Lexington Barbecue Feature

Nice article on Lexington’s barbecue culture at http://guardianlv.com/2014/01/lexington-north-carolina-barbecue-capital-of-the-world/

WUNC TV Tonight

Tune in to WUNC-TV tonight at 9:30 p.m. to see an episode of North Carolina Now & Then (a special series celebrating NC Now’s 20th year on air, if I understand correctly) that includes Bob Garner’s first barbecue feature from 1994.  In the episode, Bob Garner visits Lexington, NC to talk about their barbecue traditions.  Should be fun.

R.I.P. Hillsborough Hog(g) Day

Whether you spell it with one g or two, the Hillsborough Hog(g) Day festival has come to an end after 31 years. Although it was a nice event, the cancellation makes sense to me–Orange County Chamber of Commerce cited an interest in focusing their limited capacity on economic development rather than festival coordination.  Learn more in the Chapel Hill News.

Maybe a volunteer organizing committee (not it!) will try and bring the festival back to life.  Or maybe a professional in the event business will come up with a proposal to revive the event.  Until then, thanks for the Hog Day memories. Honestly, some of my most enduring memories are of oppressive heat and mid-rate Elvis impersonations, yet I still had fun every time I attended and surely tens of thousands of others did too. R.I.P.

Pork for a Cause

Come join us for NC barbecue at Toro Dreams of Billy!  Toro Dreams of Billy: 
Billy Cotter thinks of barbecue and puts his thoughts onto the plateBenefiting Meals on Wheels of DurhamMonday, January 13th
at The Cookery

2 seatings: 6:00pm and 8:30pm
Tickets are $35
Please bring non-perishable food donations along with your ticket
(see below for details)!

If you are a vegetarian, you may want to attend a future event!
Since this is a pork-focused menu, vegetarian options will unfortunately not be available.

North Carolina barbecue at it’s finest!

Toast’s very own Billy Cotter will be cooking up some of his Southern favorites, but with a modern twist!  This meal will be served family style, to ensure you get to know your neighbors as you have your very own pig pickin’ at the table.  Other menu items include pimento cheese and homemade flatbreads, Billy’s take on NC clam chowder, winter greens salad with ham hock vinaigrette, and a special made in house headcheese.

Ticket sales include a can of PBR upon entry. Hand crafted cocktails, wine and craft beers will be available for purchase at The Cookery’s bar. All bar proceeds will also be donated to Meals on Wheels of Durham.


Purchase tickets here

Delwood’s Barbecue Sauce

A few months back I received a complimentary jar of Delwood’s Barbecue Sauce & Marinade courtesy of Delwood Cavenaugh II  himself.  I told him I’ d write about soon if I liked it.  Well, I owe Delwood my sincere apology for taking so danged long to fulfill my commitment.  The sauce is excellent and I’ve enjoyed it on several occasions; you readers should buy a jar ASAP to make up for my lack of timeliness in writing this post.

Delwood'sBefore I get to the sauce, who is this Delwood character?  When he initially contacted me, he described himself as “a Browns Summit based Eastern NC style BBQ sauce business with an eye towards whole hog catering, food trucks and eventually a family style restaurant.”  I was intrigued already, as Browns Summit is squarely in the middle of Lexington-style barbecue country, yet Delwood was committed to Eastern style sauce and whole hog cooking.  Another confused soul?  Well, not really, as Delwood was raised in Newport, NC, which is about as far east as one can get in NC without swimming in the ocean.

As Delwood writes on his website, “My earliest memories of BBQ are late nights and wood smoke.  Newport is ‘The Town With Old Fashioned Courtesy’, but it is best known for the Newport Pig Cooking Contest, the largest whole hog contest in these United States.  As such, I grew up surrounded by by Amazing barbecue cooks, steeped in the Eastern North Carolina style, and it was the rare weekend that someone wasn’t cooking up a pig somewhere.  As I grew up my dad taught me everything he knew about barbecuing pigs, making sauce… .”  Those sound like pretty good Eastern credentials to me.  Plus, Delwood is the son of another Delwood, and that ought to count for something.

But back to the sauce.  I’m generally skeptical of buying NC-style barbecue sauces, since the basic recipe is awfully simple–vinegar, salt, peppers, more ingredients as you wish.  However, Delwood’s sauce is really good and worth the money.  It is grounded squarely in the Eastern NC tradition, being that it is tomato-free and has an emphasis on cider vinegar and hot pepper flakes, among other spices, but it has a dollop of brown sugar that ever so slightly mellows out the vinegar tang.  I’ve enjoyed the sauce on pork shoulder and chicken, thus far, and the Mason jar and handsome label make it an attractive table sauce.

If you can find a sauce purveyor in your area (see the list of where to purchase), I definitely recommend you give it a try.  You can even order the sauce from Amazon, although the shipping fee nearly doubles the price.  Still, if you’re reading this in some far flung place like New York or California, go for it–heck, you can barely buy a bottle of water for $12 so this is a real bargain.

Thanks to Delwood for sharing his sauce with me, and I look forward to ordering my next jar as soon as finish up this one… it surely won’t be long!

Merry Christmacue

I was searching for a feel good barbecue story to share in honor of the holiday when this one popped into my inbox. Divine intervention?  Perhaps.  Either way, it’s a nice story about Inspire Bar-B-Que in Washington, D.C., so check the video out.

