Monday, December 6, 2010

The Quest for Bar-B-Que

From Tony…

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the UNC-Kentucky basketball game with my friend Daniel Freeman. It was a fantastic basketball game with Carolina pulling out a slim victory. After the game, we walked out of the Dean Dome into a winter wonderland of snow and ice. It was great day, but to make it even better, we decide to go to Allen and Son Pit Cooked Bar-B-Q for dinner. We picked up my daughter Amanda and headed for the tiny, nondescript building on the outskirts of Chapel Hill.  With the snow falling outside, we sat and ate delicious traditional eastern North Carolina Bar-B-Q sandwiches. It was the perfect way to end the day.

This got me thinking about BBQ / Barbecue / Bar-B-Q/ Bar-B-Que.

To our northern cousins, or yankees, as some southerners call them (that is, if they stay up there, they’re called damn yankees if they move down here,) barbecue is an event. It describes the cooking of any food outside on an open flame. As in, “Hey youse guys, let’s have a barbecue.” They also refer to the device for cooking outside as a barbecue. As in, “Hey youse guys, let’s cook on the barbecue.” Sometimes, it’s a verb. As in, “Hey youse guys, let’s barbecue some burgers.”

 For a southerner, barbecue has only one definition, pork, hopefully slow cooked over hot hickory coals, chopped or pulled and served with a vinegar based sauce, coleslaw, Brunswick stew, hushpuppies and a large glass of sweet ice tea.  However, this is where the debate about barbecue really begins. In North Carolina, the Civil War isn’t about north and south, it’s about east and west.

Eastern North Carolina Barbecue is traditionally chopped or pulled pork from the whole hog with a sauce that is predominately vinegar and pepper. Western North Carolina Barbecue (sometimes referred to as Lexington style) is traditionally chopped from the pork shoulder ( a hog’s front legs) and served with a sauce that is a mixture of vinegar, sugar and ketchup. It is the addition of ketchup that is anathema to eastern NC barbecue purists. Ketchup is something you put on your fries, not your barbecue.

It is worth noting a few other barbecue styles. South Carolina has the distinction of offering a chopped pork barbecue with a dull yellow mustard based sauce. Martha and I ate at Maurice’s outside of Columbia, South Carolina and enjoyed a yellow barbecue sandwich accompanied by something called barbecue hash (gravy and onions over rice.)

Martha and Amanda drove through Memphis a couple of years ago and stopped at Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que. They brought me back several pounds of beef brisket and pork and a large bottle of Neely’s sweet, tangy sauce. It was terrific.

Finally, at my nephew’s wedding in Houston, I was treated to Texas style barbecue. It was beef brisket, smoker cooked with oak and served with a light brown sauce. They have a tendency to focus on the flavor of the beef rather than having a strong sauce taste.

Having completed this treatise on barbecue, let me end with a few restaurants I like. The aforementioned Allen and Son in Chapel Hill, Wilber’s in Goldsboro, King’s in Kinston  and Smithfield  Chicken “N’ Bar-B-Q in a number of locations.

(In memorium: Snooks Old Fashion Barbecue in Advance and Murray’s Barbecue and Seafood in Raleigh were great barbecue joints that are no longer with us.)  

Anybody with BBQ joint suggestions, please leave a comment. I am always on a quest for better barbecue.


  1. Ok, Michael here, I need to weigh in. Tony is the reigning king of all things barbecue, and I bow to his superior knowledge and experience, I'll just say for me, Memphis-style bbq is the best. I need something tomato based with a little sweet mixed with the spicy. Anyone near Murphy, NC, should stop by Rib Country, well worth your timed!

  2. Saw this and thought it would help you brush up on your BBQ knowledge.

  3. "Ketchup is something you put on your fries, not your barbecue." Well said!

    I haven't personally eaten there because I've been a vegetarian for its entire existence, but The Pit in downtown Raleigh has a great rep. The owner even beat Bobby Flay in a bbq throwdown on food network. Back in the day, I loved Cooper's (again in Downtown Raleigh). My favorite of all time which is now gone, was the BarBQ Lodge in Kinston. They could bbq circles around King's and had the best potato salad EVER.

  4. Personally there is nothing like coaxes some redneck relatives to just do it themselves on the farm! lol. Usually all they need, is to have a reason.

  5. Tony here:
    Dawn: I am ashamed to say I live 20 minutes away from downtown Raleigh and have never eaten at Coopers. It is now on my list. By the way, I found the Pit to be average and overpriced. BBG Lodge in Kinston needs to go into my In Memorium section. Sorry to hear of its passing.

    Diana: I believe you are talking pig-picking. Nothing gets a redneck's blood boiling like the thought of a whole hog over hot coals.

  6. Hehe...the church I went to when I was a little girl had a pig cooker built into a gazebo out back. No need to go to anyone's farm, and any occasion was appropriate.

  7. Tony, btw, the last time they got Cooper's at my office they said it wasn't that great. I tend to think they just had an off day though. They've been making good barbecue for ages.

  8. I will agree with Dawn on Coopers, its one of the best! Cuts down on the awkward family socializing...

  9. well. having been a part of this.....we'll say "magical" day, i must weigh in. The game, snow, and bbq were all amazing. i must concur, tony is on top of his bbq game, no argument there. However; its hard to beat smithfield's in my book. I will leave with this. Idk if anyone has been to "the pit" in Raleigh, but I heard great things upon great things so i had to check it out being an apprentice to the tony johnson....and was very dissapointed. Overpriced and not worth it. again, unc beating kentucky in a great game + snow = magical day.