213 W. Main Street, Gibsonville, NC
Hours: Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wed 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Sat 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: D-
Porky Says: “All pork with no taste makes Jack’s a dull ‘cue.”
Can’t We Do Better?
At this risk of sounding overly dramatic or harsh, Jack’s BBQ is emblematic of what is wrong with North Carolina’s dying barbecue culture. It’s a charming and cozy little joint, complete with about a half dozen booths and an old fashioned (and just plain old, as Jack’s dates back 43 years) counter, plus a carry-out window. The service is efficient and the staff couldn’t be nicer. The customers look happy. And so on. But the barbecue is terrible. If the place was called Jack’s Cafe, I’d be nice and leave them alone. Hell, I’d even return for another (BBQ-free) meal. Instead, I have to be honest and mean.
Home of the Big Boy
The barbecue seems like an afterthought on a menu that touts the “Big Boy,” a very large hamburger that the waitress told me is “like a Whopper.” Jack’s also features regular size burgers, chili dogs, fried bologna sandwiches and more. Though tempted by this bounty, I stuck to my mission and ordered the barbecue tray.
Alas, the barbecue was mushy and not at all flavorful. Worse yet, it was drowned in a bland, ketchupy sauce that meets every Eastern-style BBQ loyalist’s worst stereotypes of Lexington-style dip. Not only has this pig clearly never been within oinking distance of a wood-fired pit, but it tastes like it comes straight out of a plastic tub. It’s amazing how many so-called BBQ joints in North Carolina completely neglect their signature dish. It’s really an insult to the remaining traditional barbecue cooks to call what joints like Jack’s serve “barbecue.” Barbecue is–should be–pork that is cooked for many hours at low temperatures over wood coals. Pork that is baked, boiled, gassed, electrocuted, or otherwise abused is not barbecue. It’s just a bland, lazy attempt to make a buck.
On a more positive note, the rest of the food I ate at Jack’s was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. The very finely chopped, creamy slaw was good, though its uniform consistency indicated to me that it might not be homemade. The hush puppies were tasty and featured a good balance of fluffiness and greasiness. I also ordered a side of reasonably good turnip greens, though they had a slight bitter metallic taste–hard to tell if they were canned or if they justed tasted of the pot they were cooked in. The turnip greens were part of a large vegetable menu, in the Eastern-style BBQ tradition, that included yams, crowder peas, okra, corn, more on the day I visited.
Some Reasons to Visit
Gibsonville features a quintessential small town North Carolina downtown district, which is quite attractive and full of local businesses. The town’s police station is immediately next door to Jack’s, so it’s probably as safe a place to eat as exists anywhere. Plus, Gibsonville dubs itself “The City of Roses,” at least according to the signs prominently featured on municipal trash cans throughout downtown.
A recent blurb in The Times-News notes that Jack’s recently decided to add breakfast hours, in order to “have more chances to sell food to customers and make some money.” Not a bad reason at all. And I’d be willing to bet that Jack’s serves a pretty tasty breakfast–it feels like it would–so breakfast may be the reason I return. It certainly won’t be for the barbecue.