across NC, a mother and son hunt for the pinnacle of smoked pork

My 31-year-old son and I spent a muggy, buggy summer week driving the Tar Heel State’s highways and back roads to search out its most flavorful pork. Tucking in our napkins at seven spots in six days, we experienced a slice of Americana as thick as the smoke that infused the meat before us, rubbing shoulders with generations of barbecue royalty in the process.

However, if you do want to become a SC Barbecue Association judge, you can learn how this Saturday in Columbia

I think we already saw this but ok!

James Beard-award winning author Adrian Miller, whose forthcoming book Black Smoke will focus on African american contributions to barbecue culture, will be in Charlotte on 2/12

Three words that you don’t hear too often together: “true,” “Miami,” and “barbecue

Barbecue in Miami can be hard to grasp or define. Other than a few places, most of what one might call barbecue here is more a Georgia-style hybrid of grilling and smoking either baby-back ribs or whole chickens. The rare spots that give brisket or pork the dozen-plus hours of pure smoke that’s synonymous with Texas or Carolina barbecue are faithfully trying to replicate an established style. With their Jupiña mop sauce, black-as-night Malta barbecue sauce, and pork belly burnt ends ($10), Briceño and Honore have finally invented a style of barbecue synonymous with Miami.

The 10 best NC barbecue joints in Western NC

Monk: I still need to work my way through the eastern part of the state (it’s been on my to-do list for 5 years and counting…) in order to be able to make a more comprehensive North Carolina-wide list, but in the meantime here’s my list of the best NC barbecue restaurants in the western part of the state.

Please note: For the purposes of this list, I’m defining “western NC” as west of, but not including, Raleigh. In essence, I am dividing the state geographically by the two styles of barbecue but not limiting this list to purely Lexington-style/Piedmont-style/western-style barbecue joints. Make sense?

10. Old Etowah Smokehouse – Etowah (review); NOW CLOSED

A few years back Old Etowah Smokehouse was part of a trend of new whole hog joints opening up outside the eastern half of the state (more on that later). The trend may have cooled somewhat since – the amount of labor involved may have something to do with that – but Old Etowah is honoring the style properly in the shadows of the Nantahala National Forest hear Hendersonville. 6577 Brevard Rd, Etowah, NC 28729 facebook.com/oldetowahsmoke

9. Barbee’s Bar-B-Que – Peachland (review)

This was my biggest barbecue discovery of 2017, a classic highway barbecue joint off highway 74 where they are slinging near perfect Lexington-style barbecue. A true hidden gem in the small town of Peachland, which is outside of Marshville, which is outside of Monroe, which is outside of Charlotte. Glenn Falls St, Peachland, NC 28133 facebook.com/Barbee’s-Bar-B-Q

8. Backyard BBQ Pit – Durham (review)

Backyard BBQ Pit gets somewhat overlooked in the Research Triangle Park area, but they definitely shouldn’t be. Which is somewhat curious, considering they’ve gotten coverage on Food Network’s “Man vs. Food”. Don’t make the same mistake as everyone else, and check them out. 5122 NC Hwy 55, Durham, NC 27713 sweetribs.com

7. The Barbecue Center – Lexington (review)

This underrated joint in Lexington often lives in the shadow of Lexington Barbecue not 2 miles away but many locals claim it to be the best in the city. I don’t personally happen to agree with them, but they aren’t necessarily wrong. 900 N Main St, Lexington, NC 27292 bbqcenter.net

6. Allen & Son Bar-B-Que – Chapel Hill (review)

When Speedy and I checked out Allen & Son in 2012, we dinged them for their ribs instead of simply focusing on the pork. This was a mistake, and the hybrid of chopped pork shoulder with eastern sauce earned 5 hogs from us on that trip while the ribs knocked the overall rating down to 4 hogs. A return trip is surely in order to properly reassess Allen & Son (add it to the list…). 6203 Millhouse Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 facebook.com/Allen-Son-BBQ

5. Bar-B-Q King – Lincolnton (review)

Residents in the small town of Lincolnton (20 minutes north of Gastonia and 50 minutes from Charlotte) are lucky to have had a great barbecue joint such as Bar-B-Q King serving them for the past 46+ years. This is barbecue certainly worthy of a short detour if you are on driving in 321 in that part of the state.  2613 E Main St, Lincolnton, NC 28092 barbqkingnc.com

