Postgame video highlights, so to speak, from the 29 annual Barbecue Festival in Lexington. Visit the Lexington Dispatch for the video, and links to other Festival videos. Lots of (in?)action shots of people eating barbecue sandwiches…
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.
According to the The Dispatch, a recent article in U.S. News & World Report ranked Lexington, NC the fourth best barbecue city in the country. It’s hard to argue with the cities listed ahead of Lexington–Memphis TN, Lockhart TX and Kansas City MO. Although if good, traditionally prepared barbecue per capita had been the main criteria I’d argue that Lexington–with its 20-some BBQ joints in the “metro area” and just 20,000 people–would be neck and neck with Lockhart.
Here are my picks for top barbecue cities (and towns) in North Carolina. If you like, you can consider this the North Carolina barbecue Final Four.
Lexington – As noted in the national rankings, Lexington is the best barbecue town in North Carolina. There are more traditional wood-cooking barbecue joints in little 20,000-person Lexington than any other locality in NC by a wide margin. (Are you listening Raleigh and Charlotte?) Lexington’s annual Barbecue Festival that draws 200,000 or so swine worshippers is further evidence of the town’s barbecue supremacy.
Ayden – Home to the Skylight Inn (aka Pete Jone’s place), which serves some of the best barbecue in the state and is perhaps the quintessential Eastern NC barbecue joint, Ayden is a little town with a lot of flabor. From the food at the Skylight Inn to the rural setting, it doesn’t get much more authentic than Ayden . Better yet, tiny Ayden is also home to the cafeteria-style Bum’s, which is a classic southern restaurant featuring barbecue.
Salisbury – It plays second fiddle to Lexington, but Salisbury deserves its own acclaim, as it is (ironically) the likely birthplace of “Lexington-style” barbecue. Today Salisburyians (?) continue to cherish their barbecue and the town has a couple of solid, traditional wood burners–Richard’s and Wink’s–to back up their proud barbecue history.
Goldsboro – At one point Goldsboro was arguably the Mecca of Eastern NC barbecue, between the still-famous Wilber’s and the now shell-of-its-former-self Scott’s. Although it’s barbecue is no longer worth tasting, Scott’s still makes some of the best barbecue sauce available ($1.99 or so at your neighborhood Food Lion, or $1 more at Harris Teeter if that’s how you roll). The Goldsboro area’s proud tobacco and hog farming history add to its permanent status as a true barbecue town.
I’m a month behind on this news but since it is good news I’ll share it now. According to the Lexington Dispatch, Backcountry Barbeque reopened in mid-September after an August 28th fire. As of September 14th the restaurant was still serving a limited menu as it awaited some final inspections, but they should be back to full capacity by now.
I’ve not yet made it to Backcountry Barbeque but hope to someday soon. The restaurant is owned by Doug Cook, who previously founded the excellent Cook’s Barbecue south of town; Doug’s son Brandon Cook is the pitmaster there and learned to cook from his old man. Notably, Doug spent some time in Texas, where he learned to cook brisket, an art his son also mastered along with traditional Lexington-style pork shoulder ‘cue.
Saturday, October 22nd is the date of The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, which is far and away North Carolina’s largest barbecue-related event. Assuming the weather is nice, well over 100,000 people will descend on little Uptown Lexington for the day, making it perhaps the worst day of the year to visit unless you love crowds. While October 22nd is the big day, there are Festival-related events aleady underway:
-This past Saturday was the 20th annual Tour de Pig bicycle race, which was held the same day as Ridin’ Hawg Wild, an event for folks who prefer their bikes motorized.
-Archdale resident Tabatha Allred won the 2011 Childress Idol competition on October 2nd and will sing at the Festival.
-This coming Saturday the 15th will feature the Hawg Shoot high school air rifle competition (for those who don’t mind guns at school), the Hawg Run 5K, and the Barbecue Festival Golf Tournament.
-On the weekend of the Festival, competitive folks can participate in the 1st annual Barbecue Festival Cornhole “Throw Down” or the Barbecue Festival Softball Tournament. Personally, I think horseshoes would be a more appropriate pairing with barbecue but to each his own.
