Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the first half of 2019

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 coming soon)

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.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Sam Jones: Whole Hog BBQ” by Sam Jones and Daniel Vaughn

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue with Recipes from Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ arrived on the same day as several other notable barbecue books – Matthew Register’s Southern Smoke, Ed Randolph’s Smoked, and Myron Mixon’s BBQ&A with Myron Mixon – but had to be the most anticipated for a large portion of the barbecue crowd due to Sam Jones as well as the involvement of Texas Monthly BBQ Editor Daniel Vaughn. That was certainly the case for me, and the book delivered in spades.

This book is more than a typical cookbook, with chapters covering the history of his family and Skylight Inn, the story of starting Sam Jones BBQ with his best friend and business partner Michael Letchworth, and the resurrection of a family pit that had been sitting undiscovered for 70+ years. I don’t know how much Jones had written before or how much coaching or editing he got from Daniel Vaughn, but his writing is personal and engaging, particularly for a first-time author.

The other chapter covers in exhaustive detail how to host a whole hog party. In fact, I used it as my guide for the whole hog party Speedy and I hosted last month. In 40 or so pages, it walks the reader step-by-step through the process, from how much wood you need to how to construct the burn barrel and the cinder block pit to a detailed timeline of smoking the whole hog. For any first timer smoking a whole hog, I would point them to this book (and maybe our blog post). It gives you all you need.

Outside of the whole hog chapter, there are several recipes for eastern North Carolina dishes, sides, and desserts.

Whole Hog BBQ is full of beautiful photography and wonderfully personal writing from Sam Jones. It is a must-read not only for barbecue books released on May 7, but for any barbecue book released ever.

Ten Lessons Learned from Smoking Our First Whole Hog

Monk: Back on Father’s Day weekend, Speedy and I set out to do something I’ve been wanting to do for years. And you know what? We rocked it. But even using both the Sam Jones Whole Hog book (review forthcoming) and the Buxton Hall Book of Smoke as references, there were still a few speed bumps that we can learn from the next time we smoke another hog (and yes, there will definitely be another time).

Lesson #1 – If your barrel doesn’t have a bottom, don’t set it up on cinder blocks

Monk: The barrel I got, while free, already had both the bottom and top cut off. The top wasn’t needed, but I would have preferred the bottom attached so as to keep the coals in. I did get a tip that an aluminum water heater pan would fit perfectly, and it did. However, after just a couple of hours that pan started to disintegrate so Speedy and I had to figure out a way to get the burn barrel off the cinder blocks mid-burn. We managed to get it done, losing just a few coals in the process. Once we got it on the ground, it was smooth sailing…for at least a little bit.

Speedy: Monk may be underselling this a bit. Taking a hot burn barrel with an active fire off of cinder blocks could’ve ended badly, but the pig was the most important thing. To add to this, I’d say that if placing the barrel on the ground, put a solid sheet of metal that won’t burn through underneath, as it can be difficult shoveling the coals off the ground.

Lesson #2 – Be sure to allow enough time to let a solid bed of coals build up before you start to shovel into the pit

Speedy: What we found was that the cinder block pit we made was losing about 1 degree of temperature a minute, so we ended up dropping coals in every half hour. This shot the temperature back up 30 degrees quickly, but we had trouble keeping enough coals to shovel in (refer to lesson #5).

Monk: We were probably a little bit anxious in adding coals to the pit and should have let the fire go for at least an hour before we started shoveling them in.

Lesson #3 – Get fire proof gloves

Speedy: We were very, very fortunate that Monk’s neighbor had some fireproof grilling gloves that he brought over. These came in VERY handy (refer to Lesson 1), and I wouldn’t try this again without some.

Monk: Yes, these were definitely lifesavers.

Lesson #4 – Get at least a half cord of wood

Monk: In Sam Jones’ book, he says you might be able to get away with a quarter cord of wood, but he recommended at least a half cord because having leftover is far more preferable than running out. In our experience with a half cord, we burned through every last bit of firewood. Next time, I won’t consider ordering anything other than a half cord.

Lesson #5 – And definitely have a few bags of charcoal handy in case its needed (it will be needed)

Speedy: This was something Monk and I didn’t have handy, and we were struggling keeping temperature and weren’t making coals fast enough. Luckily, there was a 24 hour Walmart 10 minutes away, so I went to pick up a couple bags of charcoal while Monk manned the fire. This definitely did the trick, but it would have been nice to have them on-hand.

Lesson #6 – Be sure to have the right thermometer measuring your pit temperature

Monk: I initially used the wrong type of thermometer to measure pit temp (one used for measuring oil used for frying turkeys), and it wasn’t until a couple hours in that we realized we were probably 50 degrees below what we thought we were. Once I plugged in my Maverick Redi-chek thermometer, we were able to adjust our coals accordingly and get the pit temp up to where we needed it to be.

