Judgment Day is Near

If you happen to be in Lexington, NC this Saturday please drop by and say hello to your’s truly.  Just don’t interrupt me while I’m hard at work.  I’ll be among the dozens of lucky folks volunteering at the first annual Lexington BBQ Capital Cook-off, a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned cooking competition.  It will be my first experience judging barbecue as a KCBS Certified Barbeque Judge and I am feeling the pressure already–am I worthy of grading others on their chicken, pork ribs, pork butt, and brisket?   

The cook-off should be a fun event to watch, but a word of warning: according to the Greensboro News & Record, “Because of health department regulations, those who attend the two-day event will not be able to taste the barbecue prepared by the teams during the competition.”  What a drag, and what a waste of pork.  The good news is that three of the competitors will be selling BBQ to hungry onlookers.  Read more about the event in the Greensboro News & Record or at the event website.  See you in Lexington!

BBQ Jew’s View: Speedy’s Barbecue

1317 Winston Road, Lexington, NC
336.248.2410 or 336.248.2092
Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B+
Porky Says: “Better Than Average B.B.Q. Everywhere.” 

(Or at least the best BBQ for a block or two.)

Barbecue Braggadocio
Despite the tendency of customers to have strong opinions about who makes the best barbecue, most barbecue restaurants in North Carolina are quite modest and humble.  When I visited Speedy’s Barbecue, the sign outside the restaurant read, “Best B.B.Q. Anywhere.”  As I set foot inside Speedy’s I wondered to myself whether the hyperbole on the sign (not to mention the needless periods in “BBQ”) was a good omen or a bad one. 

It turns out that Speedy’s is neither the best BBQ anywhere nor completely unworthy of such a claim.  I found their barbecue to be far better than average, but not quite as good as some other joints in the barbecue Mecca of Lexington. The fact that one of the superior joints, Smiley’s, is located within a few blocks of Speedy’s is irrelevant but amusing. 

A Pig on Wheels
The other notable part of Speedy’s sign is the demented looking pig in roller skates and a t-shirt (and pantless as far as I can surmise).  This is easily one of the better barbecue logos, as it mixes humor with a nod to Speedy’s motto: “Quality, Quantity and Quick Service.”  (The skates are also a nod to the joint’s long tradition of providing curb service.) Speedy’s prides itself on those three Qs and delivered all of them on my visit. 

Others must agree that Speedy’s provides those three Qs, as the place draws a large crowd. Even at the early hour of 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday when I visited,the joint was jumping… to the extent that a bunch of mostly olders folks eating chopped pork can be called jumping.

Quality
The barbecue at Speedy’s is good.  Not calm down and take a cold shower good but good nonetheless.  The tender and almost too-moist ‘cue is served with dip provided in a cup on the side, as is common but not universal for Lexington-style joints. I found Speedy’s dip a little ketchupy for my palate, which tilts toward straight vinegar and pepper flakes, but the dip typifies the style in this part of the state so it’s not a fair critique. 

Quality, Quantity and Quick Service indeed.

Accompanying the pork were tasty, dense/firm puppies and classic Lexington-style BBQ slaw (cabbage sauced with modified dip and completely mayo-free).  I enjoyed my meal and found Speedy’s lived up to its three Qs, if not it’s claim to serve the best BBQ anywhere.  One major caveat: I have it on good authority that their pork is not cooked in a wood-burning pit. It’s pretty good nonetheless, but something short of traditional barbecue.

Unhinged Ramblings from a Real New Yorker, Part II

Below is a message I recently received from New Yorker Aaron Weiss, wanna be BBQ expert and all around good sport.

————

Hello Mr. LeSwine,

You may remember me from my Durham-area trip report from last spring. In fact, you posted it (with editorial comment!) on your web site. [Editor's note: indeed I do remember you, with editorial comment.] I owe you a follow up, but I am afraid it may it ruffle your pig feathers. (Flying pigs have feathers, little known fact.)

This past January we drove home up north after a winter holiday in Florida [Editor's note: typical for a New Yorker!]. On the way toward an overnight stop in Winston-Salem [Editor's note: atypical for a New Yorker], I realized that we would be driving through Lexington. I know from reading your site and other ‘cue blogs that Lexington is considered a holy ground, but had not had a chance to visit before. Sadly, I do not yet own a smart phone, and I wanted to do the smart thing by referring to BBQ Jew before wandering into Lexington naked and clueless. So I stopped at a McDonald’s to take a ride on their free wifi, grabbed my netbook
from the trunk, and loaded up bbqjew.com [Editor's note: and ordered a delicious McRib sandwich?].

We pulled into Lexington and stopped at, of course, Lexington #1. We ordered two “large” pork platters, one in the standard chop style and one in a “coarse” chop. Now, before I speak the words of heresy, let me be clear that we enjoyed our meals. I mean, come on — NC barbecue pork!  But…I have a few buts.

Portions were a little skimpy for the price. Maybe I am just the “pig” here, but a little more pork for the money would have seemed more fair. Likewise, we felt a little shorted on the vinegar sauce [Editor's note: next time just ask for more, this is North Carolina, we're friendly like that]. The Lexington-style cole slaw wasn’t quite to my taste, especially compared to Allen & Son, although my partner liked it more.

