Durham Becoming a BBQ Mecca?

It’s a bit of hyperbole to refer to Durham as a BBQ mecca, but here it is:  http://durhamnewsservicemainfeed.blogspot.com/2014/04/durham-becoming-bbq-mecca.html?m=1  Yet honestly, when Ed Mitchell’s Que opens (next month, as of last report) Durham will have four True ‘Cue certified wood cooking barbecue joints, which puts the mid-sized city on the BBQ map in a way that was hard to imagine just a few years ago. Durham’s already on the culinary map regionally and nationally, so it’s fitting that the city is starting to show some pride in its barbecue beyond the long-standing but gas-reliant “barbecue” restaurants that long were Durham’s go-tos.

Sure, Durham isn’t quite Lexington, NC, which has easily been the state’s BBQ standard bearer for years, and it’s sure not Austin, TX when it comes to a growing urban BBQ scene, but Durham is a pit-cooked barbecue leader among urban North Carolina communities.  Let’s hope others follow the Bull City’s lead–Raleigh, are you paying attention? Charlotte, are you out there?  Wilmington, do you even care? I could go on…

Porky’s Pulpit: Roasting Raleigh

Every once in a while your’s truly, the Honorable Porky LeSwine, receives an email that restores his faith in ‘cue-manity.  A few days ago I read just such an email.

The message had the subject line, “Raleigh BBQ Scene,” and with a title like that I figured it would be nonsense–Raleigh has no real BBQ to speak of, and what’s a barbecue scene anyway?!   Raleigh is a barbecue desert (one “s”, not to be confused with banana pudding) and I think it’s an embarrassment to have a dearth of BBQ in our state capital.  Well, as it turns out the email’s author agrees with me:

I am a native North Carolinian (a Raleighite) who has been out west for 20+ years and I am here in Raleigh trying to figure out how to move back here to God’s country. I learned to make my own BBQ many years ago because I couldn’t get it any other way. 

Question: Where can I go in Raleigh to get a good plate of authentic (wood smoked, not oven roasted) pork barbecue? Coopers – nope. Carolina BBQ – nope. How many others are using gas or electric ovens and no wood? The Pit cooks with wood, but I just don’t go along with having to make a reservation for a table to get a good plate of true North Carolina barbecue in North Carolina’s capital city. Its just not right. [Editor's note: reservations or not, I've been underwhelmed by The Pit's barbecue but kudos to them for cooking it over wood and it's hard to argue with their success as a business.]

Sorry for my ranting. I just can’t believe the BBQ heresy that is going on here. God bless Coopers for being around for 75 years, but they don’t sell BBQ. They sell roasted pork. Are there others that feel like I do?

Heck yeah, there are others that feel like you do.  Not many of us, perhaps, but we exist and we applaud you for speaking truth to propane-power.  Unfortunately, Raleigh is the tip of the iceberg. The lack of real barbecue plagues the state and I can imagine a future that has no true North Carolina barbecue left.

While we wait for the private sector to come to its senses, can’t the state legislators in Raleigh turn their attention to this problem through some sort of hickory smoke stimulus program?  With or without leadership from the legislators wasting space on Jones Street, some of us traditionalists are as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

If you care about traditional barbecue, I encourage you to like the page at www.facebook.com/truecue, where a Campaign for Real Barbecue will soon begin.  Until then, keep your faith in the holy smoke.

Mallard Creek Barbecue

Neat TV news story profiling the serious work involved in preparing for Thursday’s annual Mallard Creek Barbecue in Charlotte.  It’s worth watching for the burn barrels alone, check it out embedded below or by following this link.  For one thing, I didn’t realize they actually cook over wood coals–impressive for an event serving 14,000 pounds of pork!

Honey Bee’s BBQ

In the old days (you know, a little more than 5 years ago) one could reasonably fantasize about driving down country roads to discover BBQ gems that were known only to the locals.  The modern day equivalent in this age of social media is to stumble onto a hidden gem on Twitter, Google, or some idiot’s (ahem) blog.

And sure enough, this idiot has stumbled into a possible gem.  Honey Bee’s BBQ is a mobile operation based in Durham but selling throughout the Triad and Triangle and towing a nice, wood-fired rig.  I’ve yet to taste Honey Bee’s barbecue but because they cook over wood, I can at least vouch that they do actually sell barbecue and not gassy roast pork.  Follow them on Twitter, if you are so inclined, and leave a comment if you find them in “real reality” (opposite of virtual) before I do.

