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North Carolina, Barbecue, and Beyond


viva
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Background: I’m a Midwesterner (Chicago) by birth, a traveling consultant by trade, and have been temporarily living in Raleigh-Durham for about a year on a client assignment. I’ve schlepped all over the planet, but unbelievably have never spent any time in the Southeast before this project. I’ve been trying to experience what I can while I was here on someone else’s nickel!

During my year in North Carolina, I decided to educate my Yankee taste buds on the state barbecue and road food. I know this is somewhat following the footsteps of other NC trips on these boards, but I thought my little adventure might be of some interest. I'll post over the next couple of days, as I have kind of a lot of pictures, ranging from Lexington, The Triangle, Eastern NC, and a little Road Trip.

Lexington and points west. The first town anyone mentions to me when discussing the NC barbecue subject. My first stop here – the Visitor Information Center in downtown Lexington, where they have a *very* handy map of the area with all of the barbecue restaurants highlighted on it. Lexington is a maze of criss-crossing twisty highways – I recommend the map highly. It’s hard to get a picture of it, but here’s the map. Note the list of 21 barbecue restaurants at the bottom.

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My three selections in Lexington were: Smokey Joe’s, Smiley’s, and Backcountry Barbecue.

Smokey Joe’s

My first sample of North Carolina barbecue pork, ever. Chopped Sandwich with fries and a drink for $3.99. My question is how in the hell the fast food establishments like McD’s do business in this town… If I lived here and get a delicious sandwich plate like this for $3.99, McD’s would never see my face. Ever. (They don’t see it much now, but really.)

The Chopped Sandwich has the barbecue slaw right on the sandwich, which I really like. The barbecue slaw is mixed with the same flavors of the barbecue sauce (or “dip” if I learned my terms correctly) as the chopped pork, but the crunchy texture of the slaw is perfect with the pork. The fries were nothing to write home about, but they were freshly cooked and hot.

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Exterior of Smokey Joe’s. This was the only place where I forgot to ask if they were wood or gas. It being prime-time lunch hour, I didn’t want to wander in the way of the drive-thru looking for piles of wood.

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Smiley’s

Genuine wood-smoked. Chopped Plate with slaw and hush puppies. Their “dip” is a little sweeter (but not overly sweet), and the slaw was more peppery/vinegary. The two balanced each other out quite well, so I ate the slaw and pork together on every forkful. I didn’t mean to eat the whole plate but I did anyway. The pork had more crispy/smoky bits of skin chopped in it, which I liked as well. The little bits are called “browns”, I think?

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Smiley’s from the outside:

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When I was taking pictures of the exterior, the cook came out wondering what I was doing (I should have asked first… rude of me). He was nice enough to bring me inside and show me the smoker ovens – unfortunately they had finished smoking pork for the day but the smokers were impressive nonetheless. The fireboxes for the smokers were outside and they had huge stacks of wood getting ready for the next day.

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Backcountry Barbecue

My favorite among the Lexington-style establishments I tried. Wood-smoked as well. I tried the Coarse Chopped Sandwich and found that’s the style I like the best, rather than the finer chop of the first two places. Their “dip” is a little zippier and more tomatoey than that of the other places I tried. I liked it so much that I got a pound of the coarse chopped to take home with me. The only con of Backcountry Barbecue in my eyes was the lack of counter seating - I like to sit at the counter and chat with the waitstaff.

I had the sandwich with a side of banana pudding. Look at that pork spilling out of the sandwich! I was stuffed to the brim by the time I even arrived at Backcountry Barbecue, but I ate the whole thing anyway, and took the banana pudding home with me to eat later.

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Backcountry Barbecue is further away from town than the others (and in Linwood, not Lexington) but fairly easy to get to from I-85. I’d tell you it’s across from a furniture plant and next to a gas station, but that wouldn’t really distinguish the destination very much.

