Pig of the Month: First Class Flying Pig

PigoftheMonth (3)

Struttin’ with Some (Mail Order) BBQ
It’s sad but true: Some days I crave barbecue but I don’t have the time to cook it and I’m too lazy to visit the nearest BBQ joint (or, more likely, it is a Sunday and all the good local joints are closed).  On these dark days, I have a bright new option: Pig of the Month.

The good folks at PigOfTheMonth.com shipped me a sampler pack of meats to test out.  In a rare act of generosity on my part, I invited over a few good friends and “cooked” for these semi-pro taste testers.  Much to our shared surprise, given our assumptions about mail order meat, we were impressed.  The meat ranged from good to excellent, with the sausages and bacon particularly tasty.  Our consensus was that the Pig of the Month products tasted fresh and flavorful, were convenient to cook or heat, and could easily hold their own against most restaurant barbecue.

The company’s website notes that their products are all natural and do not use preservatives, and the freshness really did shine through.  Better yet, “Our meats come from a free range, anti-biotic, and hormone free farm… They are fed a natural diet with plenty of room to run around and play piggy kickball.”

To date, I’ve tried the following Pig of the Month products:

-Maplewood Smoked Bacon.  Their a medium-thick cut, heavily salted and lightly sweetened bacon, and it is delicious.  The bacon is shipped uncooked and frozen.  This is not barbecue, of course, but it is pig and I’d eat it daily if it wouldn’t kill me.

-Candied Pecans.  Their website says it best: “We take organic pecans and roast them with egg whites, sugar, a touch of salt and some special spices to give it a kick at the end.  Sweet, crunchy, and a little bit spicy – these nuts will be gone in a jiffy.”  No argument from me!

-Hot Italian Sausage and Duck, Pear & Port Sausage.  Like the bacon, the sausage is shipped uncooked and frozen.  I cooked mine on a gas grill over wood chips to add some smoke flavor.  The Italian pork sausage is very good with a gentle heat that does not overwhelm the subtle Italian spicing; fresh taste, excellent texture.  However, it was the duck sausage (duck and pork, actually) that had me thinking about mail ordering all my meat–really excellent sausage.

Pig of the Month 3 ribs-Three varieties of pork ribs: Memphis Style Love Me Tender, Texas Style Cattle King, and Key West Style Citrus Grilled Baby Back Ribs.  I prefer spareribs to baby backs, but I may be in the minority on that view. Regardless, these pre-cooked, heat and eat ribs surprised me and my co-tasters.  We expected dried out, flavorless ribs but that wasn’t the case at all.  I wrapped the ribs in foil, per the directions, and warmed them for 20+ minutes.  The ribs had a deep smoke flavor, a good bark, tender meat, and had good flavor from each of the sauces, though I prefer my ribs with less sauce and my sauce less sweet.  Really impressive.  My only complaint was that the meat was a bit too tender, which is probably inevitable for a reheated rib.  As my friend and fellow taste tester observed, “These ribs may not be 10s, but they are easily 7s, and a pre-cooked rib that ranks a 7 may as well be a 10.”  (I’ll spare you his lengthier analogy, which involved a comparison to Olympic diving, with degrees of difficulty establishing the maximum score possible… a good way to look at it, actually, but you get the point.)

Quibbles
I honestly can say that I enjoyed everything I ate from Pig of the Month, but I don’t to be a complete Pollyanna.  Some small criticisms of Pig of the Month include:

-Only selling baby backs is unfortunate, especially when you sell a “Texas -style” rib–you’ll be hard pressed to find a baby back rib at any self-respecting Texas barbecue joint.  Hopefully they will add some St. Louis cut ribs or spareribs soon.

-I’d prefer the sauce be packed separately instead of cryovaced into the rib, or least put on the rib in lesser quantities. I thought there was simply too much sauce on all three of the ribs I tried.  I should note that they do sell a dry rub rib, which is what I’ll order next time, so I can sauce the ribs myself (or not at all).

-For a company based in Dayton, Ohio there is a heavy emphasis on phony Southernisms in the marketing and packaging.  (E.g, “Y’all come back soon, ya hear.”  It’s probably a calculated marketing decision but I found it hokey and forced.  Their product is good enough on its own that they can drop the act and admit to being yankees–yankees who produce barbecue good enough to please this southern boy.

Check out the Pig of the Month website to see their full product selection, which ranges from corned beef brisket to pulled pork to ribs to sausage to bacon to cracked four pepper bacon to chocolate covered bacon to bacon caramel cheddar popcorn to…

Speedy Lohr’s

I finally made it to Speedy Lohr’s a couple of weeks back and it was well worth the visit.  Speedy Lohr’s is located a bit outside of Lexington in the (what I shall call) hamlet of Arcadia, and they cook their barbecue over wood as God intended.  As you can see in the photo below, Speedy Lohr’s adds a bit more sauce dip than I prefer but quibbles aside it was good ‘cue.