In sum, we enjoyed our meal but didn’t walk away feeling like we were on barbecue cloud nine, like we did at Allen & Son (and, before it went under, Barbecue Joint). I realize that this reaction is not quite in line with the orthodoxy, and so if I am now cast out of the tribe, I will understand and return to eating Buffalo wings. [Editor's note: If you were Catholic, I'd listen to you repent for your sins, but as a fellow member of the tribe it'd be more appropriate for me to try and make you feel guilty... just remember to atone for your failures next time Yom Kippur rolls around.]

Porkless in NY,
Aaron

KCBS BBQ to LEX

Ever wanted to learn the art of barbecue judging?  Well, right here and right now is your chance. And by right here and right now I mean Lexington, NC in February of 2011.  The Kansas City Barbecue Society, the granddaddy of BBQ organizations, brings its respected judging class to Lexington on February 19 leading up to the inaugural BBQ Capital Cook-Off to be held in April.  (A tip of the snout to Another_Q_Lover for bringing the class to my attention.)

Sign up for the judging class, or to enter the cooking competition (wood or charcoal only, hallelujah!), using the forms below.  Oh, and I should warn you that your’s truly plans to be there for the class, and I am excited already.

Cook-off_-_Judge_Application_&_Class

Cook-off_-_Competition_Application_2010

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.

Blues Skies and Barbecue at 27th Annual Festival

The weather was damn near perfect last weekend when the 27th Annual Barbecue Festival took over the streets of Uptown Lexington.  My wife and kids joined me on the Amtrak from Durham to Lexington (the one time a year the train stops there), and we were joined by dozens of other barbecue-happy passengers.  We even met some New Yorkers on the train–they’d come down from Long Island to Lexington just for the Festival, which speaks to how big the event has gotten over the years.  (Of course, maybe they were just trying to drown their Yankees’ baseball sorrows.) 

And when I say the event has gotten big, I mean it.  The Festival apparently drew a record crowd this year, with “more than 200,000″ people in attendance according to the inexact-yet-official estimate.  That estimate might sound like hyberbole but if you were there–and given how large a crowd it was I am guessing you were–then you’ll have no problem believing it.  It was CROWDED, folks.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people in one place and I am not sure I care to again.  But I did enjoy myself.  And luckily I ate a BBQ sandwich before the tents sold out–at 4:00 p.m., two hours before the end of the event. 

For excellent photos of the Festival, visit the website of Lexington’s daily, The Dispatch, by following this link and clicking on the October 24th festival gallery.

27th Annual Barbecue Festival This Weekend

It’s that time of year again, time for hordes of hungry hog lovers to descend on little Lexington and devour thousands of pounds of barbecue.  Yes, the Barbecue Festival takes over the streets of downtown Uptown Lexington on Saturday for the 27th time.  The annual event often draws more than 100,000 people to Lexington, a town of just 20,000.  The Festival culminates a month full of events, including the Tour de Pig bicycle race and the Hawg Shoot air rifle competition.  For a complete schedule of Saturday’s happenings visit the entertainment section of the Festival website

This year the Festival was once again named one of the southeast’s Top 20 Events for October, a distinction that would be more impressive if there were more than 19 events taking place in the region this month.  Just kidding, The Barbecue Festival is a terrific event and worthy of its Top 20 status. I hope to see you somewhere along Main Street on Saturday. I’ll be the guy wearing the grease-stained BBQ Jew t-shirt…

Like A Pig Needs a Bicycle?

“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  So goes the famous feminist quote often incorrectly attributed to Gloria Steinem. While women may not need men, and fish may not need bicycles, pigs need both.  At least that was the sense on the streets of Lexington on Saturday. 

Women and men alike participated in the 19th annual Tour de Pig, a bicycle race that is affiliated with The Barbecue Festival.  See full coverage of the Tour de Pig, including photos and video footage, in this Lexington Dispatch article.  And stay tuned for The Barbecue Festival itself, which takes place on October 23rd.

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

Social Netporking Comes to Lexington

The Barbecue Festival in old timey Lexington has joined the new world of social networking, or netporking as I prefer to call it.  According to Lexington’s daily The Dispatch, “When the 27th Annual Barbecue Festival happens Oct. 23, participants and attendees will be able to ‘tweet’ about it in real time and upload photos and videos on the festival’s new Facebook page.”  Given that everything from the grilled cheese sandwich to watching paint dry has a Facebook page devoted to it, I’m not sure that the Barbecue Festival’s venture into the social networking world is newsworthy, but that’s just my opinion.

You can check out the Barbecue Festival’s brand spanking new Facebook page for yourself if you want to become a “friend” of the large-scale event.  Or if you want to be friends with a smaller, closer knit group of barbecue fools, you can become a friend of The BBQ Jew Crew on Facebook.  Or, since Facebook friends are a dime a dozen, I guess you could choose to friend both the festival and The BBQ Jew Crew.  Like they say, you can pick your Facebook friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your Facebook friend’s nose.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 738 other followers