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Other things to do in Lexington while you’re waiting for the pig to digest (the people at the Visitor Center are very friendly and will sit & chat with you about your interests)…

Downtown has a nice Main Street with painted pigs in a lot of the store windows (similar to the painted cows that were on display in downtown Chicago). My favorite: the “Pig Cadillac”:

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Downtown also has the Candy Factory, which has a great selection of novelty candies. Here’s my selection (which got a little warm in the NC July heat):

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Clockwise from top: a mixed bag of wrapped candies, malted milk balls, butterscotch bars (think Mounds bars covered in butterscotch instead of chocolate), and zagnuts. Zagnuts are crispy little candies of joy that I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered until now – like the inside of a Butterfinger (no chocolate coating) but flakier and with a more peanutty/coconutty taste. I was also tickled by the wrapped Squirrel Nut Zipper candies, which I had heretofore thought were only a retro/swing band.

Last, there’s also a fairly new winery outside of town (Childress) that made for a nice respite from the heat. The wine wasn’t memorable enough for me to want to buy it and figure out a way to protect it from the heat while I was eating barbecue, but good enough to be a refreshing barbecue interlude. I think Childress was a stock car driver – the bottles are decorated with the checkered flag. Am I displaying NASCAR ignorance, or what?

Next stop: The Triangle.

Edited by viva (log)

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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Nothing like a new convert to NC BBQ.

I'm afraid you are going to have to return to Lexington while you are in the area, however, as you missed two of the best BBQ joints in the town, Lexington #1 and BBQ Center.

Also, you must go back to figure out whether Smokey Joe's is a log burner or a gasser. While they have the equipment to burn logs, I have a sneaking suspicion that they have shifted to gas. Of course they won't tell you the honest truth, you will just have to figure it out by looking at the condition of their pits.

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This is wonderful! Thank you so much for posting this. I am waiting with bated breath for your next report and hoping that you've visited my favorite spot. From my last visit to my grandmother in Reidsville, I have 3 lbs. of good NC bbq residing in the freezer and I canned a gallon of sauce from the same place. I love all bbq, from Korea to Texas to South Carolina, but having been fed, body and soul, from babyhood on NC bbq, that is my sine qua non of pork. The pork I grew up on is neither East nor West, but it's own smoky, sweet, haunting and unique 'que! :wub:

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Nothing like a new convert to NC BBQ.

I'm afraid you are going to have to return to Lexington while you are in the area, however, as you missed two of the best BBQ joints in the town, Lexington #1 and BBQ Center.

Also, you must go back to figure out whether Smokey Joe's is a log burner or a gasser.  While they have the equipment to burn logs, I have a sneaking suspicion that they have shifted to gas.  Of course they won't tell you the honest truth, you will just have to figure it out by looking at the condition of their pits.

I know - there's a lot of information to be gained by snooping around the wood pile! But fear not - I've got a return to Lexington down the road in my report :biggrin:

This is wonderful!  Thank you so much for posting this.  I am waiting with bated breath for your next report and hoping that you've visited my favorite spot.  From my last visit to my grandmother in Reidsville, I have 3 lbs. of good NC bbq residing in the freezer and I canned a gallon of sauce from the same place.  I love all bbq, from Korea to Texas to South Carolina, but having been fed, body and soul, from babyhood on NC bbq, that is my sine qua non of pork.  The pork I grew up on is neither East nor West, but it's own smoky, sweet, haunting and unique 'que!  :wub:

Uh-oh... I never went to Reidsville! You'll have to tell me what I missed out on!

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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Heading now to my local destinations in the Triangle, and from what I understand the only authentic NC barbecue establishment in the Triangle… Allen & Son. I actually stopped by the Pittsboro location first as I ran across it on the way home from an antiquing jaunt.

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What else but a chopped pork sandwich with slaw, and a side of hush puppies. The slaw was a little sweeter than I would care for, but the dip on the pork was nice – much more peppery than its Lexington cousins. No discernable tomato in the dip. The pups were fantastic – hot, crunchy outside and sweet, creamy inside. From what I have read and what my tastebuds and nose could discern, the Pittsboro location of Allen & Son cooks with gas, not wood. No smokiness, no yummy little brown bits (“browns”). This was still good pork, mind you… just not mind-blowing pork.