4. Stamey’s Barbecue – Greensboro (review)

One irony of the #BrooklynBBQ controversy was that the following week the ACC Tournament was being hosted for the second year in a row in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center instead of in its spiritual home at the Greensboro Coliseum with Stamey’s just across the street. While I am still in the camp that there is good barbecue in Brooklyn, there just isn’t anything that approaches Stamey’s. 2206 W Gate City Blvd, Greensboro, NC 27403 stameys.com

3. Buxton Hall Barbecue – Asheville (review)

I’ve been thinking about the whole hog from Buxton Hall Barbecue for nearly two years and can’t wait to get back to Asheville. From what I can tell though, Elliot Moss and team continue to blow it out of the water in South Slope. 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC 28801 buxtonhall.com

2. Bridges Barbecue Lodge – Shelby (review)

I rarely make it through Shelby without finding a reason to stop at Bridges Barbecue Lodge. It might more accurately be described as more of a 1a for me behind my number 1 below, and it has yet to really let me down ever. 2000 E Dixon Blvd, Shelby, NC 28150 bridgesbbq.com

1. Lexington Barbecue – Lexington (review)

Lexington Barbecue aka Lexington #1 aka The Honeymonk is first, my last, my everything. 100 Smokehouse Ln, Lexington, NC 27295 lexbbq.com

Well, what do you think? What joints have I missed the mark on or left off my list entirely? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo Gallery: Quick stop in Lexington, NC

Monk: Mrs. Monk was bringing a good friend of ours a quart of Lexington Barbecue on the way from Charlotte to High Point. However, we arrived in town 15 minutes before it opened, so to kill time I had her stop by Barbecue Center first. Speedy and I had previously checked out (and dug) Barbecue Center almost 4 years ago but I hadn’t had the opportunity to go back since.

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This is the first of three different signs that The Barbecue Center (or Bar-B-Q Center) has on its property.

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This is sign #2 with the classic Coca-Cola signage. Note the different spelling of “barbecue”.

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And finally, the iconic sign off Main Street that is the most well known of the 3. Perhaps one day I’ll devote a post to barbecue signage in and around Lexington.

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The Barbecue Center is True ‘Cue certified and has the sticker to prove it. I was surprised to see that they also accepted both Apple Pay and Android Pay.

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Sonny Conrad was a barbecue icon who owned the Barbecue Center and was one of the creators of the Barbecue Festival. Every year, he would present the first barbecue sandwich of the festival to the mayor of Lexington. Here are some festival posters throughout the years.

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Sonny Conrad passed away in 2013 and a plaque in his memory is near the register. It is now run by his sons and his entire family works there.

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I got a chopped barbecue sandwich for breakfast and it was fantastic and just as good as I remembered. As you can see, the meat-to-bun ratio is very favorable towards the meat.

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Then, it was onto Lexington Barbecue to pick up that quart of barbecue and side of red slaw we had promised our friends.

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The smokestacks were going full throttle at 10am on a Saturday morning, which is always a good sign.

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I stepped away from the parking lot because I had never taken a photo of the street sign on the way to Lexington Barbecue and snapped this photo on the way out.

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Finally, here’s my photo of Smokehouse Lane. Then, it was onto High Point.

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Until next time, Lexington!

Ten Underrated Barbecue Joints in North Carolina

(A version of this article was published last year on Tabelog here)

Everybody knows that North Carolina is one of the greatest states in the country to travel around eating barbecue, and there are some amazing, legendary restaurants around which have been open for decades and garnered a whole lot of press and attention, but they’re not the only ones. There are more than four hundred barbecue restaurants in the Tarheel State. Many of them are outstanding even if they fly under the media’s radar. Here are ten that should not be overlooked.

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Backyard BBQ Pit – Durham (link to review)
The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, or Triangle, is the DMZ between the two styles of Carolina barbecue. In that zone, you don’t find an easy boundary between eastern and western (or Lexington-style). Such is the case with Backyard BBQ Pit, whose approach is similar to the great Allen & Son in Chapel Hill in that they smoke pork shoulders (the Lexington-style cut) served with an eastern style sauce with red pepper flakes to give it a little kick. Having been previously featured on Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food” you would think that Backyard BBQ would be mentioned more in the conversation of best barbecue in the Triangle. For some reason its not, but it definitely should be.

