Defining the Styles

“People who would put ketchup in the sauce they feed to innocent children are capable of most anything… [W]e, the Eastern North Carolina purveyors of pure barbecue, will not be roadkill for our western kin.” – Former Raleigh News & Observer columnist Dennis Rogers reflecting on a legislative proposal to make Lexington’s Barbecue Festival the state’s official celebration of BBQ (see more quotables here).

Back when he wrote for the N&O, Rogers carried on a funny, long-lasting intrastate feud with fellow journalist Jerry Bledsoe, who used to write for the now-defunct Greensboro Daily News.  Bledsoe took every opportunity to extoll the virtues of the Lexington-style barbecue served in towns like Greensboro, Salisbury, Lexington (of course) and other parts of the Piedmont.  Rogers, on the other hand, denigrated Lexington-style ‘cue any chance he got, instead singing the praises of the Eastern-style ‘cue served in Wilson, Greenville, Goldsboro and other towns east of Raleigh. 

But is the chasm between Eastern- and Lexington-style ‘cue really that large?  Although I will make neither side of the state happy by saying this, I think not.   I can claim to be fairly neutral on the debate, having grown up on the edge of the tectonic BBQ plate where Eastern- and Lexington-styles collide.  Now perhaps that just makes me totally unqualified to judge, but nonetheless below is a short summary of the two styles.  You’ll note that the differences are pretty minor outside of the cut of meat used.  Furthermore, it is not uncommon for joints to incorporate elements of both styles (e.g., Allen & Son in Chapel Hill cooks shoulders but serves them with a quintessential Eastern-style sauce).

  LEXINGTON-STYLE EASTERN-STYLE
Geography Burlington and west Raleigh and east
Origin of style Circa 1910s Colonial times
Meat Pork shoulders chopped, sliced, coarse-chopped Whole hog chopped
The Sauce/Dip “Dip” made w/ vinegar, hot pepper, salt, other spices, a bit of ketchup “Sauce” made w/ vinegar, hot pepper, salt, other spices, NO ketchup
Cooking Method Traditionally, slow-cooked over hickory/oak coals. This method is dying off but is more prevalent than down east. Traditionally, slow-cooked over hickory/oak coals. Gas and electric cookers are all too common, but a proud few still cook over wood.
Typical Sides Hush puppies or rolls, red slaw, fries. Hush puppies or corn bread, white slaw, boiled potatoes, Brunswick stew, greens, more.
Beverage Iced tea (sweet, of course) Iced tea (sweet, of course)
Best Virtue Orders of “outside brown” are divine Whole hog is the original American BBQ
Famous Joints Hursey’s, Lexington #1, Stamey’s B’s, Skylight Inn, Wilber’s