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Mildly disappointed, I went home, got on Mapquest, and made a trip to the Allen & Son Chapel Hill location that same evening. I certainly wasn’t going to sit around and let that situation fester.

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*This* is properly cooked pork. Same sandwich… intensified. Smoky meat with crisp browns chopped in. More vinegar, more pepper that nicely offset the sweetness of the slaw. Yum.

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My other barbecue location in Raleigh, which hits the spot primarily from a convenience perspective (it being 1.5m from my office in Research Triangle Park), is Danny’s. Danny’s, while it doesn’t live up to its wood-burning brethren, is a damn fine lunch. The only downside for me is that their slaw is a creamy cole slaw – and I would prefer the vinegar slaw. But who cares about the slaw, because they have warm blackberry, apple or peach cobbler for dessert! I adore the blackberry. :wub:

Here’s my usual chopped pork on texas toast with a side of blackberry cobbler. I really have to say that texas toast rules over a hamburger bun. I usually eschew the typical sides of baked beans or coleslaw in favor of the cobbler. I’ve got three of their four sauces here – the vinegar & the mustard in the little containers, and the hot in the large squeeze bottle. I scored the bottle of hot, which is my favorite, when we catered Danny’s in for lunch one day. I believe the mustard sauce is considered heresy in these parts… but I like it, particularly mixed with the hot. A coworker is aiming for perfection by mixing all four sauces in what he considers to be the correct proportion.

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Last stop for July at the North Carolina State Fair (held in Raleigh) for a … barbecue Sundae. Barbecue pork topped with baked beans topped with cole slaw. It was okay. This guy actually had decent barbecue and slaw, so I should have just eaten a sandwich, but I had to try the sundae.

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Speaking of the state fair and barbecue… actually, this pig was destined not for barbecue, but to do some painting for a children’s exhibition.

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Photos of the NC State Fair would not be complete without a tobacco shot – men unloading the tobacco truck for one of the heritage exhibitions.

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Next stop: Pottery Interlude.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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OK, this little interlude is not necessarily barbecue related, but for any food-lovers who spend some vacation time in North Carolina… consider heading to the town of Seagrove for a little pottery tour. North Carolina is world famous for its pottery tradition, and I found a lot of wonderful cooking and serving dishes with beautiful handmade detailing. A link to the Seagrove site with some history: http://www.seagrovepotteryheritage.com/se_learn.html. I’ve been living in a corporate apartment in Raleigh for about a year now, and have amassed a little Carolina cooking vessel collection, despite having no damn space for it and necessitating transport of it once I leave the state for my next client assignment. It’s a nice little side jaunt from Lexington. The Seagrove pottery festival is once a year in November (although you can drive the pottery trail any time of year and visit individual potters), and there’s also a pottery festival in Sanford (south of Raleigh) once a year in May. *Some* of my purchases are below. My favorite is the honey pot with the little bees carved and painted on the side.

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Okay, back to the barbecue. Next stop: Lexington…The Return.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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Well, I don't know if anyone is interested in this, but since I took the pictures, I'll slog along...

Before I headed off to try Eastern-style barbecue, timing necessitated a return to Lexington for the Annual Barbecue Festival in October! The pig is celebrated at every turn here, including…

Pig Sand Sculpture… King ‘Cue!

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Pig Cupcakes (I am not a cake-eater, so I didn’t waste any precious stomach space on these, but they were really fun looking)

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Racing Pigs (the “Hogway Speedway”). These little guys were so cute! They raced around the track for cheese doodles at the finish line.

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And most importantly, the barbecue! The various barbecue establishments about town shared the operations of the tents, so you couldn’t really try a specific restaurant’s flavor. Here’s one of the barbecue tents. They offered a chopped pork sandwich, chopped pork plate (with beans and slaw), curly “Pig’s Tail” french fries, and hot dogs for the foolish folk who don’t want barbecue. If you’re interested in chicken or beef… you’re in the wrong town.