BBQ Jew’s View: (The Original) Parker’s Barbecue

2514  US Highway 301 South, Wilson, NC
(252) 237-0972
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B
Porky Says: “A tarnished shrine for barbecue fundamentalists.”

The Original
(The Original) Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson used to just be known as Parker’s Barbecue, and to most people it still is.  But a restaurant named Parker’s Barbecue in nearby Greenville, started by relatives of the founders of Parker’s in Wilson–who had sold to non-Parker family owners in the 1980s–gave (The Original) Parker’s reason to want to differentiate itself.  Hence the parentheses, and the confusing lineage.  But (The Original) Parker’s food is the opposite of parenthetical and far from confusing–it is straightforward, honest to goodness classic Eastern North Carolina barbecue… with one major caveat: they no longer cook on wood-fired pits.

Sticking to the Basics
There are two famous barbecue joints in Wilson.  One of them is as close to an amusement park as an old fashioned NC barbecue joint gets.  The other one is (The Original) Parker’s.  From the simple wide white ranch style building that has housed the restaurant in its current location since its founding in 1946 to the food to the waitstaff, Parker’s is all business.  The waitstaff is entirely male–hard working, always hustling, white apron- and white paper hat-wearing young white males.  The decor is sparse and simple–real wood paneling, tables lined up one after another, a few aging newspaper articles about the joint on the wall, etc.

Between the decor and the waitstaff, when you walk in the front door at Parker’s it’s easy to think you have entered a time warp back to the 1950s.   A basic menu and stark–even by BBQ joint standards–presentation of the food does nothing to make you think you’ve reentered the 21st century.  But why bother to live in 2011 when the barbecue was so good a half century ago?  Parker’s delivers on what it silently promises–good, straightforward Eastern-style barbecue and sides.

In my opinion, Parker’s whole hog, wood-cooked barbecue is not as jaw droppingly succulent as places like Grady’s and the Skylight Inn.  Parker’s pork is quintessential Eastern-style ‘cue: chopped fine, tender, lightly sauced and leaning toward the dry side due to the large amount of leaner meat from the hams.  It includes flecks of skin, though Parker’s is “cleaner” than places like those mentioned above.  I personally think Parker’s is a bit too dry and clean, and machine-chopped too finely, but it’s good ‘cue and seems pointless to criticize a place like Parker’s that delivers exactly the type of high quality barbecue it sets out to deliver.  (Well, except that they dropped cooking over wood pits in recent years, which is a major affront to history and tradition, and deserves criticism in my fundamentalist BBQ holy book.) To counter the dryness, I added quite a bit of the straight-ahead simple vinegar/hot pepper sauce (picture Texas Pete cut with a little more vinegar and your right on).  Another strategy is to mix the pork with the terrific, slightly mustardy but sweet yellow slaw.  The slaw matches the pork perfectly.  You’ll also be pleased by the plump, sweet hush puppies and dense, classic cornsticks.

If you want to upgrade from the “barbecue plate” of pork, puppies/cornsticks and slaw to the “barbecue dinner”, you’ll get to add a few selections  from among a small group of traditional Eastern-style sides: barbecue boiled potatoes, string beans, Brunswick stew and french fries.  If you order a combination dinner, you can sample Parker’s highly regarded fried chicken.  Or for a couple of bucks more you can order “family style” and get all you can eat ‘cue and sides, plus a couple of pieces of chicken.  Barbecue chicken, fried shrimp, chicken livers and a few other dishes plus desserts round out the menu.

Long live (The Original).  And maybe someday they’ll revive the wood pits?  A man can dream…

BBQ Jew’s View: Hill’s Lexington Barbecue

4005 Patterson Avenue, Winston-Salem, NC
336.767.2184 or 336.767.3502 (pick your poison)
No website
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.”

Barbecue Lexington-Style
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.

Elegant Barbecue
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

BBQ Jew’s View: Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place

 3883 South Main Street, Farmville, NC
252.753.5128
No website
Hours: Wed, Fri & Sat 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A
Porky Says: “Whole hog on the Cobb.” 

A Rich Tradition

The pit at Cobb & Son's by Conor "Swinefactor" Keeney

Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place in Farmville is listed on the prestigious NC BBQ Society Trail map but it is well off the beaten path for most barbetourists. Despite offering barbecue that rivals or surpasses that of its geographic peers, Cobb & Son’s remains a quiet respite from the barbecue crowds that descend on places like the famous B’s Barbecue in nearby Greenville.

