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Unknown NC Barbecue Gems


Varmint
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Whenever I ask someone where their favorite NC barbecue restaurant is, I usually get the same 4 or 5 responses: Wilber’s, Lexington #1, the Skylight Inn, Short Sugar’s, Stamey’s, and maybe a couple of others. What folks often forget is how many barbecue joints there actually are in NC, many of them diamonds in the rough.

I promised Fat Guy and his lovely wife, Ellen Shapiro, that I would take them to barbecue joints that aren’t on the top 10 lists. These are places that serve awesome barbecue, but for some reason, be it location, ambience (or total lack thereof), or some other strange reason, they’re relatively unknown. We visited 5 such joints, passed on a number of others, and ended our quest with that feeling of satisfaction that we know something that not many others do. But SSHHHH, it’s our little secret.

Knowing that the Shaw-Shapiros had been stuck in High Point, NC for the past several days without good bakery products, I stopped by the incredible Guglhupf Bakery in Durham on my way to visit them. This gem of a bakery not only puts out some great pastries, but they make some of the best whole grain breads you can find. Plus, their bretzels (not pretzels) are a delight. I got some bread, some pastries, a multi-grain roll, and a guglhupf cake, of course! Even Momo enjoyed the bretzel action. I’ll do a full-scale visit with the L’il Varmints soon and report back here.

I picked up Mr. and Mrs. FG, and we headed west of Lexington. I wanted to get outside of the self-declared barbecue capital of NC to places new to all of us.

We started at Backcountry Barbecue in Linwood, NC. This place is owned by Doug Cook, who used to own Cook’s Barbecue in Lexington (which is recognized as the only legitimate NC barbecue joint that also smokes beef brisket). Fat Guy and I each ordered a coarse-chopped barbecue tray, and Ellen ordered a pint of slaw – she’s the slaw connoisseur. We also ordered a small tray of pork skins, as this is a delicacy FG had never sampled. The pork was presented in large chunks and was incredibly tender and moist – perhaps the most tender barbecue I’ve ever had. It had slight smoky flavor and was absolutely delicious. To be honest, it put to shame everything I’ve ever had in Lexington. Plus, it was a buttload of food. As FG indicated, this may not have been the best place to start, as we had established quite a high bar.

We were then off to joint #2, but as we were driving, we saw a sign we couldn’t pass up: “Tarheel Q.” We drove around back, saw the woodpile, and decided to give it a try. We went with sandwiches this time, plus an order of hush puppies and slaw for Ellen. Wow! This was even better than the Backcountry Barbecue, as the pork had a more pronounced flavor of smoke. Plus, we really loved the cool lemon juice packets they offered with the iced tea! This place has a Lexington address, but it’s far enough outside the city limits that we decided it shouldn’t be included as an official Lexington joint.

As we hit the road, wondering how the heck we could make it to more joints, Ellen informed me of how badly she was craving watermelon. Within 5 minutes, I spotted a pickup truck on the side of the road, just a couple hundred yards away from the Yadkin River. The cargo of this truck? Watermelon, of course. The couple who were selling the melon had a special deal going: If you buy one melon, it was $2.50, but for two melons, it cost you $5.00!!!! What a deal! This special became our running joke for the afternoon.

Joint number 3 – Hendrix Barbecue (appropriately located in the community of “Fork”) -- put the fear of God into Ellen and Steve (speaking of God, we saw a great sign on a church: “Give Jesus a try. If that doesn’t work out, the devil will take you back.”). This was a dump. The kitchen and pit was in one room, where you ordered at a counter. The “dining room” consisted of a separate cinder block building with screened windows. There was also a lovely picnic area for your enjoyment. We had a good feeling about the barbecue, however. This was another wood burner, as were all 5 of our joints. The chopping block was well worn, and the owners, who have been running this place for over 30 years, let us get a photo of a nice ham ready for chopping. Plus, they served Diet Cheerwine, which was needed to cut back on our sugar intake from all the sweet tea we were drinking. Needless to say, this barbecue was fantastic. Good smoky flavor; cracklins mixed in with the meat; a touch sweeter than the other places’ pork. The hush puppies were out of this world, as they had the best crust and the most tender crumb. This was already a fantastic day.

