Hours: Mon-Wed 11-2, Thu-Fri 11-7:30, Sat 11-7
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Smokey’s is just okie dokie.”
Authentically Inauthentic (or Vice Versa)
Smokey’s feels like what people who didn’t grow up in barbecue country expect a barbecue joint to feel like. From the joking “Entrance Only – Do Not Enter” sign on the front door to the joint’s a bit too cutesy motto (“The BBQ Rocks and So Do Most of the Tables!”), it has a tongue-in-cheek hillbilly vibe that is both endearing and a little bit grating. (Judging from the large lunchtime crowd, which was diverse but leaned toward white collar RTPers easily identified by their ID badges, most people find the hillbilly vibe more endearing than I do.) Similarly, the joint looks like it has occupied the modest white cinder block building on a still-rural stretch of Highway 54 for many years. Of course, it hasn’t, as The Deli Box occupied the spot just a few years ago. Still, it’s impossible to deny that the look of the building and location are perfect for a barbecue joint–close enough to RTP to pack in the customers but rural enough to look the part of a 50-year old BBQ joint.
Careful What You Promise
On their website, Smokey’s says it is “the best North Carolina ‘Q’ in Raleigh.” That is a dubious claim for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is Smokey’s location in Morrisville, which last time I checked was still a separate town from Raleigh (and even from bloated neighbor Cary). Even if it were located in Raleigh’s city limits, its claim to serve the best ‘cue in Raleigh is a) not accurate and b) wouldn’t be that impressive even if it were accurate, as Raleigh is surprisingly light on quality BBQ joints.
So how is Smokey’s food? In a word, okay. In three words, not particularly memorable. The “pulled pork” (this term is rarely used in NC and is not a good omen in my experience) was a bit dry and bland, though the rough consistency of the chop was pleasant and there was a decent amount of outside brown meat chopped in. (The brisket and ribs, which seemed to sell as well or better than the pulled pork looked good but I did not try them.) The meat had a hint of smokey flavor to it, and there was a substantial wood pile behind the joint but I am not sure if they cook in an all wood pit; I think it is probably gas-fired with wood added but will happily stand corrected if someone has better info. The sauce was quite good, more akin to a dark Lexington-style dip with very little ketchup in it (a la Lexington #1’s) than the classic Eastern pepper-vinegar mix found at most places in the Triangle. The sides did not help the meal. The Brunswick stew tasted of tinny canned tomatoes and the hush puppies were quite overdone. On the other hand, the slaw was creamy and sweet and quite good.
Smokey’s is an adequate spot for a RTP-area lunch, but doesn’t live up to its own hype.