Bob Garner Goes Online

I discovered recently that legendary NC BBQ eater, author and TV host Bob Garner has a website. Check it out here.  Bob has kindly agreed to a BBQ&A with me, so I hope to publish that interview sometime in the not too distant future.  Until then, I highly recommend his two outstanding books on NC BBQ.

Porky’s Pulpit: To Judge or Not to Judge

On Saturday I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of judging my first officially sanctioned barbecue competition.  I was one of an elite few hand-selected judges (okay, actually one of 54 judges and I had practically begged for the opportunity) at the first annual BBQ Capital Cook-off in Lexington, NC. 

The event drew more than 50 teams from across the southeast, including a half dozen or so from the Lexington area.  Under the rules of Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned events, the teams competed across four categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt/shoulder and beef brisket.  Prizes were awarded for the grand champion, the best cumulative score across the four categories, as well as category-specific winners.  If you actually care about the details of the event, including who won, read this article.

I thoroughly enjoyed the judging experience, especially meeting a bunch of friendly and dedicated barbecue enthusiasts.  It’s definitely a different world out there on the “barbecue trail,” as members of the BBQ competition tribe call it, and I enjoyed being let into the world for a few hours.  I was among the younger judges, but it was a more diverse group than I expected: quite a few women, not all of whom were dragged there by their spouses, as well as people from as far away as Alabama and even, gulp, San Francisco.  There was a real sense of camraderie among the judges and other volunteers; one big, smoked meat loving family. From what little I observed of the teams competing, the camraderie is equally strong among cooking teams.

Despite the good time I had, I am not yet a competitive BBQ convert.  But it’s not because of the quality of the food.  The 24 samples I tried (six in each of the four categories, per KCBS judging protocol) were as a whole excellent–most were better than good restaurant barbecue and some were exceptionally good, with just a few subpar.  Plus, I wholeheartedly support the KCBS focus on wood-cooked barbecue, as gas and electric cookers are banned.  Yet I don’t quite buy into the concept of turning barbecue–which to me is all about enjoying oneself among friends in a laidback atmosphere–into a competition governed by a myriad of bureaucratic rules (e.g., a strict policy of disqualification for entries featuring garnishes other than green leaf lettuce, parsley or cilantro).  It’s not that I begrudge anyone the thrill of competing, but I’m not sure it is the scene for me.  On the other hand, I sure do like getting the opportunity to sample a bunch of delicious barbecue so I’m not ruling out giving judging another shot…

We Don’t Need No Education (aka Another Brick in the Pit)

According to an incredibly uninformative (seriously, check it out) Associated Press article, “Students at an elementary school in the Kansas City School District are collaborating on a DVD and book on the life of barbecue legend Ollie Gates.”  Though the article provides no more information on this collaboration, it does note that Gates plans to reward the students by spending a day “playing checkers and having a picnic with [the] students.”  For the sake of those elementary schoolers, let’s hope Ollie is cooking for the picnic instead of the cafeteria ladies.

Although the article above contains virtually no information (have you checked it out yet?), it got me thinking.  As important as barbecue is to North Carolina history, somebody should develop a BBQ curriculum to be woven into social studies, history and other K-12 classes.  What better way to get kids to pay attention in class than a discussion of barbecue that culminates in a year end pig pickin’?  Heck, you could even have kids in science class dissect a whole hog. I mean, what’s more useful in life, knowing the anatomy of a frog or knowing how to trim ribs and identify the tenderloin?

Gary’s 40th Birthday

Nice article in the Salisbury Post on the 40th anniversary of Gary’s Barbecue in China Grove.

Judgment Day is Near

If you happen to be in Lexington, NC this Saturday please drop by and say hello to your’s truly.  Just don’t interrupt me while I’m hard at work.  I’ll be among the dozens of lucky folks volunteering at the first annual Lexington BBQ Capital Cook-off, a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned cooking competition.  It will be my first experience judging barbecue as a KCBS Certified Barbeque Judge and I am feeling the pressure already–am I worthy of grading others on their chicken, pork ribs, pork butt, and brisket?   

The cook-off should be a fun event to watch, but a word of warning: according to the Greensboro News & Record, “Because of health department regulations, those who attend the two-day event will not be able to taste the barbecue prepared by the teams during the competition.”  What a drag, and what a waste of pork.  The good news is that three of the competitors will be selling BBQ to hungry onlookers.  Read more about the event in the Greensboro News & Record or at the event website.  See you in Lexington!