Lesson #7 – Working in shifts is definitely a good idea so that you can get some rest

Monk: We started at midnight to ensure enough time to get the hog done ahead of a 6pm party, and Speedy and I each ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep each. While some late night drinking and BS-ing by the burn barrel is fun and all, make sure you get enough sleep so that you aren’t a zombie the next day at your whole hog party.

Lesson #8 – You will be surprised how quickly the hog gets done

Speedy: Monk had told me the hog would be done in about 12 hours, and I thought no way that could be true. At the end of the day, I think we were cooking around 14 hours, but it definitely could have been done in 12 if we didn’t have temperature issues at the beginning. Lesson learned – never doubt Monk.

Monk: I have nothing else to add here other than to emphasize Speedy’s last point about never doubting me.

Lesson #9 – More is more when it comes to rebar, or consider using a grate

Speedy: To chop the hog, we first split it down the middle and then in quarters at the ribs. Unfortunately, when doing so, one quarter of the hog dropped through the rebar onto the ground. Some of the meat was salvageable, but we probably lost a good 8-10 pounds of meat. The good news is there was still plenty of our 126 pound hog to go around.

Lesson #10 – If you can swing it, smoke your first hog with your best friend

Monk: If Speedy wouldn’t have been able to make it, I would have been doing this solo. Besides the pure labor aspect of smoking a hog, there’s a definite sense of satisfaction of smoking your first hog with a good buddy. And remember – its Barbecue Bros, not Barbecue Bro.

Friday Find: Sam Jones on the Effin B Radio Podcast

Link to podcast

Sam Jones is his usually charming self on the Effin B Radio podcast in a discussion that covers a lot of the ground from his recently-released book “Sam Jones: Whole Hog BBQ.”

Description:

Lindsay sits down with BBQ behemoth Sam Jones to talk preserving tradition while still evolving and what it’s like to be a third generation Whole Hog pit master.  His brand new book Whole Hog is filled with beautiful stories and treasured recipes but the best part of the show might just be Sam reading a few excerpts from his unpublished collection of quotes that lives on his phone.  He lovingly dubs these one-liners “Things You Hear Stand-in Around” and they’re prettyyyy hysterical.

Friday Find: Wyatt Dickson of Picnic on Kevin’s BBQ Joints

Kevin’s BBQ Joints sits down with “barbecue man” Wyatt Dickson of Picnic in Durham. I actually went to elementary school with Wyatt back in Fayetteville, NC but haven’t spoken to him in probably 26 years. I’d like to make it back to Picnic again (my only visit was a bit of a mixed bag) but who knows if he’d remember me or not. In any case, another interesting conversation worth your time.

Friday Find: Dr. Howard Conyers on The Trip Podcast

The Trip interviews Dr. Howard Conyers, a SC native who received an undergraduate degree at North Carolina A&T followed by a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and materials science from Duke. Thusly, he is a rocket scientist by day and a whole hog barbecue man by night and weekend in his home of New Orleans. Spurred on by some fingers of whiskey, he and podcast host Nathan Thornburg discuss a number of topics, including Conyers’ future plans for a book and documentary on the history of barbecue.  The status of his web series Nourish is still up in the air, from what I gather.

The Trip is a podcast from Roads & Kingdoms, a food, travel, and politics publication which won a James Beard award for publication of the year in 2017. The late Anthony Bourdain was the first and only investor in Roads & Kingdoms, and they partnered on Explore Parts Unknown, the digital home for the Parts Unknown TV show, for which they won a 2018 Primetime Emmy.

Description:

Rocket scientist and barbecue pitmaster Dr. Howard Conyers talks aeroelastic engineering, whole-hog roasting, and how black pitmasters have been written out of the history of barbecue.

Friday Find: Rodney Scott on Tales from the Pits at CHSWFF

More content from Charleston Wine and Food Festival from the Tales from the Pits guys. A lot of familiar ground on Rodney Scott, with a little more focus on his recent expansion to Birmingham and any potential future expansion plans he has. Lots more podcasts to come from Tales from the Pits from the festival.

Rodney Scott grew up cooking whole hogs at his family’s general store in the small town of Hemingway, South Carolina. The tradition of hogs cooked under the direct heat of coals burned down from wood splits was the way Rodney learned to cook and still utilizes today.

As food media began to take notice of the whole hog traditions being carried on by Rodney, Hemingway would see an increase in tourists coming to try he and his family’s barbecue. Over the course of time Rodney would meet and become friends with Nick Pihakis, who encouraged Rodney to come to Charleston to open his own place. Rodney Scott’s BBQ opened in 2016 to huge success and acclaim. The city of Charleston embraced his barbecue traditions and in 2018 he became only the second pitmaster to win an acclaimed James Beard chef award.

