One of the state’s best barbecue joints (and the purveyors of, very likely, the best banana pudding in the state) just celebrated its 60th year in business. Winston-Salem’s Hill’s Lexington Barbecue has been cooking barbecue over wood-fired pits since 1951. Read more in the Winston-Salem Journal.
4005 Patterson Avenue, Winston-Salem, NC
336.767.2184 or 336.767.3502 (pick your poison)
Hours: Tue-Sun 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A
Porky Says: “The state’s most elegant barbecue.”
Hill’s Lexington Barbecue occupies a handsome brick building with a red roof on a strange stretch of Patterson Avenue that is peppered with manufactured housing businesses and other light industry. Hill’s also occupies a coveted spot on the NC Barbecue Society’s Barbecue Trail, as it is a traditional wood burner that has been around since 1951.
According to Jim Early of the NCBS, Hill’s was the first joint to use the phrase “Lexington Barbecue,” as founder Joe Allen Hill hailed from Lexington and wanted to lay claim to his barbecue roots when opening a joint in nearby Winston-Salem. Hill’s therefore claims, rightly so as far as I can confirm, to be “Winston-Salem’s Only Original Lexington Barbecue” and, less provincially, “The Original Lexington Barbecue.” As long as Hill’s keeps cooking barbecue of the quality I experienced on my visit there, they can claim whatever they please.
Hill’s Lexington Barbecue, still family owned in its 60th year, is a nice family restaurant in the North Carolina tradition. However, they take themselves a little more seriously (or maybe less so?) than most old school barbecue joints. Their logo features a classy looking pig wearing a top hat and twirling a cane and, impressively, they serve their barbecue tray in a real tray. I don’t mean the standard flimsy wax paper tray, but rather a silver metal tray. And did I mention the pork is garnished with a sprig of parsley? It’s a nice touch, whether it’s sincere or a bit of tongue-in-cheekiness (I suspect the former, as barbecue is a pretty sincere business).
The barbecue itself is moist and flavorful, with generous amounts of outside brown mixed in and distinct smoke flavor. I ordered the ‘cue chopped and it was just a bit too finely chopped for my taste, but the pork is also available sliced (a “deli slice” according to my waitress) or “blocked,” meaning in chunks pig pickin’ style. I also found the dip just a bit too sweet (not uncommon for Lexington-style BBQ), but it is nicely spiced and complements the pork well. A splash of Texas Pete neutralized the sweetness nicely. The barbecue slaw that accompanies the pork Continue reading
This past weekend I was lucky enough to help judge the Texas Pete Twin City RibFest in Winston-Salem. Although ribs don’t hold a place of any real importance in North Carolina barbecue culture (sorry Rib Rabbi, but it’s true), I still didn’t hesitate to sign up when offered a coveted judge’s seat. And the fact that 60 MPH winds and heavy downpours were forecast didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. (Luckily, only the rains materialized while I was at the event.) I was ready to make my first appearance as a bona fide, albeit not certified, barbecue judge.
I can attest that the six-person judges panel took its job as seriously as one would expect (i.e., at least somewhat seriously). We were focused on the task at hand, especially since Ms. Texas Pete 2010 no-showed for her judges gig, leaving us menfolk with nothing to ogle besides the ribs on the table in front of us.
Festival organizer Allen McDavid spent upwards of three minutes preparing us for our roles as judges. He paced back and forth in front of the judge’s table and explained… The ribs would be served one at a time on a numbered plate to protect their identity (lest any of the judges be on the take and working for a contestant). Each rib was to be judged on four categories–taste, texture, tenderness and appearance. Each category should be rated between 2 and 9, with 2 being the worst score we could dole out and 9 being the best. (Apparently barbecue judges cannot count to 10.) A score of 1 would be assigned only if a contestant broke a rule related to the category, such as garnishing with something other than lettuce or parsley. After tasting the first rib, we should write down our scores, take a drink of water to cleanse the palate, and wipe our hands if we so desired. And then we were to taste, rinse, wipe and repeat until each contestant’s ribs were sampled.
Nothing too it, right? Anyone could be a barbecue judge. Piece of cake. Or so I thought until the tasting began. Continue reading
With a great name like Prissy Polly’s, which made it into my barbecue joint name hall of fame, it’s tempting to be Pollyannaish about the quality of the barbecue. The fact that the restaurant is named after the founder’s mother makes it even better. But despite the great name, Polly’s suffers from an identity crisis. And, leaving the name aside, the food they serve is just okay.
Trying to Do Too Much
Instead of focusing on preparing one style of barbecue well, which is a difficult enough task, Polly’s tries to serve both Eastern- and Lexington-style ‘cue and does neither especially well. According to their own website:
“Originally Prissy Polly’s served only Eastern-style barbecue. This caused a bit of consternation among some of the local folks, who were accustomed to Lexington-style barbecue. To please the taste of those who preferred Lexington-style, Prissy Polly’s began to offer both styles of barbecue.”
I have to give Polly’s a lot of credit for being bold enough to start an Eastern-style BBQ joint in the heart of Lexington-style territory. And the Eastern-style ‘cue they serve is definitely the better of the types. I can’t really blame Polly’s for caving to local preferences either. Judging by the fact that they have stayed in business for 18 years and have a sparkling, large restaurant, adding Lexington-style ‘cue to the menu was the right decision. I simply don’t think their Lexington-style ‘cue is particularly good.
One, Two, Three Types of ‘Cue
Since Polly’s started out serving Eastern-style barbecue, let’s focus on that first. The biggest problem with Polly’s Eastern-style ‘cue is that it is not cooked over wood and the lack of care shows in a lack of flavor. Sadly, Polly has plenty of company in both the east and the west in terms of not using wood, but that doesn’t excuse them. Leaving that aside, Polly’s Eastern-style BBQ is moist and has decent flavor, which is enhanced by a slightly too salty but quite good vinegar/pepper sauce that accompanies it, though it appears to be machine chopped and is a bit mushy. I’d probably give their Eastern-style ‘cue a B- if I were grading it alone. Polly’s Lexington-style barbecue fares worse.
Polly’s actually offers two types of Lexington-style ‘cue. (Pay close attention, this gets a bit confusing.) Polly’s original Lexington-style BBQ is called “Original Lexington,” and they have served it for years. It features a rather thick, sweet dip that has as much in common with KC Masterpiece or Kraft as it does with traditional NC style sauces. Recently Polly’s added another Lexington-style dip option, this one called “Traditional Lexington.” The dip used for the newer traditional version is significantly better than the original recipe, as it is much thinner and more vinegar-based, though it is still too sweet for my palate. The Lexington-style ‘cue was too heavily sauced in the kitchen and needed no added dip at the table.
1381 Peters Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem, NC
2nd location at 5954 University Parkway in Winston-Salem
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B
Porky Says: “No mas tortillas, por favor, Señor Barbecue.”
Fast Food Name, Slow-Cooked Taste
The generic “Mr. Barbecue” name sure didn’t make me confident about the food. And the chain restaurant vibe–flat screen TVs on the walls, fancy sign out front, 2nd location not far away, decor of the restaurant–made me even more wary. But the large woodpile outside and the smell of grease hitting hot hickory coals gave me all the motivation I needed to head toward the entrance. Continue reading
Good Golly, Miss Molly
From the vintage metal advertising signs on the walls to the traditional wood-cooked pork to the location just down the street from Vinegar Hill Road (too good to be true but it is!), Little Richard’s feels like it has been around as long as the “other” Little Richard. But the joint, named after owner Richard Berrier, wasn’t around in the early years of rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, the joint only opened in 1991, making it a young’un by barbecue standards. Still, over the past 18 years, Little Richard’s has established a well-deserved reputation as a purveyor of authentic Lexington-style pork.
No Tutti Frutti, Just Tobaccy
It’s fitting that in Winston-Salem, one of North Carolina’s proudest tobacco towns and inspiration for two of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s flagship cigaratte lines, cooking pork over smoky wood remains in style. And on the day I visited Little Richard’s, the pork wasn’t the only thing smoking. At a table next to a wall covered with vintage tobacco advertisements sat three Continue reading