Advance Warning: The Barbecue Festival is Coming


Consider this post fair warning that The Barbecue Festival, far and away NC’s largest and most porktacular barbecue event, is coming up in October.  Be there.  Or don’t. 

With or without you, there will be plenty of people descending on uptown (yes, they actually call it that) Lexington on Saturday, October 24th.  In the past crowds have been reported to be as high as 100,000+.  That’s a lot of folks to feed, so if you do head to Lexington, I recommend you skip the ‘cue sold on site and instead visit one of the nearby BBQ joints.  The BBQ Center is a short walk from the festival, and several other worthy joints are within a long walk/short drive.  The food they serve is much better than the stuff that gets thrown together for sale at the tents. 

I’ve been to The Barbecue Festival a few times before and it is always a good time.  Honestly, it is pretty much just a super-sized arts and crafts fair, but it is set in the heart of Lexington and there are some BBQ-friendly elements, from the food to the annual pig-themed sand sculpture.  Also, note that The Barbecue Festival is the culmination of Barbecue Month in Lexington, and there are quite a few events leading up to the actual festival.  Among my favorites are the “Tour de Pig” bicycle event (sponsored, appropriately enough, by a cardiology clinic) and the “Hawg Shoot” air rifle competition held at Lexington Senior High School.

BBQ Jew’s View: Hog Heaven Bar-B-Q

2419 Guess Road, Durham, NC
(2nd location at 2780 Durham Road in Roxboro, NC)
Hours: Mon – Sat 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Closed Sundays for Worship & Family.”
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Is this hog heaven? No, it tastes like Iowa.”

Good (tasting) pigs go to heaven when they die, or at least to Grady’s, Lexington #1, and other such divine BBQ joints.  Evil (tasting) pigs go to hell–or at least lousy BBQ joints–when they die.  Despite the angel-baiting name, the pigs served at Hog Heaven aren’t nearly good enough to make it into the pearly gates.  Neither are they among the worst pigs you can eat.  Instead, Hog Heaven is a pork purgatory, where less-than-worthy pigs suffer eternal blandness.

From across the dining room.

From across the dining room.

Interestingly, Hog Heaven has won several reader’s choice awards for serving the Triangle’s best barbecue.  Unfortunately, these awards show only that the masses don’t have much taste when it comes to ‘cue (and, alas, that there ain’t much good pork in the Triangle).  Hog Heaven serves thoroughly mediocre pork that never cooks anywhere near a wood coal, and thus lacks in any authentic flavor.  The tasteless pork is not helped by the thin but sweet and sticky sauce, which is a truly odd concoction.  Since Hog Heaven is supposed to be an Eastern-style joint it is not surprising that the sauce seems ketchup-free, yet it is sweeter than all but the sweetest of the Lexington-style dips.  It is sort of like syrup with a dash of hot pepper in it, and would not seem out of place at the Waffle House.  I  recommend you skip the sauce and simply douse your pork with as much Texas Pete as needed.  To Hog Heaven’s credit, the pork is hand-chopped to order and that gives it a good, not-too-fine consistency, though it is a tad mushy for my taste.

Hog Heaven offers an admirably large menu of side dishes, in the Eastern-style tradition, as well as main course Continue reading

Anti-Semitic Vegeterian Barbecue Sauce?

Hmm, this ain't a classic vinegar sauce.

Hmm, this ain't a classic vinegar sauce.

A few weeks ago we received the inset photo from Joel Haas, a Raleigh-based sculptor and author of the recent novel Adlerhof, which he describes as a story about “NC Jews, race riots, cats, Nazis, naked women, money and asparagus.”  (I’ll leave it to the readers to decide if the world really needs yet another book about Nazis, naked women and asparagus.)

Joel writes: “My first encounter with Asia (southern Taiwan) was in late 2004 when I went to the city of Kaohsiung to represent the USA in the International Steel Sculpture Festival.  Riding in from the airport to the Kaohsiung harbor, I was reminded that the Nazis and Hitler had appropriated one of the great Buddhist symbols for peace and long life, the swastika.  A towering Buddhist temple, built much like a 1950s skyscraper, loomed before me, its 15 foot high swastikas on all four sides lit with spotlights.”  Interesting stuff, Joel, but what’s it got to do with this “barbecue” sauce?    

“Back home in the USA,” Joel explains, “my wife and I took to haunting the Grand Asia Market over in South Hills in Raleigh for authentic Taiwanese foods.  It was here I found what is a startling contradiction in both taste and concept for an American–vegetarian barbecue sauce in a can covered with swastikas.” 
Rest easy, NC barbecue fans, as this sauce is actually intended for Asian hot pot cooking.  However, at only $3 a can, in a pinch this sauce might make a decent substitute for classic vinegar & hot pepper sauces found at barbecue joints across the state.  But between the swastika and, redundantly, the word “vegetarian,” I think I’ll pass. After all, there is some evidence Hitler was a vegeterian (though not a particularly dedicated one, it seems).

