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

The Smoke Pit – Gastonia, NC

Name: The Smoke Pit
Address: 421 Cox Rd, Gastonia, NC 28054
Order: Tres Amigos combo (brisket, pork, and ribs) with turkey, sausage, hush puppies, fried okra (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Since the last time Speedy and I visited The Smoke Pit’s original location in Concord four years ago, they’ve steadily expanded into other cities across the Piedmont of NC. I visited the downtown Salisbury location in early 2017 and they’ve since opened up in Monroe and more recently Gastonia about a year ago. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to The Smoke Pit but for whatever reason tend to forget about them a little bit. However, with BIll Spoon’s closing in September and Speedy in Charlotte for the day, it was time to figure out if The Smoke Pit was worthy of a top 5 spot on our Charlotte Big Board.

Speedy: Well if we must eat more delicious barbecue, Monk, then we must. We pulled up to The Smoke Pit Gastonia, which was a stand-alone building in a larger shopping center. Barbecue in commercial shopping centers always worries me, and this was a pretty ugly building, so the real question was whether this incarnation of The Smoke Pit could overcome these challenges. So Monk and I entered, waited in line for a few minutes, and placed our order to find out.

Let’s start with the star of the show: the St. Louis-style ribs. When tasting ribs, you always hope and pray, but rarely receive, the perfect bite. Tender meat that is easy to bite through but doesn’t fall off the bone. That’s what we got at The Smoke Pit. Monk and I ordered the dry ribs, which were meaty, well seasoned, and flavorful. A truly outstanding effort.

Monk: Definitely glad we went for dry over sauced. One of the better pork ribs I’ve had recently, and agree that it did have that perfect bite. 

The brisket came out a little on the dry side and was mostly lean even though we asked for a mix of both lean and fatty. Still, it had a nice bark and a good taste. The sausage at The Smoke Pit appears to rotate regularly and on this day they had a solid jalapeno cheddar version, which Speedy sadly couldn’t partake in. All in all, I think what he did miss out on was a solid but unspectacular sausage.

Speedy: The chopped pork was cooked well and had a bit of smoke flavor, but was a little dry. Adding some Lexington style sauce quickly remedied this, but I would have liked a little more bark chopped in. Still, the pork was quite good and worth ordering. Not to jump the gun on the sides, but Smoke Pit also has a good red slaw, so the pork sammie would make for a strong order.

On the drive over to The Smoke Pit, Monk and I had a conversation about how smoked turkey tends to be a little underrated at the best ‘cue joints, and can be incredibly flavorful. So we decided that if Smoke Pit had turkey, we’d order it, and sure enough, it was listed as a new menu item. It was worth it. You always worry about turkey being dry, but that was not the case at Smoke Pit. Their turkey is cajun seasoned, which is a nice touch. My one complaint is that I wish the seasoning penetrated the meat a bit further, as there were some bites where I wasn’t able to taste the seasoning. 

Monk: Speedy already touched on the red slaw, which complimented the slightly dry pork perfectly. We also got hush puppies (of course) and fried okra, which was a bit of a last minute audible. Both were above average, though I was unable to tell if they were scratch-made or not.

Speedy: The meal at The Smoke Pit’s Gastonia location was solid all-around. There wasn’t a single item that I wouldn’t order again, and we had a standout meat in the ribs. For my money, it’s worthy of the big board.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Turkey – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Charlotte Barbecue News from the Fourth Quarter of 2020

Monk: The Charlotte barbecue news seemingly slowed down in the last 3 months of 2020 as the restaurants that thankfully are still open continue to struggle through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we begin 2021, here’s hoping the news is more positive than negative. Fingers crossed!

October

10/12 Charlotte-based Bojangles briefly expanded to barbecue for National Pulled Pork Day on October 12th

10/13 – Midwood Smokehouse is one of the barbecue restaurants that politicians make a point to visit when in Charlotte

10/15 – Mac’s Speed Shop handed out free pulled pork for early voters in front of the Bojangles Entertainment Complex

November

11/9 – Midwood Smokehouse‘s brisket cheesesteak makes this list of the 6 “must-try” ones in Charlotte

11/23 – Perry’s Pig Pickin’ in Mint Hill is part of a small grocery store; the history of how this Perry brother didn’t get into the jewelry business in the Charlotte Ledger

11/28 The Smoke Pit celebrated 6 years open at its original Concord location

December

12/3 – Chef Jim Noble of Noble Smoke, his religiously conservative views, and how they fit in with today’s Charlotte

12/16 Sweet Lew’s BBQ introduces brisket tamales

12/22 Jon G’s Barbecue makes Charlotte Five’s list of best takeout meals in 2020

Charlotte-area Thanksgiving Specials

Monk: This Thanksgiving, consider leaving the cooking to the professionals at these Charlotte-area barbecue joints. You also get the added benefit of supporting a local business while you take it easy because let’s face it, we should all take it easy when we can. See below for information.

Big Tiny’s BBQ – Mooresville, NC

The Dixie Pig – Rock Hill, SC

Farmhouse BBQ – Gastonia, NC

The Improper Pig – Charlotte, Fort Mill

Jon G’s Barbecue – Peachland, NC

Mac’s Speed Shop

Midwood Smokehouse

Noble Smoke

OooWee BBQ – Pineville

The Q Shack

RayNathan’s – Gastonia, NC

Rock Store BBQ – Stallings

The Smoke Pit – Concord, Gastonia, Monroe, Salisbury

Sweet Lew’s BBQ – deadline has already passed