BBQ Jew’s View: Smokey Joe’s Barbecue

 1101 South Main Street, Lexington, NC
336.249.0135
Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Much better than your average Joe.”

 
Hey Joe, Where You Goin’ with that Bun in Your Hand?
Barbecue pilgrims who come to pay their respects in the Land of Abundant Pork (aka Lexington) tend to favor the BBQ Center and Lexington #1.   However, locals know that the nearly 40-year old Smokey Joe’s is the real deal too.  There is no doubt that Joe’s serves up ‘cue that is worth a visit whether you are a Lexingtonian or a barbetourist. 
Smokey Joe’s inhabits a tidy, mid-sized brick building with green corrugated metal accents that sits six long, dull blocks from quaint uptown Lexington.  Although modest, Joe’s nice building stands out on a commercial corridor that includes a bevy of light industrial uses, check cashing joints, discount stores, pawn shops and the like.  This type of drab location, of course, is common for barbecue joints.  (In fact, I am usually wary of barbecue joints located in the heart of downtowns–where downtown is there space for a joint’s pit, for one thing?)  But who cares about location and building design when there is barbecue on the menu.  If the meat is good, even windows are a needless luxury.
In a town full of good barbecue, Smokey Joe’s manages to stand out.  Smokey Joe’s may not be the best BBQ joint in town–of the places I’ve sampled, I’m still partial to Lexington #1, Smiley’s and Cook’s–but it’s darn good and worth a visit.  Smokey Joe’s pork is tender and has a good deal of smoky overtones (or undertones, if you prefer), as you’d expect from a place with smoke in the name.  If I was being picky I’d say the meat was ever so slightly on the dry side, but it’s sauced well and extra dip is readily available. 
Joe’s dip is a classic Lexington dip, which is to say it is a bit ketchupy for my taste but that’s the style they like in Lexington and it is is a good exemplar of the style.  As an aside, it may be Lexington #1’s distinctive, non-ketchupy dip that causes me to rate it at the top of the pack of Lexington joints.  Joe’s mayo-free barbecue slaw also sticks closely to the Lexington tradition, with fine chopped cabbage coated in dip.  The slaw is both crisp and squeaky (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever had barbecue slaw) as you chew it.  The hush puppies were a bit on the dry side, not fried as perfectly as they should be but passable.   I ended my meal on a down note, as I sampled some of my dining companion’s side vegetables and found them lacking in flavor and freshness (instant mashed potatoes, it seemed, for instance).
Back to the positive: Smokey Joe’s still cooks its pork in traditional, wood-burning pits, which is increasingly rare even in Lexington.  As I’ve said before, this is a critical point for me, though I know others are not as fundamentalist about the issue (these others are, of course, uniformly ill-informed and not to be trusted). 
Smokey Joe’s is an official sponsor of the Barbecue Festival held in uptown each October, and its walls are decorated with plenty of vintage festival posters, a nice touch. Similarly, a couple of decorative “pigs on parade” from past festivals greet visitors at the joint’s entrance.  From the decor to the meal itself, Smokey Joe’s is a classic Carolina ‘cue joint and worth your patronage.
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Blues Skies and Barbecue at 27th Annual Festival

The weather was damn near perfect last weekend when the 27th Annual Barbecue Festival took over the streets of Uptown Lexington.  My wife and kids joined me on the Amtrak from Durham to Lexington (the one time a year the train stops there), and we were joined by dozens of other barbecue-happy passengers.  We even met some New Yorkers on the train–they’d come down from Long Island to Lexington just for the Festival, which speaks to how big the event has gotten over the years.  (Of course, maybe they were just trying to drown their Yankees’ baseball sorrows.) 

And when I say the event has gotten big, I mean it.  The Festival apparently drew a record crowd this year, with “more than 200,000” people in attendance according to the inexact-yet-official estimate.  That estimate might sound like hyberbole but if you were there–and given how large a crowd it was I am guessing you were–then you’ll have no problem believing it.  It was CROWDED, folks.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people in one place and I am not sure I care to again.  But I did enjoy myself.  And luckily I ate a BBQ sandwich before the tents sold out–at 4:00 p.m., two hours before the end of the event. 