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The Barbecue Center – Lexington (link to review)
The Barbecue Center is just two miles from Lexington #1 and doesn’t get nearly as much publicity despite the fact that its recently passed owner Sonny Conrad was the major force behind The Barbecue Festival, which draws crowds of 100,000 to the city on one Saturday each October. As for the food itself, it is a classic Lexington-style joint though its dip (table sauce) can be a little sweeter than I prefer. Having grown up on Lexington #1 I certainly have my bias, but many out-of-towners without such bias (as well as plenty of locals) have stated that The Barbecue Center is the best in town. Depending on the day, they might just have a rightful claim.

Pork, brisket, ribs, wings, brunswick stewBoone’s Bar-B-Q Kitchen – Charlotte (link to review)
Dan “Boone” Gibson has his own family traditions when it comes to barbecue that don’t strictly follow the eastern/Lexington taxonomy, but you’d be silly to dismiss his barbecue right off based on that. Having had a hand in starting two Charlotte-area barbecue chains, Boone tired of that life and struck out on his own in a food truck to serve his smoked wares (pork, brisket, sausage, and ribs) directly to the people. Look for him at various food truck festivals around the Charlotte area, and you won’t be disappointed.

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Fuller’s Old Fashion BBQ – Lumberton (link to review)
Heading towards the NC coast can be hit or miss when it comes to barbecue restaurants, but this buffet-style barbecue joint off I-95 is a nice find. While the buffet has salad and seafood as well as fried chicken, the wood smoked barbecue is the main feature and rightly so. Just don’t be surprised if you get there right as it opens and find a line of folks chomping at the bit to get in.

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Johnson Family BBQ – Durham (link to review)
When you are greeted by a sign that states “It’s All About the Wood” and a simple smoker covered by an aluminum shed at a barbecue joint, you know that’s a good start. And oh, did I mention the joint is connected to a gas station off a country highway between Raleigh and Durham? Thankfully, the barbecue follows through with well-smoked eastern style barbecue with a higher ratio of light meat to dark served in a modest dining room covered with red gingham table cloths.

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Midwood Smokehouse – Charlotte (link to review)
Charlotte has been oft overlooked as a barbecue town (and usually for good reason), but Midwood Smokehouse is helping to change that perception with its focus on wood smoked meats from a variety of barbecue cuisines. While it does have an eastern carolina style pork as well as the Lexington style red slaw, Midwood draws from Central Texas in its brisket and sausages, from St. Louis in its ribs, as well as from Kansas City in its burnt ends. Throw in a full bar and you might be tempted to refer to it as “yuppie-que” but whatever you call it just know that the are serving some of the finest smoked meats in the region (the brisket is arguably the best in NC).

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Porkey’s Bar-B-Que – Mount Airy (link to review)
Similar to the coastal plans of NC, once you head west of the Piedmont of NC towards the mountains the barbecue becomes very hit or miss. Which is why stumbling across a Lexington-style joint like Porkey’s in Mount Airy was a nice surprise. It may not quite measure up to the best in Lexington, but if you are exploring the nearby wineries in the Yadkin Valley you can do a lot worse than the chopped pork at this wood smoking joint.

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Richard’s BBQ – Salisbury (link to review)
When it comes to barbecue, Salisbury is very much the little brother to Lexington. According to some, “Lexington style” barbecue – that is, chopped pork shoulders with a vinegar and ketchup-based sauce – may have even originated there. Richard’s is a wood smoking joint that serves coarsely chopped pork with plenty of bark mixed in. Add some nearly perfect hush puppies with the right mix of savory and sweet as well as a classic red slaw, and you’ve got a joint that competes with many of the better ones in Lexington.

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The Smoke Pit – Concord (link to review)
A relative newcomer, The Smoke Pit models its barbecue and presentation after Central Texas. Order a combo platter and you get a tray of meat and sides arranged like what you’d expect in just about any joint in Austin. But with the choice to drink it with a SunDrop (which along with Cheerwine is nearly the perfect drink for barbecue), it still retains some of that North Carolina charm. Much like Charlotte, Concord isn’t known for its barbecue but I’d recommend The Smoke Pit to just about anyone in the area.

