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Barbecue Stories


Varmint
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Note: Although we all agree that southern cuisine is a hell of a lot more than barbecue, I can't help but return to a good barbecue joint. I intend to write an overview of some of my favorite barbecue restaurants from time to time. I encourage others to write about their favorite joints as well.

The best barbecue in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill region of North Carolina is arguably Allen and Son, which is just north of Chapel Hill on Highway 86. It's also the most expensive, but you'll quickly learn why.

North Carolina barbecue, as Fat Guy implied, is an acquired taste. It's not loaded with sweet sauces, and the best barbecue lets the flavor of the meat be the featured attraction. A little bit of smoke is an essential characteristic, and unfortunately, that flavor is becoming less and less common. When you do taste a bit of smoke, it's all too often a flavor obtained from a bottle rather than from burning hardwood. Slow cooking barbecue over hickory, oak, pecan or other types of hardwood is a dying tradition, as it's expensive, involves a lot of hard work, and in some cities, is prohibited for environmental reasons.

Allen and Son cooks their barbecue the old fashioned way. And the owner, Keith Allen, splits the green hickory by himself – by hand. As a result, I don't mind paying $8.55 for a plate of his barbecue.

The place itself is very low key. It's a cinder block building that is tucked behind a small grove of trees, nearly adjacent to the railroad tracks. I've never seen a train on those tracks, but it would be perfect if the freighter cruised by some day. I love the interior because there are stuffed varmints all over the place. An 8-point buck watched me eat every bite of my lunch while a fox guarded the dessert menu.

As far as the barbecue is concerned, this is eastern style pork, with hardly a touch of tomato in the sauce. The meat has a touch of that hickory smoke, particularly in the cracklin's that have been cut in for added flavor and a change in texture. The pork chopped fairly coarsely and isn't very fatty, yet it retains a fair amount of moisture.

One unusual thing about Allen & Son is their fries, as they're hand cut. Most barbecue joints use frozen fries, and this attention to detail is what distinguishes the restaurant. They need to crisp up the fries by a second quick dip in very hot oil, but they're pretty darned good nonetheless.

The hush puppies are made by hand, using a fairly sweet batter that has a bit more cornmeal than many other pups that are too light for my taste. The slaw is fairly standard, but I don't generally rate a place by its slaw.

The desserts, however, are what you ultimately remember about Allen & Son. First, they're homemade, including the vanilla ice cream (more of an ice milk, actually) and the banana pudding – no instant pudding at this place. They're damn good, too. The coconut chess pie is the crack of coconut desserts. The banana pudding is served slightly warm, with a perfect meringue and lots of bananas. Cream cheese poundcake, homemade cobblers (made with canned fruit, however – the only downside to the dessert menu), chocolate cake, and even chocolate chip cookies are some of the other choices.

Allen and Son is a local treasure. It's in the country, not really near anything, but it's packed at lunch time. Like the rest of Keith Allen's fans, I'm happy to take a 2 hour lunch just to enjoy one of the finer barbecue joints in the state.

Allen and Son Barbecue

6203 Millhouse Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27516

919-942-7576

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey Varmint,

You really ought to try Q Shack up in Durham some time. I'm an Allen & Son's fan, but if you want a break from the Carolina style, you can get texas style beef brisket from Q Shack and I can promise you it will change your life.

Very different experience. Q Shack has taken over from Pan pan the "most likely to see white, black, hispanic diners at the same time" award. It's a little more gentrified than Allen & Son's, but there are also way fewer foodies there (or at least were when I went).

Ben

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I suspect it has something to do with the fact that they've hired black, white, and hispanic workers. Plus it's across the street from La Villita.

Either way I'm happy about it. But more than that I'm happy with the Q-shack. Went there again this weekend and tried their devilled eggs. Not that I'm a devilled egg person, I'm just happy they're on the menu. Also tried their surprisingly good burger. I'm going to get wicked fat on this food.

Ben

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Tried Allen & Son for the first time this weekend.