Rodney and the Pihakis Restaurant Group continue to grow the Rodney Scott’s BBQ brand and spread more whole hog greatness across the country, the latest installment being the opening in early 2019 of a new location in Birmingham, Alabama.

Friday Find: Tyson Ho Talks Carolina Barbecue on the Beards, Booze, and Bacon Podcast

While I had previously enjoyed Tyson Ho’s series of blog posts on Serious Eats entitled “How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn” documenting the opening of Arrogant Swine. I also enjoyed meeting him at the restaurant in 2015. However, I would quibble with a few of the things he says on this podcast:

  • He continually refers to whole hog barbecue as “Carolina” style which isn’t completely accurate. Ho is smoking eastern North Carolina style whole hog barbecue, which is similar as the style of barbecue from the Pee Dee region of SC. And of course there is Lexington-style which just smokes pork shoulders. There really is no singular style of barbecue called “Carolina Barbecue” that is only whole hog as he asserts.
  • He refers to “outside brown” as the “burnt ends” of pork and says its an off menu item. It’s not really – its just the bark from the pork shoulders in Lexington-style barbecue which locals know to ask for extra in Lexington joints. Not to mention that there’s actually a thing as “pork burnt ends” which is just cubed smoked pork belly tossed in sauce.
  • I’m not a big barbecue competition circuit guy but I wonder how accurate his classification of KCBS vs Memphis Barbecue Network competitions are when he says that KCBS contestants are way too serious where Memphis just wants to party

Regardless, I do appreciate Tyson Ho preaching the gospel of NC barbecue (both eastern and Lexington-styles, serving both at his restaurant) when the trend in barbecue for the past few years is all about Texas and brisket.

Having been born in New York, Ho wanted to know: Who makes the best barbecue in the country. This set him on a quest that would take him across the country, but he realized one thing soon. To him, the best barbecue was that from the Tar Heel State. After spending time learning from legendary pitmasters, Ho took his newfound knowledge and skills back to New York and opened Arrogant Swine.

But what actually makes North Carolina the best barbecue in the country? (Note: The editors do not agree on this point.) What even constitutes true North Carolina barbecue? Want to know where to get that barbecue and fulfill all of your porcine desires? Well, you’re in the right place. ‘Cue this episode up and prepare to be hungry.

The Honey Hog – Fallston, NC

Name: The Honey Hog
Date: 12/28/18
Address: 4629 Fallston Rd, Lawndale, NC 28090
Order: Chopped pork combo platter with red slaw, fries and a sample of chopped beef brisket, appetizer of cheese curds

Monk: The Honey Hog is a farm-to-table restaurant in the tiny town of Fallston (about 20 minutes north of Shelby) that this past summer brought on Johnny Ray as a managing partner and pitmaster to add wood smoked barbecue to their menu on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Interestingly, Johnny is doing whole hog each of those days with pork ribs on Friday nights and central Texas-style brisket on Saturday nights.

The Honey Hog uses a thicker barbecue sauce that Johnny Ray has been selling in grocery store across the state and the chopped pork comes pre-sauced with it. It’s possible that I missed it, but I didn’t see this indicated on the menu and I don’t usually prefer my barbecue pre-sauced. This was no exception. In this case, it was hard to detect any smoke and I have to admit I was a little disappointed.

Well before central-Texas brisket made its way east of the Mississippi, chopped beef was something commonly found in the western part of NC heading towards the mountains. The Honey Hog didn’t have a combo on the menu so instead of ordering a full order of the chopped beef they were kind enough to provide me a sample with my meal. I could taste the smoke more on the beef, which did not come with the sauce, but it still wasn’t for me.

My sides of red slaw and fries were fine but the best part of the meal was the cheese curds I ordered as an appetizer. Those things were ridiculous and are apparently a big favorite of regular customers.

I didn’t love my lunch on this day but from what I can tell on social media The Honey Hog is probably be worth a second visit to try the ribs or brisket specials. And I’ll retry their whole hog, making sure to request the sauce on the side.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Chopped Beef – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Linkdown: 11/28/18

Tis the season: AmazingRibs.com’s gift guide for 2018

Rodney Scott’s in Charleston suffered a small fire Sunday morning that slightly damaged the smokehouse roof but didn’t keep them from staying open

Vivian Howard, Sam Jones, and Joe Kwon hosted a benefit for Hurricane Florence in Greenville last week before an Avett Brothers benefit concert

Hill Country Food Market is now open in downtown Brooklyn from the folks behind Hill Country Barbecue:

Sweet Lew’s appears to be getting closer to opening. Case in point: they have their Myron Mixon smoker installed, with a crowd-sourced name to boot: