Porky’s Pulpit: Now You’re Cooking with Gas

The phrase “now you’re cooking with gas” dates back at least to the 1940s, when advertisements used the tagline to tout the performance of gas stoves, and likely earlier.  By the 1940s, gas ranges had been around for decades and had supplanted wood stoves in urban areas but were being challenged by a new competitor–the electric range.  In North Carolina, of course, “now you’re cooking with gas (or electricity)” is not something to be proud of when your cooking barbecue.  But when the gas with which you’re cooking barbecue comes from North Carolina, it’s newsworthy.

According to a story on WRAL News, Patterson Exploration Services of Sanford operates North Carolina’s only natural gas well in nearby Chatham County.   On Saturday, a group of scientists and others celebrated with a barbecue.  As the WRAL reporter points out, “for the first time in history this is pork cooked with North Carolina gas.”  Personally, I’d rather have been around to enjoy the first time pork was cooked with North Carolina hickory wood, but this is one of those rare occasions when cooking pork with gas seems like a pretty good idea.

BBQ Jew’s View: Brushy Mountain Smokehouse & Creamery

201 Wilkesboro Blvd., North Wilkesboro, NC
336-667-9464
Website
Hours: Mon & Wed-Sat 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday Buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “A pitless pit stop.” 

Bobby Flay’s Kiss of Death
Few self-respecting Carolina barbecue joints have websites.  Fewer still would be proud of an appearance on a TV show featuring the Food Network’s brash yankee know-it-all Bobby Flay.  The Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery has a website that touts its 2005 appearance on “BBQ with Bobby Flay.” Leaving those sins aside, the Brushy Mtn. Smokehouse has its advantages: namely the combination of homemade ice cream and a large menu sure to please a variety of tastes.

No Pit Stop
The relatively wide range of offerings available at Brushy Mtn. Smokehouse make the restaurant a nice pit stop for family road trips in the heart of stock car racing country. (North Wilkesboro, where Brushy Mtn. Smokehouse is located, is famous for its legendary speedway and its prominent role in the history of stock car racing, which was tied closely to moonshining, another local tradition.) Alas, this barbecue pit stop features no traditional wood pit, as the barbecue at Brushy Mtn. Smokehouse is cooked over gas.

Brushy Mtn. Smokehouse offers a sizeable menu that includes barbecued ribs, chicken and pulled pork, all dishes that are “on track” for a barbecue joint (pardon the pathetic attempt at a car racing pun).  Alongside these legitimate dishes, the Smokehouse offers a few items that raise a caution flag for me, most notably the Barbecue Crunchers (“Our famous Smokehouse Barbeque nestled inside a crunchy tortilla shell flavored with our homemade sweet Barbeque Sauce”). Did they just say “nestled” and “tortilla”? Oh dear.

With items like catfish and potroast on the menu, it is safe to say that the Brushy Mtn. Smokehouse does not consider itself a traditional Carolina barbecue joint, and thus it is probably unfair for me to judge it in that context.  But that is what I do on this site. Suffice it to say that the chopped/pulled barbecue is standard, middle of the road fare, neither particularly good nor particularly bad. I’ll spare you the details and leave it at that. The good news is that after your meal, you can head into the attached Creamery, where many varieties of homemade ice cream are available. My family enjoyed the ice cream and we had a good time, even if the barbecue isn’t nearly good enough to take a checkered flag.

Porky’s Pulpit: Pignorance is Bliss

It’s a new year and the perfect time for a little bit of reflection on 2010.  Without a doubt, my favorite new dining experiences over the past year had one thing in common: I had to drive an extra mile (or 50) to seek out traditional, wood-cooked barbecue at places like Grady’s in Dudley, Wink’s in Salisbury and The Skylight Inn in Ayden.  Unfortunately, I also ate a lot of mediocre ‘cue, and almost all of it was made in electric or gas-fired cookers. 

There was a time when mediocre barbecue was good enough for me; I suppose that pignorance is bliss. But the more barbecue I eat the less tolerant I am for so-so swine. Unless it is doused with a terrific sauce and served with outstanding sides, in my experience electric/gas-cooked pork is rarely better than okay.  After a year of eating more than my share of forgettable barbecue, I am looking forward to focusing on eating at the traditional pit-cooked ‘cue joints as time allows, while passing over most of the faux ‘cue. Consider that my first BBQ Jew Year’s resolution. My other resolutions include:

-Finally write reviews of several restaurants that I dined at awhile back and still haven’t reviewed, in large part because I really don’t enjoy writing negatives things about someone’s livelihood.

-Continue to interview interesting folks for the BBQ&A section of this site, as that has been my favorite part of running this site for the past two years.  Look for a BBQ&A with NC barbecue legend Bob Garner, as well as others, soon. If you have any suggestions for BBQ&A interviewees, let me know.

-Convince some friends and strangers to contribute guest posts to mix things up. After all, it’s hard work reading your own words three times a week.

-Most of all, enjoy another year of rambling on about the incredible, edible world of North Carolina barbecue.

Best wishes for the year ahead,

Porky LeSwine

BBQ Jew’s View: The Pig

 630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC
919.942.1133
Website
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A- (but it’s complicated)
Porky Says: “Wholly different whole hog.” 

Pondering the Meaning of Whole Hog BBQ
The Pig’s website proclaims–in large lettering–“Serving whole hog barbeque.”  But chef/owner Sam Suchoff’s definition of whole hog barbecue extends beyond that used in Eastern North Carolina tradition.  Indeed, many old school pitmasters and barbecue eaters alike will cringe, roll their eyes, feel their blood pressure spike and mumble a few choice words when they find out what “whole hog barbeque” means at The Pig.
 
In Eastern North Carolina, “whole hog barbecue” typically–okay, always–refers to chopped pork made  from a whole hog, with hams, shoulders, loin, skin and so on chopped together into a glorious mess.  (In other parts of North Carolina, joints tend to rely on shoulders and sometimes hams, rather than whole hog.) The Pig’s chopped barbecue sticks with the whole hog tradition by using multiple parts of the hog.  However, the “whole hog barbeque” served at The Pig includes quite a bit more than chopped and sauced whole hog.  In fact, their menu would not fly in most parts of the state and may well be a criminal offense in Salisbury, Lexington, Goldsboro, Ayden and other barbecue meccas.  But The Pig is located in Chapel Hill, a strange southern town where folks have a little more linguistic freedom, even when talking about barbecue, and where many diners are, to put it politely, not from ’round here. (Yankees.)
 
Nouveau ‘cue
At The Pig, “whole hog barbeque” seems to refer to using every part of the pig but the oink–as folks from ’round here often say–but not just in one dish called barbecue.  Rather than simply chopping the whole hog up to make traditional ‘cue, Suchoff and his team take diners on a menu-wide culinary trip from snout to tail and back again.  I’d challenge anyone to name a restaurant, barbecue or otherwise, in North Carolina that uses as much of one animal to such great effect.  For example, on a recent and ever-so-slightly overindulgent visit to The Pig, I sampled the following kinds of divine swine: Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Blue Note Grill

4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham, NC
919.401.1979
Website
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Nobody loves their Q but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too.”

Singing the Low Down, So-So Barbecue Blues
If you’ve been reading this site for more than a couple of weeks, you’re probably aware that I get a bit cranky about places that serve so-called North Carolina barbecue but don’t know seem to know the difference between a ham and a shoulder.  The folks at Blue Note Grill are trying to learn the art of NC ‘cue but they have a long way to go.  The Blue Note Grill does many things right, but barbecue is not among them. 

Butter My Toast, Not My Bun
The Blue Note is a classic bar and grill that serves up pretty good food, frequent live music, and a variety of adult beverages to wash down the workaday blues.  Their menu includes quesadillas, hand-ground burgers, pork chop sandwiches, fried pickles and banana peppers, onion rings, sweet potato fries, chili, salads and a whole lot more.   As far as I can tell its a place Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Holly Ridge Smokehouse

511 Highway 17 North, Holly Ridge, NC
910.329.1708
Website
Hours: Tu-Th & Su 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fr-Sa 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B-
Porky Says: “Decent Beach-B-Q at last.”

Palatable Barbecue Near the Beach? Finally!
Earlier this summer I took a family vacation to Topsail Beach.  Unsurprisingly, I dragged my wife and kids to a barbecue restaurant on the way.  Equally unsurprising was the fact that I did this over my wife’s protests.  She is only an occasional barbecue eater and, like most women, operates under the misguided belief that a greasy plate of chopped pork and hush puppies is a less than perfect pre-bikini meal.  Nonsense!  Plus, in fairness, my wife knows from traveling with me that barbecue joints within 50 or so miles of the coast tend to be mediocre at best.  Needless to say, that fact has never stopped me from trying to find exceptions to the rule.

Given that it’s located inland about five miles from Topsail Beach, Holly Ridge isn’t really a beach town as much as a refueling pit stop on the way to the beach.  Still, five miles is pretty damn close to the beach by barbecue standards, so I had to try the Holly Ridge Smokehouse despite that it looks like just the type of place I know to avoid.  It is large, Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Smokey’s BBQ Shack

 
10800 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville, NC
919.469.1724
Website
Hours: Mon-Wed 11-2, Thu-Fri 11-7:30, Sat 11-7
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Smokey’s is just okie dokie.”

Authentically Inauthentic (or Vice Versa)
Smokey’s feels like what people who didn’t grow up in barbecue country expect a barbecue joint to feel like.  From the joking “Entrance Only – Do Not Enter” sign on the front door to the joint’s a bit too cutesy motto (“The BBQ Rocks and So Do Most of the Tables!”), it has a tongue-in-cheek hillbilly vibe that is both endearing and a little bit grating.  (Judging from the large lunchtime crowd, which was diverse but leaned toward white collar RTPers easily identified by their ID badges, most people find the hillbilly vibe more endearing than I do.)  Similarly, the joint looks like it has occupied the modest white cinder block building on a still-rural stretch of Highway 54 for many years.  Of course, it hasn’t, as The Deli Box occupied the spot just a few years ago.  Still, it’s impossible to deny that the look of the building and location are perfect for a barbecue joint–close enough to RTP to pack in the customers but rural enough to look the part of a 50-year old BBQ joint.

Careful What You Promise
On their website, Smokey’s says it is “the best North Carolina ‘Q’ in Raleigh.”  That is a dubious claim for a couple of Continue reading

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