BBQ&A: Jim Noble, Chef & Restaurateur

Jim at work on one of his non-barbecue side projects

Jim at work on one of his non-barbecue side projects

[Note: Follow this link-Noble BBQ&A-for an easier to read, .pdf version of the interview.]

Jim Noble is a real-deal Charlotte restaurateur with two establishments in the Queen City and three more in the works. Yet, in his heart of hearts, that heart beats for barbecue (It’s kind of a Russian doll thing). He’s Triad born and Triad bred, and he first experienced…Aw, shucks, let’s just let him tell it:

BBQ Jew: Where are you from and did you grow up on the divine swine?
Jim Noble: I am from High Point and grew up eating BBQ at least once a week or so with my Dad and family. My father was a furniture rep, traveling NC, and he was always on the lookout for great BBQ and local, homespun restaurants all over the state. In fact when we traveled together, he would take me to places he really enjoyed.

BBQJ: What’s your first barbecue memory?
JN: There were so many from an early age, I can’t recall my first, but Saturdays were the best Q days for us. Dad would normally get his mail together and go to the Post Office mid morning. Often I would go with him, then to the grocery store and end up at Kepley’s BBQ (The red pig on the sign signifies the first Q joint Kepley had, called The Red Pig.).

My dad’s favorite was Lexington and Gary’s in China Grove, but Kepley’s was only a mile or so from our home. Kepley’s was always good and I love those guys – we’ve been going in for 45+ years, but our favorite was Monk’s Q at Lexington #1 (in the west that is.) one of my favorite BBQ memories was going hunting with Bob Timberlake, Tom Ix and a crew from Lexington at the Wildcat Hunting club and eating the skins at Jimmy’s BBQ. They were absolutely awesome (overused but great word when used in its original meaning). He once approached me about buying Jimmy’s, but I wasn’t ready at the time.

BBQJ: As a gourmand and a chef, what do you appreciate most about barbecue?
JN: I appreciate the craft of cooking pork over live wood. All of our restaurants cook with wood and I wouldn’t think of cooking it any other way. If I had to cook without wood, I would go into the wine business or organic farming. The legend/lore/artisanal characteristics of cooking with wood is my most heartfelt passion. As one of my chefs and I say, “You can’t sous-vide that.”

Continue reading

Porky’s Pulpit: BBQ Hormel Style

Recently a coupon caught my attention.  It offered $2 off a 30 ounce package of Hormel’s Austin Blues Pulled Pork.  According to the description on the Hormel website, “This succulent pork shoulder meat is naturally hardwood smoked for six hours. After smoking, it’s finished off with a clear Carolina-style sauce and lightly pulled.”  Sounds pretty good actually, although it’s hard to believe that this industrial strength swine is truly hardwood smoked for 6 hours.  (But since that’s what Hormel claims and they have a large legal team, I’ll take their word for it.) 

More good news about the product: the Hormel website warns that their pulled pork is, brace yourself, NOT Kosher.  This suggests that Hormel’s pulled pork is made from real pork and not some sort of pork-tasting mystery product (I have always been amused that bacon bits are often Kosher, which means, of course, that they contain exactly zero percent bacon).   Hmm, so the Hormel Pulled Pork sounds kinda sorta okay at first, but rest assured there are some bright red warning flags.  Continue reading

Roast Hashanah

We’re at the beginning of the High Holidays–no, not the Lexington Barbecue Festival–the holiest days in the Jewish year. Saturday is Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the new year in the Jewish calendar.

Litterally translated, Rosh Hashanah means ‘Head of the Year.’ Yet few know that the Hebrew word ‘Rosh’ actually derives from the English ‘Roast.’ Hence Roast Hashanah, or Roast of the Year.

In my make believe world, that equates to a divine order to eat barbecue on this day. But not just any barbecue will do. It has to be the roast of the year!

Apples dipped in honey or barbecue? What does your conscience tell you?

Apples dipped in honey vs. barbecue? What does your conscience tell you?

So sound the shofar, hop in the car and head to your finest local pork purveyor (As if you needed another excuse to eat barbecue). We’ll see you there.

I can think of a few better ways to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (apples with honey or a kugel, perhaps). But I can think of no better way to observe Roast Hashanah than tucking into a nice barbecue plate.

Porky’s Pulpit: Porkternity Test

A few days ago my daughter uttered the words every Yankee-fearing father fears.  No, not “Alex Rodriguez is my prom date,” as that’s not the kind of Yankee I mean. Plus, the littlest LeSwine is only two years old.  But it was just as bad.  My daughter said, quite clearly by toddler standards, “I don’t like eating barbecue.”  What prompted this outburst?  All I did was ask her if she was excited about stopping for a barbecue lunch the next day.  Between this horrible comment and a couple of past occasions where she has spit out barbecue I’ve offered her, it’s off to the doctor today to get a paternity test.