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Troutman’s Bar-B-Que – Denton (link to review)
Troutman’s is the archetypal NC barbecue joint: a small, standalone wood shack off a country highway in a rural part of the state. There’s a wood pile out back, two modest dining rooms, and waitresses that take your order as soon as you find your seat. The pork is consistently moist and smokey and paired with the red slaw, hushpuppies, and a Cheerwine, it’s at a price that’s hard to beat.

What other underrated NC joints did we miss?

Linkdown: 7/20/16

– Stephen Colbert is once again poking the NC barbecue bear

“North Carolina, I love you,” Colbert said, “but I’m sorry that barbecue is not as good as South Carolina.”

– Plan accordingly:

– Grant of Marie, Let’s Eat! visits three Memphis-area barbecue joints: Payne’s Bar-B-Q, Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Q, and Top’s Bar-B-Q

– Charlotte Five weighs in on 5 joints for good barbecue in Lexington, including Lexington Barbecue, The Barbecue Center, Smiley’s, and Speedy’s

– More Charlotte Five content: Mac’s Speed Shop is on this list of 4 meat-focused eateries with great vegetarian options for diner

– UberEats will be delivering Pecan Lodge to Dallas residents today from 11-2 via drones

– The Pik-N-Pig is a NC barbecue joint located at an airport near Carthage

Linkdown: 6/29/16

– Lewis Barbecue finally opened in Charleston yesterday, and here’s a look at the four custom-built smokers that were built in Texas and shipped to SC

– Destination BBQ attended the friends and family event and posted on the experience, which is “unlike what those of us born and raised in SC are accustomed to in a BBQ restaurant”

– Charlotte Five discovers the greatness of The Smoke Pit that we’ve known about for a few months, calling it “worth the wait”

Showing up to The Smoke Pit on Saturday means many guests will be standing in a line that starts at the register and trails out the door where people wait patiently to move forward. Some guests say that on one Saturday, they stood in a line that wrapped around the building. With so many daily visitors, certain items may run out and are then placed on a sign below the menu, which some visitors peer at from the line.

– This Sunday, the Plaza Midwood Pig Pickn’ will be held at the Moo & Brew parking lot

– After Grant’s wholehearted defense of Georgia BBQ last week, Robert Moss weighs in as well

– Speaking of which, Grant makes the rounds to Paradise Country Bar-B-Que in Milledgeville and Andy’s BBQ in Eatonton, which he finds to be “every bit as good” as Allen & Son Barbeque in Chapel Hill (they happen to use a similar vinegar and pepper sauce)

– Destination BBQ continues their SC BBQ roadtrip series with I-20, which passes through three of the four barbecue regions in the state; side note – these entries are incredibly thorough and well worth a read if you haven’t checked them out yet

– From last week, Daniel Vaughn draws parallels between Hawaii’s kalua pig and Texas barbacoa

-Jim Shahin of the Washington Post breaks down the latest barbecue books, including the reprinting of Robb Walsh’s Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook

– The Barbecue Center in Lexington has a new sign to replace the previous one of 55 years

Linkdown: 4/16/14

– The Charlotte Observer has a list of various road trips for Spring (including one for beer), and here is a 10-stop NC barbecue tour which includes some not-so-obvious choices

– Speaking of road trips, the latest reviews from Marie, Let’s Eat!’s NC barbecue roadtrip: The Barbecue Center in Lexington, Allen & Son Barbeque in Chapel Hill, Hursey’s in Burlington, and Short Sugar’s in Reidsville

– Bar-B-Q King in Charlotte is included as part of the history of Wilkinson Boulevard from the March 2014 issue of Charlotte Magazine

Few places are more familiar on Wilkinson than Bar-B-Q King. Follow the curved arrow of its sign, and most days you’ll see a lot full of cars. Behind the counter, a static buzz fills the room as co-owner Gus Karapanos flips on the speaker system.

“Same one we’ve had for 40 years,” he says. “People love to hear it.”  The sign, too, has been the same since Karapanos’s uncles opened the place back in 1959. Except for a few days after Hurricane Hugo knocked it down in 1989, that sign and the billboard–sized, ice-cream-eating Inuit at Dairy Queen next door have remained constants in a changing neighborhood. 

