751 B’s Barbecue Road, Greenville, NC
No phone, no website, no problem
Hours: Tue-Sat from the time they open (10ish) to the time they close (they run out of food by ~ 2:00 p.m.)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Don’t worry, B’s happy.”
Bill and Peggy McLawhorn started B’s Barbecue in the 1970s, but the place feels like it has been around many decades longer. For one thing, it has the classic feel of an early 20th century barbecue joint. Also, it’s a real dive: it’s hard to believe a joint “merely” 40 or so years old could be as run down as B’s. Not that anyone cares, of course, so long as they keep serving up good barbecue, truly excellent chicken and down east sides to complement the meats. B’s has earned legendary status despite its relatively short lifespan, and the phone-less shack only adds to the allure at this point.
The McLawhorn’s three daughters, who run B’s today, would be crazy to deviate from B’s ramshackle formula for success. As one of the daughters, Judy Dach, described it to interviewer Alan Pike in 2009: “I mean sure we’d like to have a nice new fancy building and eight or ten more people working so we can have a day off and that kind of stuff, but, to us, when when you start doing all that, then it’s—you know, it’s like any other restaurant and that’s not what we wanted it to be. That’s not what my dad wanted it to be; he wanted it to be ours.”
Getting Inside the Shack
Finding B’s is pretty straightforward, despite what I’d heard throught the grapevine. Finding a parking spot, on the other hand, is an adventure at busy times of day (and that is most any time). Saying B’s has a parking lot would be a generous misstatement. Rather, it seems the B’s building fell from the sky and landed haphazardly in the midst of some scattered gravel. A beautiful old oak tree separates part of the lot from the carryout window. Highway 43 runs next to B’s and is in the process of being expanded; it seems at any moment slight steering error might send a car hurtling into the dining room, just yards away from the right of way.
Confirming Judy Dach’s above comments on the condition of B’s space being part of what makes B’s, well, B’s, everyone who has ever told me about B’s has mentioned in the same breath the quality of the barbecue and the fact that it is a true BBQ shack. Having at long last made it to B’s to see for myself I can now attest that the barbecue is indeed good and the place is truly a shack. The exterior is poorly maintained, with fascia boards crumbling like so many day-old hush puppies. Inside the building, the dining room is bigger than seems possible, likely seating 40 or so people, but is otherwise lacking in redeeming qualities. A cooler buzzes noisily and drips out condensate onto the floor. A side trip to the men’s room reveals a floor seemingly held in place by a can of Great Stuff.
In short, B’s is a perfect place for a barbecue meal.
Oh Yeah, They Serve Food
The food is served cafeteria style with sides of green beans, tender and expertly flavored boiled potatoes, and tasty (greasy but not heavy) corn sticks laying in wait for hungry patrons. (As an aside, I find that corn sticks reheat well in toaster oven, as the grease keeps them from drying out like hush puppies tend to when faced with a similar microclimate.) The barbecue was very tasty. Not the best I’ve had, and a bit sloppily prepared compared to the near-perfection of the Skylight Inn several miles away in Ayden, but it is definitely worth eating. The chicken, in my opinion, was several notches better than the pork, which is saying something. It was simple but delicious with crispy skin and rich, smoky flavor; dipping it in the BBQ sauce took the experience to heavenly heights. Indeed, B’s simple looking barbecue sauce has surprising depth (whiskey as an ingredient, maybe?) and complements the pork and chicken with equal aplomb. B’s coleslaw is a classic white, sweet, mayo-rich Eastern recipe with a fine chop but not quite as fine as some, which gives it a bit more textue.
B’s was moderately crowded when I arrived at 11:00 on a Saturday and had a line out the door 15 minutes later. They stay open until they run out of food, a trait that refelects either a lack of dedication to work longer hours and cash in or a willingness to leave well enough alone. (My guess? Both.) The staff, including the McLawhorn daughters, are polite but know how move the crowd through the line with expert skill and not much chitchat, an impressive operation. B’s draws a varied crowd ranging from yuppies to blue collar workers and just about everyone in between, probably including a few sinning vegetarians. I was there on a weekend but apparently the site of doctors from nearby Pitt Memorial Hospital dressed in scrubs next to construction workers in mud-caked work boots is a fun weekday routine.
It is worth noting that B’s cooks their pork and chicken over Kingsford charcoal, not the pit-prepared wood coals of tradition. I could complain that charcoal is a bit lazier than using real hickory/oak coals as they do at truly traditional barbecue joints, but in this day and age of electric/gas cooking, charcoal is authentic enough for me. The pit is visible right next to the restaurant and it’s easy to peak in the screened windows or open door and see that, even with charcoal, it’s hard work preparing barbecue. And the hard work pays off for B’s customers–it just doesn’t pay for building repairs.