Dear BBQ Jew: Notes from a Virginian

We recently received a letter (okay, just an email) from reader Robbie Robinson of Virginia, and think you might enjoy his comments on a recent barbecue pilgrimmage to the Old North State.  Robbie shares his thoughts on some local joints and also reveals his weight loss secret: the BBQ Atkins diet.  Below is a slightly edited version of Robbie’s correspondence, printed with his permission.

BBQ Jew,

Many, many thanks for your website.  NC BBQ research is a dirty job but we know you are out there for us, leading us into temptation and away from the evil of non-wood cooked BBQ.  I just returned from a few weeks in Chapel Hill but only made it to 11 joints due to circumstances [Editor’s note: only 11?].

I do not understand the raves for Allen and Son (north of Chapel Hill). It has everything going for it,but I have made two visits in the last 60 days and found the pork uninteresting. Nice big moist tender pieces,but no smokey flavor and not much other flavor. Sauce only average. Also,I am on BBQ Atkins diet and Allen and Sons was the only place of 11 that would not make me a low carb plate. They were pleasant but firm, no substitutions. [Editor’s note: I will defend Allen’s until the day I die so will blame your poor judgment on being deprived of essential nutrients–specifically, hush puppies–due to adhering to the BBQ Atkins diet.]

The waitress at Short Sugar’s took it as a personal challenge to make  sure I got a platter with sliced, coarse chopped and two green veggies. Please try Short Sugar’s again, I think you underrate it.  You made good calls on A&M Grill, Lexington #1 and the BBQ Center, but I do not get your high grade on Hursey’s. Decent but slightly bland sliced, good if you like oven roasted pork but not smokey BBQ [Editor’s note: I recommend the chopped over the sliced and believe the sliced is cut from hams rather than shoulders so has a different taste.]. Stamey’s is badly overrated, but I bought three of the small glass bottles of hot sauce, very tasty on everything.

One day I drove to Lexingon and went to Speedy’s, BBQ Center and Lex #1 in about an  hour and a half, I would have tried more but had to be back in Chapel Hill. Speedy’s was OK, maybe a B-.  Hog Heaven in Roxboro is OK, not worth a special trip, but the sauce is excellent. I will say it is a good value.

BBQ Atkins works. A trip to Hog Day, 11 different joints and 5 pounds of carry out Q from all over and I still lost weight. Sliced or coarse chopped with no bread, cole slaw and greens is a magic combo.  The hush puppies almost got me many times, but I resisted.  The service at all 11 places was good, mostly excellent, and I did make some unusual requests. I salute the hard working waitresses who smile and call us “honey.”

The BBQ experience, including the physical joint, the signs, waitresses, cooks, stacks of wood and patrons are part of what makes BBQ gestalt different from say, the search for Szechuan chicken or a superb steak. Not too long ago,the pit master at a BBQ joint in Maryland asked me if I would help flip the pig he was cooking because he was short handed. Of course I helped.  BBQ, to a great degree, is  about people, both the individual such as the pitmaster at 5:00 AM, the owner working his or her ass off and taking pride in a product that tells a story, the waitresses I mentioned, and the group, which bonds over our love of BBQ, the search, and yes, differences in opinion.

You carry the weight [Editor’s note: no pun intended, I hope] of many of us on your pork shoulders, please keep up the good work.

-Robbie Robinson

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7 Responses

  1. At first glance I thought this the guy from The Band. No, that’s Robbie Robertson.

  2. I’m glad to see that there are other barbecue enthusiasts out there trying all the Q they can find and searching for still more! Nice write-up, although I don’t totally agree with everything, but that is what it is all about – EVERYONE has a different opinion and idea what “perfect” barbecue should taste like. You are exactly right when you say that the barbecue experience is about the people as well as the pork!

    Great job!

  3. Leaving off hush puppies from a ‘cue tray would drive me insane. Sure. I dont need’m ..but they go hand in hand with carolina ‘cue.
    BTW,…. do they still serve hush puppies at Bullocks in Durham prior to your meal.. as in all you can eat? Kinda like mexican restaurants give you a bowl of chips and salsa prior to the meal…. I”ve left that wonderful establishment many a time with a belly full of hushpuppies and ‘cue.
    Miss it all .. way out here in AZ.

  4. the shu, I hear you on the sadness on passing on hush puppies, but if it allows a man to eat more ‘cue than that is a casualty of war. as for Bullock’s, last time I was there a year or so back they were still serving the bottomless baskets of puppies–bad for your heart but good for your soul.

  5. I found the “no smokey flavor” about Allen & Son’s barbeque surprising. In my considerable experience with them ( I live about 5 miles from A&S) I have found their que to be the smokiest of the que joints in NC I’ve tried, which is why I love them so much. I will admit, however, that cooking with wood there is less consistency in the smokiness but that is a trade-off I will gladly make.

  6. Monsieur Le Swine At 1:10 this afternoon Bullock’s was serving hush puppies before the meal.I declined.Down to 197 lbs.Found Bullock’s to be more of a legend than a BBQ,but great service,I watched the manager go out of his way to help somebody with a non-food issue.Also went to Backyard BBQ,Pit #2 just before Bullock’s,minced BBQ,a little mushy,no reason to elaborate.Sides were pretty good,ribs smokey and tender,friendly.
    Made my third trip to to Allen & Sons last week,y,much better than the 1st two. Further investigation needed.
    2nd visit to Short Sugar’s two day’s ago,I like the place.

    It is a privilege and honor to be on this site.

  7. Thanks for the note Robbie, keep the comments coming, it’s good to have you visit the site!

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