Cobb & Son’s history as a restaurant is rich with themes that echo the history of barbecue in North Carolina. In particular, barbecue’s history is closely tied to the state’s tobacco heritage; traditionally pig pickin’s coincided with the tobacco harvest, for instance.  According to Jim Early’s The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, Cobb & Son’s founder Jack Cobb, an African-American, worked for a Farmville tobacco company in the 1940s and had a side business of cooking and selling barbecue to his black co-workers.   Before long, “word spread around the community about Jack’s good ‘cue and white citizens wanted to buy Jack’s barbecue but would not come to Jack’s place to get it. Ever the entrepreneur Jack took his ‘cue to a white friend’s home and this man sold Jack’s barbecue for him.”  Cobb & Son’s continued working to build an integrated customer base throughout decades of difficult race relations and at times encountering opposition from blacks and whites alike. 

Any business from the 1940s that still exists is impressive, and one that has had to overcome hurdles like racism is even more so.  The secret to Cobb & Son’s success all these years? My guess is because they are just plain good at what they do, and the barbecue is delicious regardless of one’s race, politics or preferred brand of cigarettes.  

 
 

 

The grand dining room at Chez Cobb

 

Jack Cobb’s son Rudy, now in his 70s, runs the restaurant today, as he has since his dad passed away in 1989 (Rudy has worked at the restaurant almost his whole life).   When arriving at Cobb & Son on the edge of downtown Farmville, one gets the sense that little has changed at the place since its founding.  It is a classic barbecue joint if ever there was one.  And, luckily, that classic feeling extends to the simple, delicious food Cobb & Son’s offers up the three days a week it is open for business.  

Cobb & Son’s occupies a fairly large building but there is no seating inside.  The “dining room” at Cobb & Son’s is what can only be described as a mosquito-friendly screened porch, Continue reading

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: Smokey Joe’s Barbecue

 1101 South Main Street, Lexington, NC
336.249.0135
Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Much better than your average Joe.”

 
Hey Joe, Where You Goin’ with that Bun in Your Hand?
Barbecue pilgrims who come to pay their respects in the Land of Abundant Pork (aka Lexington) tend to favor the BBQ Center and Lexington #1.   However, locals know that the nearly 40-year old Smokey Joe’s is the real deal too.  There is no doubt that Joe’s serves up ‘cue that is worth a visit whether you are a Lexingtonian or a barbetourist. 
Smokey Joe’s inhabits a tidy, mid-sized brick building with green corrugated metal accents that sits six long, dull blocks from quaint uptown Lexington.  Although modest, Joe’s nice building stands out on a commercial corridor that includes a bevy of light industrial uses, check cashing joints, discount stores, pawn shops and the like.  This type of drab location, of course, is common for barbecue joints.  (In fact, I am usually wary of barbecue joints located in the heart of downtowns–where downtown is there space for a joint’s pit, for one thing?)  But who cares about location and building design when there is barbecue on the menu.  If the meat is good, even windows are a needless luxury.
In a town full of good barbecue, Smokey Joe’s manages to stand out.  Smokey Joe’s may not be the best BBQ joint in town–of the places I’ve sampled, I’m still partial to Lexington #1, Smiley’s and Cook’s–but it’s darn good and worth a visit.  Smokey Joe’s pork is tender and has a good deal of smoky overtones (or undertones, if you prefer), as you’d expect from a place with smoke in the name.  If I was being picky I’d say the meat was ever so slightly on the dry side, but it’s sauced well and extra dip is readily available. 
Joe’s dip is a classic Lexington dip, which is to say it is a bit ketchupy for my taste but that’s the style they like in Lexington and it is is a good exemplar of the style.  As an aside, it may be Lexington #1′s distinctive, non-ketchupy dip that causes me to rate it at the top of the pack of Lexington joints.  Joe’s mayo-free barbecue slaw also sticks closely to the Lexington tradition, with fine chopped cabbage coated in dip.  The slaw is both crisp and squeaky (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever had barbecue slaw) as you chew it.  The hush puppies were a bit on the dry side, not fried as perfectly as they should be but passable.   I ended my meal on a down note, as I sampled some of my dining companion’s side vegetables and found them lacking in flavor and freshness (instant mashed potatoes, it seemed, for instance).
Back to the positive: Smokey Joe’s still cooks its pork in traditional, wood-burning pits, which is increasingly rare even in Lexington.  As I’ve said before, this is a critical point for me, though I know others are not as fundamentalist about the issue (these others are, of course, uniformly ill-informed and not to be trusted). 
Smokey Joe’s is an official sponsor of the Barbecue Festival held in uptown each October, and its walls are decorated with plenty of vintage festival posters, a nice touch. Similarly, a couple of decorative “pigs on parade” from past festivals greet visitors at the joint’s entrance.  From the decor to the meal itself, Smokey Joe’s is a classic Carolina ‘cue joint and worth your patronage.