BBQ Jew’s View: Little Richard’s

4885 Country Club Road, Winston-Salem, NC
Hours: Mon – Sat 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Really smoking.”

Good Golly, Miss Molly
From the vintage metal advertising signs on the walls to the traditional wood-cooked pork to the location just down the street from Vinegar Hill Road (too good to be true but it is!), Little Richard’s feels like it has been around as long as the “other” Little Richard.  But the joint, named after owner Richard Berrier, wasn’t around in the early years of rock ‘n’ roll.  In fact, the joint only opened in 1991, making it a young’un by barbecue standards.  Still, over the past 18 years, Little Richard’s has established a well-deserved reputation as a purveyor of authentic Lexington-style pork.

I call this picture "barbekudzu."

I call this picture "barbekudzu."

No Tutti Frutti, Just Tobaccy
It’s fitting that in Winston-Salem, one of North Carolina’s proudest tobacco towns and inspiration for two of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s flagship cigaratte lines, cooking pork over smoky wood remains in style.  And on the day I visited Little Richard’s, the pork wasn’t the only thing smoking.  At a table next to a wall covered with vintage tobacco advertisements sat three Continue reading

Update on Loopey

Last month we reported on a pig named Loopey who was removed from the home of his (human) family due to a ban on swine within Fayetteville’s city limits.  The City Council in Fayetteville promised to revisit the issue in early September.  True to their word, according to an article in the Fayetteville Observer, on Tuesday night City Council debated the merits of pigs in the city and searched for a compromise position. 

The Council debate did not go well for beloved family pet and Autism therapy animal, Loopey.  According to the Observer article, “The City Council deadlocked Tuesday by a 5-5 vote, unable to agree on whether to draft a new policy that would allow Loopey – a domesticated pig kept at a house in the College Lakes subdivision off Ramsey Street – to return to its owner under certain conditions.” 

The deadlocked vote should, in theory, put the Loopey story to rest.  However, I have a  feeling this pig tale has legs, at least judging from the almost uniformly irate online comments on the article, which include:

“‘”Hookers’ walk the streets of Fayetteville and the city council is worried about a pet pig. A lot more needs cleaning up in Fayetteville before officials focus in on a childs pet… .” – RL


“… i see a rigged vote on city council. i smell a bunch of rats not swine. and i smell a lot more coming from hay street rather than what i normally smell coming from the eastern part of cumberland county on certain days. and the stench reeks of dirty politics.” – chitownjoe

“We should have told the council that Loopy can pay taxes. This way they’d have already annexed her and given her a trash can… .” – Paul

Finding Religion at a Pig Pickin’

Earlier this summer a buddy of mine invited me to join him at a pig pickin’ hosted by his co-worker, Billy Mitchell.  I’ve been to quite a few pig pickin’s before but this was my first pig pickin’ hosted by someone I’d never met.  And yet it turned out to be one of my favorites.  Maybe it was the copious amounts of roasted pork I ate, or maybe it was the bucolic location complete with a “garden” that was probably a half an acre and goats, horses and other “pets.”  Maybe it was Billy demonstrating the shag to some recent New York transplants.  Whatever it was, I truly enjoyed my time at this pig pickin’.  Thanks, Billy, for inviting me to join and for sending me home with a bag full of ‘cue big enough to make my dog drool, my wife’s eyes roll and my breath smell like pork for several days.

Fire chief by day, fire starter by night: Billy Mitchell. (Photo by Conor "Swine factor" Keeney

Fire chief by day, fire starter by night: gracious host/pitmaster Billy Mitchell. (Photo by Conor "Swine Factor" Keeney.)

As I stood at the edge of Billy’s pond with a cold beer in my hand and hot grease coursing through my veins, I got to thinking about what makes pig pickin’s so special.  What separates them from an ordinary cookout or a potluck?  As best I could determine with a belly full of pork, rolls, slaw, tea, pickled beets, banana pudding, pickles, Lexington-style dip, and beer, it’s the fellowship that makes pig pickin’s stand out.  The dictionary definition of fellowship is, a “community of interest, activity, feeling, or experience” or “a company of equals or friends.”  Something about a pig pickin’ brings out this sense of community and equality.

What causes such great fellowship at pig pickin’s?  I think it has something to do with a pig pickin’ host spending all day cooking an 100+ pound hog just in order to share it with his friends, family, neighbors and whatever complete strangers (like me) might happen to drop by.  It’s an act of faith, devotion and sacrifice to put that much time, energy and care into a meal that hungry visitors will scarf down in a few minutes.  So, thanks for the food and fellowship Billy, and I hope I get to return the favor one of these days.