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These are high volume tents! Here’s a shot of the interior pork assembly line, with this tent being operated by Smokey Joe’s and Whitley’s:

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I ate about three sandwiches, as there were three separate barbecue tents. Clearly I needed to have the complete barbecue picture for the sake of comparison. All of the sandwiches were fine-chopped with cole slaw. There really wasn’t much of a difference between the tents. :laugh:

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Being a pie-eater vs. a cake-eater, while I snubbed the pig cupcakes, I definitely made room for some good old-fashioned church-made apple fried pie…

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The pie man in action:

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Last, but not least, before I headed out of town I stopped at Lexington #1 (a.k.a. Honeymonk’s), the most famous of them all. An added bonus to the weekend was the beautiful fall color on the trees.

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It being festival weekend, the place was completely crazy. The fastest way to a coarse-chopped pork sandwich was to order to go outside. This gave me an opportunity to look around while I was waiting for my sandwich, so I peered in through the screen window of the kitchen to say hello to the cooks. They invited me inside for a look at the smokers in action. Piles upon piles of pork shoulder inside of one of their four smokers.

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Huge bins of pulled pork in the kitchen and the men hard at work chopping!

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And my coarse chopped sandwich with slaw and hush puppies, a fitting close to my barbecue adventures in the west. Delicious and moist with subtle tang and smokiness.

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Next stop: Eastward, Ho!

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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Now setting the compass east of Raleigh in February to check out what the other side of the state has to offer. First stop, Ayden at the famous Skylight Inn. Their position on the proper way to cook pork is made clear right on the sign:

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“If it’s not cooked with wood, it’s not Bar-B-Q.”

There are apparently two key differences between pork in points west and points east in North Carolina: (1) shoulder only in the west, whole pig in the east (giving one both white & dark meat); and (2) tomato/sugar + vinegar/pepper dip in the west, vinegar/pepper dip only in the east. I also thought that the slaw was sweeter and creamier in the east than its barbecue slaw cousins out west, but that could have been just a function of the places I went to rather than a regional distinction. The experts out there can please correct me where I am wrong on this east vs. west business.

Inside, the choices are easy. You have your chopped sandwich (with slaw), or your chopped tray (with cornbread and slaw). Tray is small, medium, or large. This is the extent of the thinking you need to do to order. (Note, there wasn’t a choice of the “chop-style” (fine or coarse), but Skylight’s was coarse enough to satisfy.) Me, I chose the small tray, because cracklin’ cornbread (made with pork drippings) beats sandwich bun any day of the week. The highlight of the chopped pork at the Skylight Inn… they chop cracklin’s right into the pork. That’s right, crispy crunchy fatty goodness right in there with the velvety moist pork. *That* is something that all pit masters should adopt.

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Full & happy, I drove off to Bum’s Barbecue in downtown Ayden. Bum’s is served cafeteria style with meat selections other than pork (!) and lots of sides.

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I had to eschew the typical sides with my chopped pork sandwich in favor of … a side of fried chicken thigh. I know, I know, Bum’s supposedly has the best collard greens in the world…but seriously, the chicken was freaking fantastic. The chopped pork sandwich was delicious (again no choice on fine or coarse chopped, but this was coarse enough), and, since I liked the flavor, I put a healthy dousing of Bum’s dip on my sandwich, made of vinegar, hot sauce, salt & pepper. Nice spice and tang.

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Last, but not least, a stop on the way home Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson. After a pork tray, a slice of cracklin’ cornbread, a pork sandwich, and a fried chicken thigh, I was, to say the least, full.

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So I got a pound of Parker’s pork to go and called it even. I took a little bite and saved the rest for dinner the following day – again Parker’s was velvety and moist. I read online that Parker’s uses a machine to chop their pork? If so, this is probably why the chop was a little finer than the other two – I definitely prefer the coarser hand chopped and pulled varieties. Anyway, I waited until the next night to have it with some leftover spoonbread, and a little wine. It was even better after sitting in the fridge for a day – the smokiness came forward and was wonderful. If this was coarse chopped, it would be perfect. Even has bits of skin chopped in for a little fatty goodness.

