It’s not easy to accurately judge a book by its cover, but your friends at BBQ Jew are always willing to try. Our goal is to prevent you from wasting too much of your valuable time–or too many points on your cholesterol level–eating mediocre barbecue. You deserve better. Below are our tips (commandments?) for separating the wheat from the chaff meat from the gristle when it comes to finding good barbecue joints.
WOOD IS GOOD
– If there is a wood pile outside it’s worth going inside. The wood pile may be tucked away in the back, it may be right up front, but it must be somewhere if they cook with it. Once you find the pile, check for signs that it has been used recently and isn’t just there for decoration (this trickery has been reported, though if the BBQ Jew was king such deception would be a criminal offense).
NEW IS OLD NEWS – Be very suspicious of a barbecue joint if the building it is located in was built less than 20 or so years ago. Sure, there are some good joints that challenge this rule of thumb, but a shiny new building is at best a honkin’ big red flag.
PARKING LOT PARADISE – Glance around the parking lot. Ideally, there will be a diverse mix of beat up pickup trucks, vans with commercial tags, compact cars, lawyer mobiles (Mercedes, BMW, etc.) and more. If all those different people think the ‘cue is worth eating, you probably will too.CURB APPEAL – Speaking of parking lots, if the barbecue joint has curb service (I don’t mean a drive-thru, but genuine, old fashioned honk-your-horn-and-a-server-will-magically-appear curb service) then give it a shot. Curb service is pretty rare these days and most of the joints that still offer it have proud barbecue histories that are worthy of your patronage.
SEEK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED – For the most part, you should avoid barbecue joints that are within a mile of an Interstate (business routes excluded), as most of the good joints pre-date I-40/I-85/I-95/et al.’s appearance. Look favorably upon joints near roads like US Highways 70 or 64 or other roads that date back to the golden age of ‘cue.
DON’T FOLLOW THE SIGNS – The owners of top notch barbecue joints usually don’t bother to promote their businesses with billboards. These pit masters seem to work under the assumption—right or wrong—that barbecue wise men will find their holy ‘cue by following the north star (or GPS). As always, there are some notable exceptions to this rule.
IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE THAT COUNTS – If the joint looks like a bit of a dive on the outside but clean on the inside, this is almost definitely a good sign. If it looks like a hole both outside and in, this may be a bad sign, but may not be. Unlike the barbecue joints in some southern states, NC’s joints are typically not dirty shacks. Most NC joints are typical family restaurants and are quite tidy inside. You might not want to eat a meal off the floor, but you should be comfortable bringing your whole family.
DINING UNDER THE INFLUENCE – If there is beer available at the barbecue joint, proceed very carefully. If there are imports or microbrews available, let alone wine or liquor, leave immediately. Alcohol and barbecue don’t mix unless you are at a pig pickin’. I know, this is sort of a strange rule of thumb to comprehend if you ain’t from ’round here, but just trust us on this one.
OBEY THE SABBATH – If the barbecue joint is open on Sundays, be wary. There are some notable exceptions, especially among some of the larger establishments that draw a large post-church following and/or cater to out of towners, but most reputable joints take the Lord’s Day off.
NO NIGHT OWLS – If the barbecue joint is open past 9:00 p.m., be on the alert. It takes a long time to make real barbecue, and most good joints close relatively early so the proprietors can get up the next day and start the process all over again.
LESS IS MORE – Be wary of barbecue joints that serve too large a menu, as many of these places give the ‘cue short shrift. Be especially wary of any joint that offers multiple types of barbecue. It’s hard enough work just making real NC barbecue, and joints that also serve brisket, pork and beef ribs, etc. are unlikely to be worth the visit. Note that joints that focus on pork plus barbecue chicken or turkey are excluded from this warning.
Although there are exceptions to all of the above rules, abiding faithfully by them will steer you toward good barbecue and away from the other stuff more times than not. Drop us a line at BBQJew@gmail.com or leave a comment if you have other tips we should consider when seeking good ‘cue.