-Oh, and the Pepsi “Pig Tales” Creative Writing Contest is still accepting entries for all age categories through October 14th so if you have a burning desire to write fiction that includes mentions of barbecue and Pepsi then this is your chance to make your work pay off… category winners take home 20 cases of Pepsi products.
Finally, don’t forget to book at ticket on Amtrak for its once-a-year stop in Lexington. My family took the train to the event last year and were surround by fellow barbecue lovers, some from as far away as Long Island, NY.
There is nothing unusual about an accomplished woodworker and set designer being involved in building the set for a theatrical production of Charlotte’s Web. But when the person in question has a day job at Lexington Barbecue #1, I get right curious right quick.
According to an article in the Lexington Dispatch, Keith “Bub” Wright spends his working hours behind the counter at one of the most famous barbecue restaurants in the state, but has many hobbies from baking to furniture making. Wright, who is married to the daughter of the legendary Wayne Monk, owner of Lexington #1, designed the set for the Lexington Charity League’s spring production of E.B. White’s children’s classic. Yes, that would be that Charlotte’s Web, the story about a friendly spider, a little girl and a lovable pig named Wilbur–no relation to Wilber Shirley. (Spider pig, spider pig, does whatever a spider pig does.)
In E.B. White’s story, of course, Wilbur the pig is saved from slaughter. Thus, I am concerned by a long-time barbecue man being given free reign to design a set for a play featuring said pig. Oh, the irony. No word in the Dispatch article as to whether the set included a built-in barbeuce pit or bottles of Lexington-style dip, but this photo from the Interweb of a pig named Wilbur may answer that question.
Holy Smoke author and wood-cooked barbecue evangelist John Shelton “Reverend Smokey” Reed was kind enough to send along the below picture. Being a Billy Graham-level traditional barbecue preacher, John titles the picture, “Not really smoke free, praise be.”
In case you need further explanation, the Bar-B-Q Center is one of the state’s oldest (and best) barbecue joints and still cooks the pork in traditional wood pits, despite the state imposed ban on smoking in the dining room. Praise be indeed.
On Saturday I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of judging my first officially sanctioned barbecue competition. I was one of an elite few hand-selected judges (okay, actually one of 54 judges and I had practically begged for the opportunity) at the first annual BBQ Capital Cook-off in Lexington, NC.
The event drew more than 50 teams from across the southeast, including a half dozen or so from the Lexington area. Under the rules of Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned events, the teams competed across four categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt/shoulder and beef brisket. Prizes were awarded for the grand champion, the best cumulative score across the four categories, as well as category-specific winners. If you actually care about the details of the event, including who won, read this article.
I thoroughly enjoyed the judging experience, especially meeting a bunch of friendly and dedicated barbecue enthusiasts. It’s definitely a different world out there on the “barbecue trail,” as members of the BBQ competition tribe call it, and I enjoyed being let into the world for a few hours. I was among the younger judges, but it was a more diverse group than I expected: quite a few women, not all of whom were dragged there by their spouses, as well as people from as far away as Alabama and even, gulp, San Francisco. There was a real sense of camraderie among the judges and other volunteers; one big, smoked meat loving family. From what little I observed of the teams competing, the camraderie is equally strong among cooking teams.
Despite the good time I had, I am not yet a competitive BBQ convert. But it’s not because of the quality of the food. The 24 samples I tried (six in each of the four categories, per KCBS judging protocol) were as a whole excellent–most were better than good restaurant barbecue and some were exceptionally good, with just a few subpar. Plus, I wholeheartedly support the KCBS focus on wood-cooked barbecue, as gas and electric cookers are banned. Yet I don’t quite buy into the concept of turning barbecue–which to me is all about enjoying oneself among friends in a laidback atmosphere–into a competition governed by a myriad of bureaucratic rules (e.g., a strict policy of disqualification for entries featuring garnishes other than green leaf lettuce, parsley or cilantro). It’s not that I begrudge anyone the thrill of competing, but I’m not sure it is the scene for me. On the other hand, I sure do like getting the opportunity to sample a bunch of delicious barbecue so I’m not ruling out giving judging another shot…