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My only complaint thus far about my ventures east: where’s the cobbler and banana pudding???!!!! There’s always room for cobbler. (To be fair, desserts may have been available inside Parker’s, but not from the take-away counter where I was.) That’s okay – I’ll give it another shot.

Next stop: East Again.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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There’s too many famous establishments in the East to get them all on one trip, so here we go one more time!

Off to Goldsboro. First stop is McCall’s Barbecue, which wasn’t on my original list of places to visit, but I had to go there to show some support for the business – because their other location in Clayton NC was … hit by a commuter plane. Seriously. <clickety>.

The McCall’s Clayton location was near the plant of a client I was working for, and McCall’s was popular with the employees. The Goldsboro location has a drive-thru, and a separate building which looked like the smoking house – big old brick chimney and stacks of wood being my clues on that one. As a barbecue break, I ordered the fried chicken plate, dark meat of course, with green beans, corn, and hush puppies. The sides were uninspiring, but the pups were hot and crunchy. The chicken was good – nicely seasoned and juicy.

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But let’s face it – McCall’s was just the preamble to the real reason for visiting Goldsboro, which is Wilber’s. (As a side note, how ‘bout that sunny North Carolina spring? I know the Southeast needs the rain, but I haven’t seen the sun in a week!!)

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Wilber’s rocked. I got it to go as the restaurant was packed (at 1:30 PM on a Tuesday). Chopped pork sandwich with slaw and a side of hush puppies. The pork was in large chunks and shreds, not finely chopped, and was moist and flavorful. The dip was a bright vinegar with a very healthy dose of red pepper flakes – visible on the meat. The slaw balanced the vinegar nicely – not too sweet, not too vinegary. And last, but certainly not least, they had banana pudding. That’s what I’m talking about!

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One more stop after this… back to the Triangle before I say goodbye to Raleigh-Durham.

Edited by viva (log)

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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And as my fond farewell to Raleigh, I finish off at The Pit, the legendary pitmaster Ed Mitchell’s new place in Raleigh. More than I can possibly say about Ed Mitchell is documented here: http://www.newsobserver.com/105/story/926361.html

Disclaimer: my visit to The Pit was a takeout order, so YMMV, although I sat at the bar and had some wine while I waited for the takeout – the atmosphere was upscale casual, and the staff were friendly and accommodating. The question you need to ask yourself is whether $50 for a barbecue meal here beats $10 at a shack and a bottle of wine from home. I’m not *totally* convinced on that front. Menu available online at: http://www.thepit-raleigh.com

I had the chopped whole hog with macaroni & cheese, collard greens, and smoked turkey fritters. The mac & cheese and collards were average, mac & cheese possibly so because of the drive home – I like my mac creamier. The pig was delicious (chopped whole hog here is “everything but the squeal” – meaning I had those little skin bits I love). The vinegar dip was nice and bright and peppery (there was also a sweeter Western style dip with tomato and sugar, but it was a bit too sweet for me). The smoked turkey fritters were like hush puppies with cheese and smoked turkey inside – rich and yummy.

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Disappointment: the restaurant forgot the fried chicken half of my combo order, and gave me a full order of chopped pork only. Silver lining: I now had enough chopped pork for a leftover sandwich the following day! Karmic balance: this was the first day The Pit was serving sweet potato pie. Proper southern dessert at last! Yum.

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Next stop: Points Beyond and The End of the Road

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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The month of April saw me heading out of state to my new home destination in Houston, Texas, lazily passing through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, down to Atlanta, and then along the Gulf Coast. There’s a proliferation of road food websites (chief among them roadfood.com and hollyeats.com, of course) dedicated to ensuring that I would not have to dine a la McDonald’s on the way. For this, I thank them.