Excellent flavor, probably best I've had. Coarsely chopped with lots of big chunks of pork, a good bit of brown, but ultimately too much fat for my tastes. You will come across the occasional chunk of fat, but other than that it's one of those things that you mostly don't notice until you've eaten too much.

I still like Murray's out on Old Poole Rd. best, but Allen & Son is definitely worth a trip. Murray's has a good bit less fat, is chopped slightly finer, and doesn't have as much smoke flavor. Both places cook over wood. I think they may be the only 2 places left...or perhaps Lewis Barbecue still uses wood as well?

For anyone visiting don't confuse Murray's with Don Murray's on Capitol. Didn't like them at all. Not much flavor, way too much fat.

If you're looking for Murray's, this is the place you want.

http://www.hollyeats.com/MurraysBBQ.htm

Hmmm...I think I'm going to go finish off those leftovers. I bought 2 lbs you know.

:smile:

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Murrays is my regular barbecue joint, only because I can go there for lunch and be back to my office within an hour (on a good day). I think their barbecue is fine, but it just doesn't knock my socks off.

The big question about Allen and Son is whether you had their dessert? They're pretty damn great.

When you say that Allen & Son and Murray's are the only two places that cook over wood, are you limiting that to the Triangle? There's a lot of wood burners out there, but even the Q Shack in Durham cooks with wood (although they serve several styles of barbecue).

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Murrays is my regular barbecue joint, only because I can go there for lunch and be back to my office within an hour (on a good day).  I think their barbecue is fine, but it just doesn't knock my socks off. 

The big question about Allen and Son is whether you had their dessert?  They're pretty damn great.

When you say that Allen & Son and Murray's are the only two places that cook over wood, are you limiting that to the Triangle?  There's a lot of wood burners out there, but even the Q Shack in Durham cooks with wood (although they serve several styles of barbecue).

No, no desserts. We got take out, so it probably wouldn't have traveled all that well. Someday we'll actually eat there and I'll make sure to at least try and save room for dessert.

As to cooking over wood, I was referring to just the Triangle. I hadn't heard the Q-Shack used wood, but it was still on my list of places to try. I did check and according to a couple of people, Lewis Barbecue does cook over real wood as well. So that's at least 4 places in the Triangle now (and Lewis Barbecue is opening up another place near the airport). That there are still that many people who will take the time necessary to avoid using gas or electric is amazing. Which isn't to say that guarantees great barbecue, but that much effort probably means at least it won't be bad. I have had excellent barbecue cooked over gas and electric as well - someday I'd like to taste them all side by side just to see how much difference there is.

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  • 8 months later...
Tried Allen & Son for the first time this weekend.

Excellent flavor, probably best I've had. Coarsely chopped with lots of big chunks of pork, a good bit of brown, but ultimately too much fat for my tastes. You will come across the occasional chunk of fat, but other than that it's one of those things that you mostly don't notice until you've eaten too much.

I still like Murray's out on Old Poole Rd. best, but Allen & Son is definitely worth a trip. Murray's has a good bit less fat, is chopped slightly finer, and doesn't have as much smoke flavor. Both places cook over wood. I think they may be the only 2 places left...or perhaps Lewis Barbecue still uses wood as well?

Revisiting an old topic.

Had Allen & Son 2 weeks ago...and it was perfect. So good that I'd wish I'd bought an extra pound or two --coarsely chopped, great flavor, very little fat, not too much sauce. Then last thursday, I had to go to Burlington and figured I might as well stop at Allen & Son on the way back, esp. with the memory of my last visit so fresh in my mind. This time it was loaded with fat and gristle and had way too much sauce. When I got home and tried it, I wish I hadn't bought any at all. It was really pretty bad. I don't have a hell of a lot of memory to go on, but I'd guess the first time I ate there was somewhere in between these two experiences.

So....when Allen & Son is right, it's a good bit better than Murray's, but when it's wrong...it can be pretty bad. Murray's, on the other hand, is always consistant or it has been the 10 or so times I've been there.

Edited by Random Alias (log)
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