BBQ Jew’s View: B’s Barbecue

751 B’s Barbecue Road, Greenville, NC
No phone, no website, no problem
Hours: Tue-Sat from the time they open (10ish) to the time they close (they run out of food by ~ 2:00 p.m.)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Don’t worry, B’s happy.” 

Shack Magic
Bill and Peggy McLawhorn started B’s Barbecue in the 1970s,  but the place feels like it has been around many decades longer.  For one thing, it has the classic feel of an early 20th century barbecue joint. Also, it’s a real dive: it’s hard to believe a joint “merely” 40 or so years old could be as run down as B’s. Not that anyone cares, of course, so long as they keep serving up good barbecue, truly excellent chicken and down east sides to complement the meats.  B’s has earned legendary status despite its relatively short lifespan, and the phone-less shack only adds to the allure at this point.

The McLawhorn’s three daughters, who run B’s today, would be crazy to deviate from B’s ramshackle formula for success.  As one of the daughters, Judy Dach, described it to interviewer Alan Pike in 2009: “I mean sure we’d like to have a nice new fancy building and eight or ten more people working so we can have a day off and that kind of stuff, but, to us, when when you start doing all that, then it’s—you know, it’s like any other restaurant and that’s not what we wanted it to be. That’s not what my dad wanted it to be; he wanted it to be ours.”

Getting Inside the Shack
Finding B’s is pretty straightforward, despite what I’d heard throught the grapevine. Finding a parking spot, on the other hand, is an adventure at busy times of day (and that is most any time).  Saying B’s has a parking lot would be a generous misstatement. Rather, it seems the B’s building fell from the sky and landed haphazardly in the midst of some scattered gravel. A beautiful old oak tree separates part of the lot from the carryout window. Highway 43 runs next to B’s and is in the process of being expanded; it seems at any moment slight steering error might send a car hurtling into the dining room, just yards away from the right of way. 

Confirming Judy Dach’s above comments on the condition of B’s space being part of what makes B’s, well, B’s, everyone who has ever told me about B’s has mentioned in the same breath the quality of the barbecue and the fact that it is a true BBQ shack.  Having at long last made it to B’s to see for myself I can now attest that the barbecue is indeed good and the place is truly a shack.  The exterior is poorly maintained, with fascia boards crumbling like so many day-old hush puppies.  Inside the building, the dining room is bigger than seems possible, likely seating 40 or so people, but is otherwise lacking in redeeming qualities.  A cooler buzzes noisily and drips out condensate onto the floor.  A side trip to the men’s room reveals a floor seemingly held in place by a can of Great Stuff.  

In short, B’s is a perfect place for a barbecue meal.

Oh Yeah, They Serve Food
The food is served cafeteria style with sides of green beans, tender and expertly flavored boiled potatoes, and tasty (greasy but not heavy) corn sticks laying in wait for hungry patrons.  (As an aside, I find that corn sticks reheat well in toaster oven, as the grease keeps them from drying out like hush puppies tend to when faced with a similar microclimate.)  The barbecue was very tasty. Not the best I’ve had, and a bit sloppily prepared compared to the near-perfection of the Skylight Inn several miles away in Ayden, but it is definitely worth eating.  The chicken, in my opinion, was several notches better than the pork, which is saying something.  It was simple but delicious with crispy skin and rich, smoky flavor; dipping it in the BBQ sauce took the experience to heavenly heights.  Indeed, B’s simple looking barbecue sauce has surprising depth (whiskey as an ingredient, maybe?) and complements the pork and chicken with equal aplomb.  B’s coleslaw is a classic white, sweet, mayo-rich Eastern recipe with a fine chop but not quite as fine as some, which gives it a bit more textue.

B’s was moderately crowded when I arrived at 11:00 on a Saturday and had a line out the door 15 minutes later. They stay open until they run out of food, a trait that refelects either a lack of dedication to work longer hours and cash in or Continue reading

Friday Filler

It’s been a particulary busy few weeks with my day job and I have run out of material for the moment. Please accept this filler until I can refill my barbecue tank.  (Hey, at least it means you get a break from reading my long-winded posts.)

The legendary Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington, NC.