My first stop was the town of Statesville NC for a chili cheese dog at Jay-Bee’s. This ain’t no fast food joint!

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The cats were cranky at the prospect of a 1400 mile drive, so a rest and a dog were needed. Joe decided the best place to be was buried in the comforter.

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The hot dogs at Jay Bee’s are nicely grilled, the chili is made fresh daily at the restaurant. Cheese sauce tasted canned, but served on the side so you can control the application. Yum.

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Heading after that into the lovely city of Asheville NC for a few stops and a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. First stop is at the Southern Highlands Folk Art Center for… you guessed it… more pottery. (There are other, non-foodie items as well, like the most gorgeous quilts I’ve ever seen.) Here I procured a French butter dish, amongst other things :wub:

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Dinner was from a wonderful restaurant called Picnic’s, conveniently on the way to the University of North Carolina’s Botanical Gardens, where you could in fact have a picnic if you were so inclined. I got mine to go, so I could hop back on the Parkway to catch the sunset view while enjoying my dinner. Even in rainy April, it’s still beautiful on the Parkway. And the fall colors here will take your breath away!

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And my dinner from Picnic’s - my photo is blurry, as it was late and I was eagerly anticipating the meal. A quarter roasted duck, mac & cheese, sautéed kale, cornbread and (not in the pic) blackberry cobbler. Really fantastic, with crispy skin and a fruity/peppery glaze on the duck, and kale that I can’t keep my mind off of to this day. How often do you say that about a side dish? The staff at Picnic’s were also really nice people, very helpful in making selections as well as directions about town.

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The next day took me to northern Georgia via the Parkway and some side roads. No food stops here (I saved the blackberry cobbler from Picnic’s to have for breakfast), but there are a number of pottery stops and the countryside is the very definition of bucolic beauty. I got a move on after that and made it to the Alabama border in time for a late lunch in the twin towns of Opelika-Auburn AL. I have to thank the staff at the border Alabama Visitor’s Center for providing great little guides on local food that helped make my selection. I stopped at Country’s Barbecue in Auburn for a taste of the local ‘cue.

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Country’s serves up mustard/vinegar barbecue, smoked over hickory and oak. Since I was roughly halfway between North Carolina, home of pork barbecue, and Texas, home of beef barbecue, I got the Patriot sandwich with sliced pork and beef (a compromise!), barbecue slaw, and the hot mustard sauce on the side. No sides needed with this bad boy – it’s enough for a meal *and* leftovers for breakfast the next day. Delicious and tender meat, and I loved the mustard dip.

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You could have fresh lemonade at Country’s… or you could head down the road apiece to Toomer’s Drug and get yourself a big lemonade, squeezed to order right at the counter.

The next day, still full from The Patriot leftovers at breakfast, I needed a little snack to tide me over through Mississippi, as I knew I needed to make it to Louisiana for lunch. Golden Flake potato chips to the rescue – Dill Pickle flavored. Like pickle juice – salty and sour.

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I’m glad I didn’t get a bigger bag, as I had room for Andre’s Cajun Cracklin’s in Erwinville LA. Andre’s is a shack next to a gas station and completely fabulous. They ship, too!

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I had myself a crab pistolette, which is a French bread roll stuffed with crab and cheese, then deep fried, as well as a boudin ball, also deep fried. Both delicious, especially the pistolette. As I drove through the side roads, I couldn’t help but listen to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Louisiana Saturday Night” – “My brother Bill & my other brother Jack, belly full of beer & a possum in a sack, fifteen kids in the front porch light, Louisiana Saturday Night.”

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Andre’s was a fitting last stop on the journey. From here on out, it’s a new adventure in Texas!