For excellent photos of the Festival, visit the website of Lexington’s daily, The Dispatch, by following this link and clicking on the October 24th festival gallery.

27th Annual Barbecue Festival This Weekend

It’s that time of year again, time for hordes of hungry hog lovers to descend on little Lexington and devour thousands of pounds of barbecue.  Yes, the Barbecue Festival takes over the streets of downtown Uptown Lexington on Saturday for the 27th time.  The annual event often draws more than 100,000 people to Lexington, a town of just 20,000.  The Festival culminates a month full of events, including the Tour de Pig bicycle race and the Hawg Shoot air rifle competition.  For a complete schedule of Saturday’s happenings visit the entertainment section of the Festival website

This year the Festival was once again named one of the southeast’s Top 20 Events for October, a distinction that would be more impressive if there were more than 19 events taking place in the region this month.  Just kidding, The Barbecue Festival is a terrific event and worthy of its Top 20 status. I hope to see you somewhere along Main Street on Saturday. I’ll be the guy wearing the grease-stained BBQ Jew t-shirt…

Purvis Previews Q

Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis has a nice series of posts up chronicling her recent visits to some Lexington-style barbecue joints.  Check out the most recent post about Cook’s BBQ by following this link and then see the other posts (on Port-A-Pit and Keaton’s) from there.

BBQ Jew’s View: Smiley’s Lexington BBQ

917 Winston Road, Lexington, NC
336.248.4528
Website
Hours: Tue-Sun, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Turn that frown upside down.”

A Young Joint Cooking Old Time
Although Smiley’s has been around for only 8 years, they are proud to cook their ‘cue in the traditional way on a wood pit, an art that is starting to disappear even in tradition-bound Lexington.  On their website, the folks at Smiley’s say,  “Pit Cooked BBQ is different from the electric or gas cooked BBQ processes that are commonly seen in today’s marketplace.  With Pit Cooked BBQ, you can taste the rich flavor of the open flame in every bite.” Ain’t that the truth!  Smiley’s serves up a quality product cooked with care.  Their hard work pays off with tender, moist ‘cue that holds up well against many of Lexington’s best (and better known) barbecue joints.

The Menu
Smiley’s is a fairly typical Lexington-style joint, cooking pork shoulders that are available chopped, coarse-chopped or sliced.  The chopped is an excellent, medium-rough consistency that is not as finely chopped as some joints’, a trait characteristic of places like Smiley’s that continue to Continue reading

One Word: Livermush

Livermush: Click the image to read about it!

If you frequent barbecue joints in Lexington, Salisbury or other parts of the state where the barbecue tradition is closely linked to German settlers,  sooner or later you are likely to run into something called livermush.  Although it sounds like a Dr. Seuss-invented food, livermush is very real.  Heck, it exists on Wikipedia so it must be real.  Also, I’ve seen it in person so I can personally attest to its existence.  Full disclosure: I have yet to work up the nerve to taste livermush, largely because it is, according to Wikipedia, “composed of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal.”  It’s the vagueness of “head parts” that has me quaking in my boots.  I am also a bit nervous of the food because it is served both at breakfast (often with grape jelly) and at lunch (with mustard).  Odd. 

Actually, I am planning to eat livermush some day soon.  Truth be told, I only noticed livermush on BBQ menus very recently.  Apparently my usual laser-like focus on the barbecue portion of menus has limited my awareness of certain items.  See a nice picture of a livermush sandwich at the foodie blog Pretty by the Bay, run by a North Carolina ex-patriate who now lives in San Francisco.  Next time I get the chance, I will order livermush and report back to you.  In the meantime, do any of you readers have anything to say about livermush?

BBQ Jew’s View: Jack’s BBQ

213 W. Main Street, Gibsonville, NC
336.449.6347
Website
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.

Not fit to be served

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 Continue reading