BBQ Jew’s View: Short Sugar’s Pit Bar-B-Q

1328 S. Scales St., Reidsville, NC
 Short Sugar’s Website 
(complete with lots of photos, a copy of the menu, etc.)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C+
Porky Says: “I wish I’d known ye in your prime, Sug.” 

Sticky Fingers
Like The Rolling Stones, Short Sugar’s is a true legend. And like The Stones, I am quite certain Short Sugar’s put on a much better live show back in the day. Now, like Mick Jagger’s lips and Keith Richard’s everything, Short Sugar’s is less of a sight to behold than in decades past and may be coasting on reputation.

Short Sugar’s is among the most storied of NC barbecue joints, from the tragic history that resulted in its great name to the fact that it still to this day offers curb service and a 1950s style atmosphere (yes, there even appear to be some vintage ’50s grease stains). There is much to like about Short Sugar’s. The bucolic setting in the heart of what was until recently serious tobacco country, as Reidsville’s history is closely tied to that of the American Tobacco Company. The impressive indoor wood pit, where the pork shoulders and hams are finished. The classic diner counter. The joint’s 60 years of history. Its reputation. The fact that the pork is hand-chopped to order.  The unique sauce that many rave about. And on and on. But, in my humble opinion, the ‘que has a hard time matching the mystique.  It seems like a classic case of the whole hog being less than the sum of the parts.

Beggar’s Banquet
I found the barbecue a bit bland, not exhibiting much depth of flavor. This makes sense based on what I ‘ve heard about their cooking method, which as I understand it now only uses the wood pit to finish the barbecue for the last few hours.  It’s a shame that a joint with 60 years of tradition–and probably a handful of customers who have eaten there for all of these years–would switch to an electric cooker.  Besides the so-so pork, the hush puppies tasted like they were of the frozen variety and were a bit overfried and dry. On a positive note, the white slaw was good—pleasantly balanced between a Lexington style vinegar slaw and the creamy Eastern version.

Paint It Black
And then there’s the sauce. It’s definitely every bit as unique as everyone says it is. I just plain didn’t like it. It is quite sweet and looks like soy sauce—jet black and thin. Odd stuff and, frankly, I found it rather jarring, offensive even. But obviously many people love it, and if you like the sauce then your enjoyment at Short Sugar’s will likely be much greater than mine.

Even those who like the sauce might be shocked by experiencing the minced barbecue, which comes absolutely drenched in the stuff. A Short Sugar’s minced sandwich is to a regular barbecue sandwich what a sloppy joe is to a hamburger. (Unless you are a middle school cafeteria foodie, that is not a compliment). The regular chopped barbecue was much better, but the pork itself was not good enough for me to overcome my distaste for the sauce.  I did not get a chance to try the sliced barbecue, but sliced is available for either the barbecue plate or sandwich; the tray comes only in chopped or minced.

Exile on Scales St.
Maybe I’ll try Short Sugar’s again and live to regret this review, but for now… I can’t get no satisfaction. (Sorry, that joke was twice as lame as it was inevitable).  Joking aside, I would love to hear comments from others who’ve been to Short Sugar’s.  Do you agree with me?  Does my bias against the sauce make me unfit to judge the barbecue?  Did I catch Short Sugar’s on an off day? Does anyone in his/her right mind enjoy the minced ‘que?  Pray tell…

9 Responses

  1. If I’m not mistaken, minced BBQ is something you start to see when you get into the Appalachian region, sort of a 3rd school of NC BBQ. However, I’ve always found it inferior to the Big 2 styles, and unlike politics I’m not sure we need a 3rd party. Anyways, since Reidsville is just east of towns like Madison and Danbury which have an Appalachian identity, this might be where this mincing comes in…

  2. Eric, oddly enough my BBQ library yields little info on the prevalance and native habitat of minced ‘que, but I think your assessment is accurate in terms of minced being something you see mostly in the western part of the state. Do you suppose it is the thin mountain air that causes this poor judgment?

  3. I’m going to back off that statement a bit. Actually, the incarnation of BBQ by our strange mountain brothers and sisters of the BBQ pit I was thinking of was that even weirder adaptation, the cubed BBQ. Still, mincing speaks to me of an inferior cook than pulled pork. Any fool can hack at a slab of cooked hog with a knife, put it takes a talented pit master to get the tender pork that simply pulls apart with a couple forks. It’s a statement of confidence in one’s craft to serve the pulled pork.

  4. Porky,

    You’re absolutely correct that Short Sugars isn’t what it used to be. I love the sauce, but it was so much better before they switched to electric and went with most, if not all, hams. This results to me in a barbecue that is dry and with little flavor. It was much better back in the day when the barbecue was made with shoulders cooked over wood – this yielded in a moister barbecue with better flavor that needed just a dash of the sauce. Now, the sauce substitutes too much for the moisture of the meat.

    Short Sugars has taken other “short” cuts as well. For example, I can remember when the burgers were cooked to order. Now they cook a batch of them at the same time and reheat as needed for customers that order them.

    One other thing. All barbecue joints seem to have some inconsistency, but Short Sugars seems less consistent than most others. You may have hit them on a bad day. Of course, you may have hit them on a good day (yikes!).

  5. Well, the only bad review of the joint i grew up eating at. I am at the moment active duty in the Navy, and havent been in years, but i really think it was the sauce for you, if you dont like it……. well that would make alot of difference. I personally love it, i lived between riedsville and high point in my 26 yrs of existance, and id allways make the trip to SS because the lexington sauce to me doesnt compare. Kinda curious, which SS u went to, the small one in the “downtown” area is never as good as the drive in.

  6. J, I visited the drive-in/original location not the one downtown. Iit may well have been the sauce that I couldn’t appreciate, but I thought the pork was on the bland side (I always taste the unsauced meat first). I’ll give it another shot one of these days and see if my opinion changes.

    On another subject, thank you for your military service. I am guessing there ain’t much in the way of good ‘cue coming from the Navy chefs…

  7. […] the sunset, we learn that Short Sugar’s has closed their downtown Reidsville location.  Short Sugar’s has been in business since way back in 1949 on the outskirts of Reidsville and had operated a […]

  8. I went to Short Sugars about 5 years ago with my ex husband, we had just gotten married and went to visit his family in NC. I’m from CA.
    I’ve always been used to my grandfathers BBQ, he’s. From Iowa. And used to the California style BBQ which I can no longer tolerate. There is no compatible place in Ca to the BBQ I had at short sugars. It was amazing good. I loved the pulled pork, and the BBQ sauce, and the hush puppies were great! If you want to know what frozen hush puppies taste like try the ones you find in Ca. Nothing is fresh out here. All pre made pre cooked pre packaged.

  9. I’ve ate many types of BBQ threw the years (im 30) from Missouri, Texas, all the way up to New York . But short sugars has to be the best! They use shoulders not hams or butts, which I think offers the most flavor. Yes it has changed threw the years but I feel still offers an amazing flavor. The sauce is unique to them and extremely flavorful. There is no other pulled pork or sauce like there’s so if you come to reidsville you must try!

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