A Dead End on the Barbecue Trail

On Friday I dragged my wife and kids to Mocksville, on the way to a mountain vacation weekend, in order to dine at Deano’s Barbecue.  You see, Deano’s had been one of the few remaining stops on the NC Barbecue Society’s Historic Barbecue Trail that I’d yet to visit.  The Trail features barbecue joints that, among other criteria, “cook their meat product on pits fueled by wood or charcoal, make their own sauce, [and have a pit that has]… operated continuously for fifteen or more years.”

Until recently Deano’s met the Trail’s criteria for inclusion, and without a doubt earned its place on the map.  But a short visit behind the scenes revealed an unexpected change: I discovered–and confirmed with the owner himself–that Deano’s recently switched to a gas-fired Southern Pride cooker.  The traditional brick-lined, wood-burning pits were for decoration only.  Deano’s change to gas is, first of all, grounds for immediate removal from the trail (I emailed the NC Barbecue Society already, since I figured a 9-1-1 call would be extreme).  I did have some sympathy for the owner when he told me that some health problems had made maintaining the wood pits difficult.  But a gasser is a gasser whether one is sympathetic or not.  And thus another venerable North Carolina barbecue institution has turned its back on tradition and chosen convenience and cost over tradition and quality.  I hate to say it, but Texas is starting to look more appealing every day…

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7 Responses

  1. I don’t know how much experience I have with gasser BBQ. Did the BBQ taste substandard to you before you knew this?

  2. Yes, it tasted subpar like gassed/roasted pork usually does. It made me wonder whether they really cooked with wood as I’d been told, so I went to investigate…

  3. Cool. Whether I’ve had any of it or not(?), my understanding is that really good gasser BBQ is actually possible, depending on how the gasser is used, though my understanding is also that that means using it in a way that basically defeats the purpose of getting a gasser to begin with.

    Anyway, I’m all for traditional bias in BBQ, but the idea of prejudging (especially on means rather than ends) and harming someone’s business in the process is an ugly one to me, so I’m glad that isn’t what’s going on here.

  4. I should emphasize that Deano’s didn’t do anything to claim they cook over wood, as some barbecue places do. They were honest about their cooking method when asked and didn’t try and fake it. Still, in my opinion barbecue is by definition cooked over wood, so anything else is something less. I’ve had pretty good gas-roasted pork before but it was not barbecue. More folks understand this in Texas than in North Carolina, unfortunately. I’d like to see us Tar Heels wise up and rise up too demand real barbecue.

  5. Coincidentally, TMBBQ features a gasser BBQ joint today from their recent Top 50. It was featured because it just closed…but it was a Top 50 gasser nonetheless.

    And as much as I loved Lexington #1 & Scott’s on my trip through the South a few months ago, to my taste (more outside brown, more smoke flavor) the pork butt I’ve since smoked on my Weber has been even better. Are natural charcoal & seasoned wood chunks close enough to “cooked over wood” to constitute “BBQ”? When it tastes that good, it doesn’t seem to matter.

  6. Interesting about TMBBQ. I am a fundamentalist but not to the point that I distinguish between charcoal and, well, charred coals. Charcoal is wood so it’s fine by me and it’s what I use at home. (And I have a gas grill for grilling–not barbecuing–chicken, steaks, veggies and the like!) As a related aside, in North Carolina I’d say B’s Barbecue in Greenville is the most famous charcoal burner I am aware of.

  7. Cooking over charcoal is barbecue…as a matter of fact that’s how all the traditional “wood burners” in our state do it. They don’t cook with wood per-se. They actually burn the wood outside the pit and once burned down into coals they shovel said coals under the meat. Theoretically you’re doing just as they are.

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