Oh, and Inspire appears to be a wood-burning joint, which qualifies as a Christmas miracle in and of itself.  Learn more about the restaurant and its philosophy at http://inspirebbq.com/about.html

Merry Christmas.

A True ‘Cue Update

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve spent most of my barbecue time over the last few months working on a new project: TrueCue.org.  The new website is a joint venture (we will share the lack of profits equally) with John Shelton Reed, author of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.   Both John and I are wood-cooked barbecue enthusiasts and have designed the site for two purposes: 1) to launch a Campaign for Real Barbecue loosely inspired by the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale and 2) to start a certification program for restaurants that cook using traditional methods, with NC serving as the pilot program.

Click on over to the True ‘Cue website to learn more and to TAKE THE PLEDGE.  We will have a revamped, professional looking TrueCue.org website in early 2014, with a publicity push to follow.   Stay tuned.



The Pit Arrives in Durham

Outside brown, Eastern chopped, fried okra, and collards.  Photo by "Hominy" Halpern.

Outside brown, Eastern chopped, fried okra, and collards. Photo by “Hominy” Halpern.

On Monday I had the pleasure of dining at Durham’s newest barbecue restaurant, The Pit – Durham.  And when you visit The Pit you really are dining rather than just eating.  The ambience is upscale but relaxed, the space is large, and the menu is diverse.

This is the second location of the restaurant, following on the heels of the original The Pit – Raleigh by a few years.  Much like the Raleigh location, The Pit in Durham is owned by the Empire Eats restaurant group and is located in a beautifully restored historic (or at least old) brick building on the edge of downtown.   Most importantly to me, The Pit prepares barbecue the right way–on a charcoal and oak-fired cooker out back.

Between the Raleigh and Durham locations, The Pit is exposing huge numbers of people to barbecue, many of them probably never having had real (i.e., wood-cooked) barbecue before.  They take educating people about barbecue seriously, as evidenced by the presence of legendary barbecue TV host and author Bob Garner on their staff as a sort of barbecultural ambassador.  Among his duties is to train the staff of the restaurant, all of whom must pass a test on barbecue.  He also helps coordinate “heritage dinners” that bring well regarded, mostly rural BBQ owners to The Pit for special meals/events.

Although I still reflexively get my hackles up when I see brisket (not to mention tofu) on the menu of a North Carolina barbecue restaurant, I recognize The Pit is a business and not a NC barbecue museum.  If I ran a barbecue restaurant, I’d probably be out of business in a week. Thus, I applaud The Pit for helping bring real barbecue to the masses, and to Durham and Raleigh, which (like many urban areas in NC) have very few restaurants that serve real barbecue. Let’s hope someone in Charlotte, to give one woeful urban example, can convince The Pit to open a location there too. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that Texans have figured out how to bring real barbecue to urban areas, and the BBQ scene is exploding without losing traditional cooking techniques.  I hope we follow the Lone Star state’s lead on this trend.  (But don’t tell anyone from Texas that I said all that, as they probably don’t need the self-esteem boost.)

Finally, while I’m rambling, stay tuned to the Durham barbecue scene.  In a few months (I’m guessing) Durham will get another real barbecue restaurant as Ed Mitchell, formerly of The Pit, opens ‘Que on the other side of downtown. As someone who works right in the middle of downtown, I’m counting my lucky, greasy stars to soon be in walking distance of two wood burners.  I have a sneaking suspicion 2014 will be a good year, provided I refrain from any diet-related New Year’s resolutions.


Farewell, Bob Kantor

It saddens me to share the news that Bob Kantor, founder of Memphis Minnie’s in San Francisco, passed away earlier this week.

I got to know Bob a little over the last few years, having shared a BBQ lunch with him and his (in his words) “shiksa” Gail, interviewed him for this website, and kept in touch from time to time by email. Many people knew Bob much better than I did, of course, but even in the short time I knew him it was obvious he was generous, kind and had a great sense of humor.  He was also a hell of a cook, and he cared a lot about barbecue traditions even as he made his name running a funky, creative but wood-fired BBQ joint in the Lower Haight.

The best tribute I can offer Bob is to make sure you’ve seen the interview he did for this website a few years back.  It was easily one of my favorite experiences running the site, and I enjoyed revisiting the interview when I heard the sad news of his death.

I understand from the general manager of Memphis Minnie’s that the plan is to keep the restaurant going to honor Bob.  I wish them well, and send my regrets to all of Bob’s family and friends, and to the many relative strangers like me who were lucky enough to spend some time with him.  May he rest in peace, and I sure hope sauce is optional in the afterlife… but sake is plentiful.

Teach the Children Well

I believe the children are the future, teach them well and… they will cook a pig?  That seems to be the plan in Thomasville, where students at New Hope Christian Academy have opened their own business called Butch Cassidy Barbecue (motto: “Barbecue worth stealing”).

Read more about the high school sponsored endeavor at http://www.the-dispatch.com/article/20131104/NEWS/311049998 or visit the Butch Cassidy Barbecue website.  Oh, and try not to worry that these kids are cooking with propane, as evidenced in the picture in the Dispatch article.  Hopefully they’ll learn right from wrong by the time they get to college.