A Dead End on the Barbecue Trail

On Friday I dragged my wife and kids to Mocksville, on the way to a mountain vacation weekend, in order to dine at Deano’s Barbecue.  You see, Deano’s had been one of the few remaining stops on the NC Barbecue Society’s Historic Barbecue Trail that I’d yet to visit.  The Trail features barbecue joints that, among other criteria, “cook their meat product on pits fueled by wood or charcoal, make their own sauce, [and have a pit that has]… operated continuously for fifteen or more years.”

Until recently Deano’s met the Trail’s criteria for inclusion, and without a doubt earned its place on the map.  But a short visit behind the scenes revealed an unexpected change: I discovered–and confirmed with the owner himself–that Deano’s recently switched to a gas-fired Southern Pride cooker.  The traditional brick-lined, wood-burning pits were for decoration only.  Deano’s change to gas is, first of all, grounds for immediate removal from the trail (I emailed the NC Barbecue Society already, since I figured a 9-1-1 call would be extreme).  I did have some sympathy for the owner when he told me that some health problems had made maintaining the wood pits difficult.  But a gasser is a gasser whether one is sympathetic or not.  And thus another venerable North Carolina barbecue institution has turned its back on tradition and chosen convenience and cost over tradition and quality.  I hate to say it, but Texas is starting to look more appealing every day…

Whole Hog in Asheville? Buxton Hill says yes

With all due respect to President Obama’s favorite 12 Bones, Asheville is not a barbecue town.  However, Asheville is taking a decidedly down east step toward building its barbeculture.  Word on the Twittersphere is that a new whole hog barbecue restaurant will be opening in Asheville later this summer.

According to its Twitter profile (yes, I spent a lot of time researching this post), Buxton Hill will offer “All wood, Pit Smoked, Pastured Whole Hog Barbeque & Heirloom Southern Fare.”  At first blush this sounds an awful lot like a western North Carolina version of Raleigh’s (and soon Durham’s) down home-upscale restaurant, The Pit. And, yes, that is both a compliment (wood cooking and whole hogs should be encouraged) and an insult.

I’m curious to learn more about Buxton Hill, and given all the good beer flowing on the streets of Asheville, it won’t take much convincing for me to visit whether or not the barbecue is any good.

The Red Bridges of Cleveland County

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge ranks high (very possibly first) on my fairly short list of barbecue places I have never been but am eager to visit.  This recent “love letter” in the Washington Post has confirmed its spot on my list: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/a-love-letter-to-a-nc-barbecue-joint/2012/11/29/8e6eb3e6-301d-11e2-a30e-5ca76eeec857_story.html?wpisrc=emailtoafriend

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.

Fire Pit BBQ Opens in Wake Forest

If a friend had told me about a new BBQ joint in Wake Forest that cooks over wood coals and is run by Keith Allen’s next door neighbor, I’d have replied one of two ways:  “Hmm, that is a weird dream” or “Have you been drinking again?”  But when I read about such a restaurant in the News & Observer recently, I took it more seriously.

Evidently, there really is a new barbecue joint in Wake Forest that cooks with hickory and oak (gas-free, thank you very much).  And it really is run by a neighbor of legendary pitmaster Keith Allen of Chapel Hill’s Allen & Son, which is one of the best ‘cue spots on the planet.  I’m not sure that photosynthesis works with pitmasters, so I can’t figure out if Keith Allen’s special BBQ sunshine will help grow a neighbor into a great pitman, but I’m willing to test that theory.  I’ll be headed to Fire Pit BBQ soon, and I hope you do the same.

Now Closed: Nelson’s Barbecue

Sad news from Lumberton, where I’ve learned that just a few months after opening, Nelson’s Barbecue has shut its doors.  Owner Andy Price apparently overextended himself financially and, despite a beautiful restaurant space and a true passion for traditional wood-cooked barbecue, Nelson’s is no more.  No word yet on what will happen to the property or equipment.  I’ll check with Andy and see if he’d like to share anymore on this site.  I was impressed by Andy and his family, and am very sad to see their dream fade away so quickly.  Here’s to hoping an angel investor will swoop in and help Andy out.

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