So… one year later, 5 states, 16 restaurants, one barbecue festival, one state fair, zero bad meals, and a personal record of 4 chopped pork sandwiches in one day (although the waitress at Smokey Joe’s told me about a man who ate 11 sandwiches at 10 restaurants around Lexington in one day!!), countless miles on the highway, and countless miles on the treadmill working it all off… :laugh: . My overall thoughts… it’s hard to rate the different places and pick a favorite. I liked the barbecue slaw of the West, the whole pig of the East, the coarse chopped (really coarse) over the fine chopped, the vinegary-peppery dip of the East, cracklin’s and skin chopped into the meat, and anyplace that will give me cobbler or pie with my pork. Or a fried chicken thigh.

Hope y’all enjoyed this… I certainly did. :wink:

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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This is wonderful!  Thank you so much for posting this.  I am waiting with bated breath for your next report and hoping that you've visited my favorite spot.  From my last visit to my grandmother in Reidsville, I have 3 lbs. of good NC bbq residing in the freezer and I canned a gallon of sauce from the same place.  I love all bbq, from Korea to Texas to South Carolina, but having been fed, body and soul, from babyhood on NC bbq, that is my sine qua non of pork.  The pork I grew up on is neither East nor West, but it's own smoky, sweet, haunting and unique 'que!   :wub:

Uh-oh... I never went to Reidsville! You'll have to tell me what I missed out on!

Reidsville has Short Sugar's which has been around forever. It's being run by the son-in-law of the original owners and the bbq itself isn't as good as it once was. But the sauce is truly amazing - nothing I have ever tasted anywhere comes close. If they ever close, I might swear off NC bbq for life :wink: ! I bring both bbq and sauce home when I visit and once I run out of bbq, the sauce is so good that it makes even ordinary local bbq something special. You can see a plate of the bbq that I served last night here!

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This is wonderful!  Thank you so much for posting this.  I am waiting with bated breath for your next report and hoping that you've visited my favorite spot.  From my last visit to my grandmother in Reidsville, I have 3 lbs. of good NC bbq residing in the freezer and I canned a gallon of sauce from the same place.  I love all bbq, from Korea to Texas to South Carolina, but having been fed, body and soul, from babyhood on NC bbq, that is my sine qua non of pork.  The pork I grew up on is neither East nor West, but it's own smoky, sweet, haunting and unique 'que!   :wub:

Uh-oh... I never went to Reidsville! You'll have to tell me what I missed out on!

Reidsville has Short Sugar's which has been around forever. It's being run by the son-in-law of the original owners and the bbq itself isn't as good as it once was. But the sauce is truly amazing - nothing I have ever tasted anywhere comes close. If they ever close, I might swear off NC bbq for life :wink: ! I bring both bbq and sauce home when I visit and once I run out of bbq, the sauce is so good that it makes even ordinary local bbq something special. You can see a plate of the bbq that I served last night here!

It sounds (and looks) delicious!

Sorry I didn't see this sooner.  You missed the best thing at Allen & Son:

Desserts

(the cue is great too).

I had apple cobbler :wink: I just forgot to take a snapshot of it.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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Fantastic posts. And quite timely for me too. I recently went on my own 'cue adventure just earlier this week.

Anyway, I posted this elsewhere, but I figure it's relevant, as we hit some of the same spots.

As I'll be leaving the South for good in a matter of days and don't have finals during exam week it seemed necessary to hit some of the 'cue places I'd heard about but never got around to visiting. Naturally, I'd have to eat at all of them in one day. Mayhem ensued.

So, six stops, six trays, all solo, over 4.5 hours. It was intense. I'm in pain. But I think it was worth it.

Starting in Durham, I ventured to Chapel Hill to visit Allen & Son. Then to Mebane to eat at A&M Grill, then Graham for Hursey's, then Greensboro for Stamey's, then finally to Lexington for Barbecue Center and Lexington Barbecue.

My rankings and brief comments follow.

1) Stamey's - Perhaps the surprise winner, the outside brown, sliced was near perfect. A great balance of smoke and salt and just enough contrast between chewy exterior and firm yet still tender interior. Service here was also great. Super fast and super friendly. I also like that they serve pretty much only 'cue and no fried chicken, fish, etc. The Brunswick stew was an unnecessary, but surprisingly tasty addition to my fourth meal of the day.