We continued on. We saw a sign for a Jockey Underwear plant, and Ellen got very excited about finding a great bargain on some new Jockeys. Unfortunately, the only store there was an employees’ only store. After deciding not to borrow an employee’s ID badge, we headed to restaurant number 4, the Red Pig BBQ House, just outside of Mocksville. This place had an awesome menu, where you could get coffee plus 2 refills for 50 cents without ordering any food. If you ordered food, you’d get “all the coffee you’ll have” for the same 50 cents. I had sweet tea, of course. They also had lots of great vegetables and a corn bread bologna sandwich on the menu. We shared a barbecue tray (sliced and chopped) with extra hush puppies and slaw, of course! Excellent Q once again. Very pronounced smoky flavor. The hush puppies had more wheat flour in them and were a bit lighter than the mostly corn meal samples we had had earlier in the day.

Our final stop was Snook’s Old Fashion Barbecue in Advance, NC. We wanted to go here for dessert only, as we were too full of pork at this point. Fat Guy ordered one of each type of homemade dessert on the menu: coconut cream pie, chocolate pie, and peach cream cheese pie. Oh, and a barbecue sandwich for good measure. Like Hendrix Barbecue, Snook’s dining room is in a separate cinder block dining room. In fact, Snook’s seems to be like a game of Monopoly when the L’il Varmints are playing – buildings scattered here, there and everywhere. There’s a separate building for the bathroom, the barbecue pit, a couple of storage sheds, the kitchen, the dining room. All in white-painted cinder block. Well, waiting in the dining house where a sign stated clearly not to mess with the air conditioning unit, our food was delivered to us, and one bite of the coconut cream pie let us know it was worth coming here. The peach pie was loaded with fresh peaches in a cheesecake-like batter, but it had this pink jelly-like topping – corn starch plus gelatin plus strawberry??? Mrs. Varmint informed me that this is a very, very Southern dish. Cool. The owner wouldn’t tell us how the jelly topping was made, as the recipe was her mother’s secret. By the way, the barbecue had perhaps the best flavor of all – lots of crunchy cracklin’s mixed in with a great smoky flavor. But by this time, my taste buds had about given up on me. We were stuffed, and we decided to forego any more barbecue joints for the day. Six hours later, I’m still too full to think about food. I wonder if Fat Guy is sneaking some of Ellen’s watermelon?

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The barbecue tray at Backcountry Barbecue. Very tender, very moist, lotsa food.

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Mmmmm. Real fried pork skins. Fat Guy couldn't finish even one. Tourist.

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Backcountry's wood storage container (don't even think of calling it a run-down barn!)

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Could you pass up this sign?? Fat Guy was sad it wasn't Wednesday.

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Sandwiches and pups at Tarheel Q

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Only the finest of lemon juice for the customers

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Great woodpile

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The great watermelon truck

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Now which one???

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Such a bargain to get two!!!

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Perfect!!

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NC barbecue joints often are in the middle of nowhere.

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The kitchen and pit building

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I neglected to leave my card to the left of the window.

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Impressive ham and chopping block

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Hendrix BBQ!!! Note how few hush puppies are left.

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Barbecue al fresco (with Diet Cheerwine, of course)

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The Hendrix "dining room"

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Next stop! Da Red Pig!!!

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We're getting mighty fully by now.

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Last stop

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We couldn't go for the 1-1/2 pound tray at this point!

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Each day-glo sign is a different menu item. Fat Guy is in heaven!

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Last Q of the day

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Some dessert is necessary, of course.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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That's cole slaw, "Lexington style." They add some sugar and barbecue sauce to chopped cabbage to make the slaw. It's quite good. If I recall correctly, the Red Pig had the best slaw -- it was chopped a bit more coarsely so you could actually taste the cabbage.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Great pictures! I LOVE the watermelon sign-- it made me laugh out loud. :smile:

"There is no worse taste in the mouth than chocolate and cigarettes. Second would be tuna and peppermint. I've combined everything, so I know."

--Augusten Burroughs

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I'm not positive but i think it's Mt. Coleslaw...or at least a facsimile of

the mountain. Just 50 miles south of where v and the fg's supped, we

rarely see coleslaw...well, slaw on the meat. it's a decidedly eastern

north carolina thing. given the size of the portions in the yummy pictures,

i'm amazed they made it past Tarheel Q'. Of course, if they had stopped

there, they wouldn't have been able to take advantage of that fabulous

sale on watermelons. I got a buy in bulk deal myself...10 for only $25!