– Ed Mitchell, Sam Jones, and Rodney Scott are the pitmasters from the Carolinas in this year’s Big Apple Barbecue Block party in June

– I think I’ve seen a version of this list before, but in case you missed it Lexington comes in at #4 in this list of 10 best barbecue cities (h/t Rudy)

4. Lexington, North Carolina

Pork is the game in Lexington, a small town just an hour’s drive northeast of Charlotte, where a regional favorite is the wood-smoked pork shoulder, coarsely chopped and topped by a mostly vinegar based sauce -0 those who know their way around a Lexington grill often order it with some outside brown, which means more flavorful extra bark from the meat) and sometimes extra dip, which is just the word for the thinner sauce. Another Lexington trademark is red slaw, coleslaw that’s swapped out the mayo for BBQ sauce. There’s a lot to the Lexington scene, which is why the city throws the annual Barbecue Festival to celebrate it. For the regular season, Lexington Barbecue #1, established in 1962 and better known by locals as the Honeymonk, is the quintessential Lexington joint, widely hailed as the best in the business, always happy to help a diner out with a big plate of pork and some Cheerwine.

– Speaking of Lexington, this year’s BBQ Capital Cook-Off is April 25-26

– The Charlotte Smokeoff at Unknown Brewing is this Saturday in Charlotte:

The Barbecue Center – Lexington, NC

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Name: The Barbecue Center
Date: 8/8/13
Address: 900 N Main St., Lexington, NC 27292
Order: Chopped pork plate with fries, slaw, hush puppies and a Cheerwine (link to menu)
Price: $10.14

Monk: On our way to fly out of Greensboro for our annual guys trip, Speedy and I took the opportunity to check out a joint in Lexington that is on the NC Historic Barbecue Trail but which neither of us had been to – The Barbecue Center. I personally must have passed within a half mile of it literally hundreds of times heading to and from Charlotte without knowing it was there. Nevertheless, I was excited.

Speedy: Like Monk, I had never been though I’d heard tale of some locals claiming it as their favorite joint in town, which in Lexington is a big deal. (I later found out the reason I never went growing up: when telling Mama Speedy about my lunch locale, she replied with a scoff, “why’d you go there? Monk’s is right around the corner.”)

Pulling in, things looked really good, as there’s a large smokehouse outside and piles of hickory wood. The large smokehouse was not active upon our noon arrival. Additionally, there was hickory wood outside of the kitchen in the main building, which was going, as there was a strong, glorious smoke smell present as we entered the building.

Monk: In addition to the smell, you could see thin veil of smoke wafting in the dining room, so I was definitely encouraged. We grabbed a small two-person booth as the lunch rush started to come in and before too long the waitress had taken our order. As is standard, we each ordered a chopped pork plate (with extra outside brown) that came with fries, slaw, and hush puppies and of course, a Cheerwine to top it all off.

Speedy: The meal looked fantastic – exactly as a barbecue meal should. I bit into the pork and noticed a definite smoke flavor. It was also perfectly tender. I think my biggest problem was with the dip, which seemed a little heavy on the ketchup, making it sweeter than I like.

Monk: The outside brown was very present in the pork, which I agree was very good. The oblong hush puppies were really good and almost as sweet as I like them to be, though not quite. The red slaw wasn’t quite as tangy as I normally like, and I know Speedy had some issues.

Speedy: My love of red slaw is well documented around these parts, but again, the dip really held it back for me. The cabbage was chopped perfectly, but I was just overwhelmed by the sweetness of the dip. Was it better than mayo based cole slaw? Of course. But it just wasn’t up to what I expected in the town of Lexington.

Monk: All in all, I was glad we were able to finally check out The Barbecue Center. It’s former owner Sonny Conrad (who recently passed away in June) was a barbecue icon and was one of six restaurant owners who started The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, the largest one-day festival in the state of NC. Conrad was so iconic, in fact, that he always presented the first barbecue sandwich of the festival to the mayor of Lexington. As for the food itself…

Speedy: It was very good. In fact, if The Barbecue Center were in Charlotte, I’d probably go eat there all the time. But it’s not in Charlotte, and there’s a higher standard in Lexington. At the end of the day, Mama Speedy was right – why waste your time when Monk’s place is just around the corner?

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 Hogs
Pork – 4 Hogs
Sides – 3.5 Hogs
Overall – 4 Hogs

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Barbecue Center on Urbanspoon