2) Lexington Barbecue - A great product and really nice balance between smoke and texture. I actually thought the sauce was too overpowering for the meat and preferred the rendition of Lexington-style sauce at Barbecue Center. I ordered soft outside brown, coarsely chopped and it was really very nice. Had I not been so surprised with the quality and experience at Stamey's, Lexington Barbecue would've taken the prize. I could see craving either depending on the day. Also, despite the fact that this was my sixth meal and I was in terrible pain, I NEEDED to order the basket of hot, fried pork skin. These were super-duper porky. Like porkiness verging on gaminess. Best in small quantities or crumbled atop one's 'cue.

3) Barbecue Center - I really "got" Lexington-style 'cue here. The sauce was still NC-style, but the addition of tomato gave the sauce a freshness that worked well with the acidity and pepper. Here, I had outside brown, chopped. A really solid spot, no complaints at all.

4) Allen & Son - I had been to Allen & Son once before and sampled much of the menu with a large group. It was my standard bearer of NC barbecue until today. Allen & Son really ups the smoke, which I quite like, but at the expense of porkiness. The former three find a great balance between rub/seasoning, smoke, and natural flavor of the meat, not to mention texture/moistness. Allen & Son puts out a great and unique product, but I found it too one-dimensional today. Too smokey, too dry. I enjoyed eating it, sure, but it wasn't new heights. At first I thought it was because I had ordered outside brown, chopped, but my experiences at the other restaurants proved that the balance I was looking for could be achieved.

5) Hursey's - Taste-wise this was actually my least favorite. It was, however, a very unique product. Not much smoke at all, but the chopped meat--they don't do outside brown here--was unbelievably moist. Not watery, as in sitting in its own juices on the place, but as soon as it hit my mouth it just exploded with porky juiciness. If one could serve a pork roast with this same juiciness you'd have a hit. This was, however, not barbecue to me because the smoke just wasn't there. Think of it like a better version of Bullock's The slaw here was actually not good, perhaps the only objectionable side I had all day.

6) A&M Grill - All in all, not bad, but not that great either. I had the sliced barbecue--no outside brown here either---as the waitress informed me that this would be the best option. This was more like roast pork, also light on the smoke but not so light as Hursey's. It lacked the mouth-filling unctuousness that Hursey's provided and so lacked any defining characteristic that could've helped its standing.

On the drive home I was pretty much drunk off of pork fat. Still, I recommend driving east on 64 as opposed to picking up 85 and 40. A pleasant, farm- and church-filled drive, minus a few strip mall-filled towns. Very Americana.

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Interesting observation on Stamey's. I am from Greensboro, and Stamey's has always been a good, but not great bbq joint I have eaten at many many many times. Interesting, because over the last few years, I have noticed the sliced getting better and better. We do a Stamey's lunch at my company about six times a year and the sliced stands out more that ever. The chopped is good, but a bit cloying and fatty for my tastes and is the same since I was a kid. Coming from your point of view, I agree Stamey's sliced is worthy of a top mention for NC Q.

Nate

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On the drive home I was pretty much drunk off of pork fat.

Heh. Do you think you can get pulled over for that? A DWPF?

Great observations. I may get staffed in North Carolina again someday so more barbecue adventures are always welcome.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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  • 1 year later...

Very enjoyable thread, thx.

So a family member has recently moved to Lenoir, a few miles north of Hickory (and what seems to be pretty far west from most of the places discussed above). Since we’ll be visiting a couple times a year I was hoping to get some recs within this more western part of the state and within an hour from Lenoir. I came across a couple mentions for Shell’s, Mountain View and Butch’s in Hickory. Any opinions on those? Are there any others we need to visit in the area? Also, does anyone have an opinion on the listings on the Historic NC Barbecue Society Map? Are these places generally considered some of the very best NC has to offer? http://www.ncbbqsociety.com/trail_map.html

Thanks for any and all recs

That wasn't chicken

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