Great writing and pictures varmint. Now if only I weren't craving some at

at the ripe hour of 9:29 a.m.!

Ecce homo qui est farba

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Great pictures!  I LOVE the watermelon sign-- it made me laugh out loud. :smile:

I wonder how much it is for 3 watermelons????

:biggrin::biggrin:

"There is no worse taste in the mouth than chocolate and cigarettes. Second would be tuna and peppermint. I've combined everything, so I know."

--Augusten Burroughs

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gallery_137_34_1094581619.jpg

The sliced costs more than chop for everything, except for a plate they're the same cost :wacko:

Steven asked why sliced is more expensive, and it's apparently because they trim off more fat with the sliced or coarsely chopped barbecue than when it's more finely chopped. Makes sense to me. Why that one plate is the same price doesn't make sense, however!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Varm, how many of these NC barbecue extreme tours have we done together over the years? This one made three, right? And I've done a couple without you. But this one was without question the most successful.

I'll post some additional comments later.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I know that I might be revealing myself as a 'cue dilletante, but I've rarely seen hush puppies with barbecue -- white bread is typically de rigeur, and hush puppies are for fish fries or shrimp boils. But you found them everywhere. Is this a North Carolina fashion, or were you just concerned that all the smoked meats might nudge the Fried Food Group compelety out of the diet?

I see FG racked up some Clean Plate Club demerits on the fried pork skins. Were they just too much, or not well prepared, or not to FG's taste?

More on the cornbread bologna sandwich, please.

edit: spellig

Edited by Dave the Cook (log)

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Not much pork in those sandwiches. :sad:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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The burning question is: Where did you get those fish trousers???

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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I know that I might be revealing myself as a 'cue dilletante, but I've rarely seen hush puppies with barbecue -- with bread is typically de rigeur, and hush puppies are for fish fries or shrimp boils. But you found them everywhere. Is this a North Carolina fashion, or were you just concerned that all the smoked meats might nudge the Fried Food Group compelety out of the diet?

It's a NC thing. Even better (when they're good; they often aren't) are corn sticks; those you can use as a utensil.

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Varmint, I've got a good friend in West End, NC (looks like in the middle of nowhere, it seems). I'm visiting her in October. By chance would you know of any good Q joints in that area? I'll be driving down from Cincinnati and don't mind a detour or two. Thanks much.

ps. I was absolutely drooling at your report and photos. Makes Montgomery Inn ribs seem like pikers.

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I know that I might be revealing myself as a 'cue dilletante, but I've rarely seen hush puppies with barbecue -- white bread is typically de rigeur, and hush puppies are for fish fries or shrimp boils. But you found them everywhere. Is this a North Carolina fashion, or were you just concerned that all the smoked meats might nudge the Fried Food Group compelety out of the diet?

I see FG racked up some Clean Plate Club demerits on the fried pork skins. Were they just too much, or not well prepared, or not to FG's taste?

More on the cornbread bologna sandwich, please.

edit: spellig

Hush puppies are what's served with North Carolina barbecue. The only variation on that is the corn stick, which is rarely good (but when it is. . . .!). There's a few stories about how hush puppies were introduced as the bread for barbecue, and I'll try to round up some up.

FG thought he'd throw up if he ate an entire skin. Very disappointing performance, indeed. He didn't want to try it with Texas Pete, for some reason.

The corn bread bologna sandwich. Well, we know nothing about it. Now, the handwritten menu may have listed these as two separate items: corn bread AND a bologna sandwich. However, both of these items were on the regular menu, so I concluded that this was a single dish. At that time, we were too stuffed to actually investigate further.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Not much pork in those sandwiches. :sad:

Jin-

Each of those sandwiches had plenty of pork in them. We always believed we were getting a very good value here. I think my cheap camera didn't capture the size element well, although the penultimate photo (the cross section) was about right. Barbecue sandwiches generally aren't superstuffed here, and that's appropriate.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Well done.

It takes a bit of courage to visit random Q shacks, but the payoff can be quite good.

(I am sorry, and I am sure it is just the photos, but those 1st two pics do not make me hungry at all. Mount slaw is a bit intimidating, and the skins look dangerous.)

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