BBQ Jew’s View: The Skylight Inn

4618 Lee Street, Ayden, NC
252.746.4113
No Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A+
Porky Says: “Capitol Q indeed, Jones’ place lives up to the hype.”
 
Do A Few Things But Do Them Well

The Ayden skyline. Photo by Conor "Swine Factor" Keeney.

The Skylight Inn is not the type of restaurant that tries to be everything to everyone.  Far from it. Instead, the folks at The Skylight  do just a few things but do them as well as any barbecue joint anywhere.  The Skylight Inn is still referred to as “Jones’ Barbecue” by many old timers in deference to Pete Jones, who started the place, and the Joneses who have followed in his footsteps.  The menu that Pete Jones established when he opened The Skylight in 1947 remains nearly unchanged today.  When you set foot in The Skylight Inn your only choices are whether you want a BBQ sandwich or a tray (small, medium or large) and where to sit.  The options are limited to barbecue, slaw and skillet cornbread from a 180 year old recipe!  You might think it’d be disappointing to not have some variety on the menu, but I think I could make do with Jones’ pork-slaw-cornbread holy trinity most every day and die happy (and probably several years before I otherwise would).

“If I told you the recipe for the slaw, I’d have to shoot you in the head.”
When you visit barbecue joints and talk to the owners and cooks, you get used to the line, “I could tell you the recipe for [insert menu item], but I’d have to kill you.”  This is practically a motto for barbecue folks.  That said, The Skylight Inn was the first place I heard that line delivered by someone who was prepared to follow through on the statement.  I asked Samuel Jones how they cook their hogs and he told me he’d be happy to share, as it’s simply hard work and sticking to tradition rather than any secret.  On the other hand, he said, “If I told you the recipe for the slaw, I’d have to shoot you in the head.” Since Samuel had a handgun in his back Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Smiley’s Lexington BBQ

917 Winston Road, Lexington, NC
336.248.4528
Website
Hours: Tue-Sun, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Turn that frown upside down.”

A Young Joint Cooking Old Time
Although Smiley’s has been around for only 8 years, they are proud to cook their ‘cue in the traditional way on a wood pit, an art that is starting to disappear even in tradition-bound Lexington.  On their website, the folks at Smiley’s say,  “Pit Cooked BBQ is different from the electric or gas cooked BBQ processes that are commonly seen in today’s marketplace.  With Pit Cooked BBQ, you can taste the rich flavor of the open flame in every bite.” Ain’t that the truth!  Smiley’s serves up a quality product cooked with care.  Their hard work pays off with tender, moist ‘cue that holds up well against many of Lexington’s best (and better known) barbecue joints.

The Menu
Smiley’s is a fairly typical Lexington-style joint, cooking pork shoulders that are available chopped, coarse-chopped or sliced.  The chopped is an excellent, medium-rough consistency that is not as finely chopped as some joints’, a trait characteristic of places like Smiley’s that continue to Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Lexington Barbecue #1

 10 US Hwy 29-70 South (I-85 Business Loop), Lexington, NC
704.249.9814
No Website
Hours: Mon – Sat 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A+
Porky Says: “This Monk serves heaven on earth.”

The Honeymonk
Whichever name you call it by–Lexington Barbecue #1,Lexington #1, Monk’s place, Monk’s, or The Honeymonk–this joint is absolutely one of the best in the state.  I’ve been here a half dozen times or so over a period of several years and the barbecue and sides have been superb every time.  Wayne Monk, his family, and the other employees who work at Lexington #1 run an amazingly efficient restaurant.  They crank out ‘cue and all the fixings in high volume without sacrificing quality one bit.  Whether you show up when the line is out the door, such as during the annual Barbecue Festival, or on a slow day at an off hour, Monk & company will dish you out some of the best ‘cue known to man, woman, or child.

 In lieu of a full review of Lexington #1, I am going to defer to the Michael Stern of Roadfood fame on this one.   See Stern’s recent review of Lexington #1 from his Roadfood.com website.  Stern is one of the nation’s premier food writers and his website and books are well worth reading if you’ve yet to discover them.  All I’ll add to Stern’s recent review of Lexington #1 is that some reason the draft Cheerwine tastes extra good there… especially when served to you by Wayne Monk himself at one of the counter stools.  Add it to your bucket list today.  And then get off your duff and check it off the list tomorrow.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 738 other followers