No Fooling: Hillsborough BBQ Company Opening Soon

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t mustered the creativity to write a gag post for April Fool’s Day.  Instead, I’m pleased to report that the Hillsborough BBQ Company anticipates an April 5th  7th opening. They promise to serve wood-fired, pit cooked barbecue so I’m eager to check them out.  Have a good weekend and may your April be fool-free.

Hillsborough Hog Day Has A New Month – May!

Breaking news out of historic Hillsborough, site of the annual Hillsborough Hog Day.  One of the event’s organizers, Margaret Wood Cannell of the local Chamber of Commerce, wrote to share the following news:

“[W]e have changed the date of the 29th Annual Hillsborough Hog Day.  We have historically held Hog Day on the third weekend in June, but the temperature on that day has risen an average of 7 degrees over the last 10 years.  It’s just too danged hot.  So, for the first time ever, we’re holding Hog Day on the third Saturday in May.  The event will be held in River Park, right behind the Orange County Courthouse (exactly where it was last year) on Friday, May 20 from 6 to 9 pm and on Saturday, May 21 from 9 am to 6 pm.”

That is good news, IMHO, as I’ve sweat through far too many brutally hot Hog Days myself.  When the temperature outside feels like the inside of a pig cooker it’s just plain too hot. Plus, I have always been surprised that one of the Elvis impersonators at Hog Day haven’t had a Presley-like heart attack on stage in the heat–sequined polyester jumpsuits are brutal, take my word for it.

On a related note, I’m behind on updating the BBQ festivals listing on this website but promise to do so fairly soon. Keep an eye on the Events tab at the top of the page…

BBQ&A: Sam Suchoff, The Pig Chef-Owner

Sam Suchoff is not your typical pit boss.  But then The Pig is not your typical barbecue joint. Indeed, Suchoff has a damn near disturbing range of culinary experience for a barbecue cook.  More to the point, much of the fare he serves at The Pig veers away from North Carolina barbecue tradition with menu items like brisket, tamales, kielbasa and, yes, even country fried tofu. 

Veering away from tradition is not necessarily a bad thing because many traditional North Carolina barbecue joints offer little on their menus worth sampling beyond the holy trinity of barbecue, slaw and hushpuppies (which, to be fair, is not necessarily a bad thing either).  Suchoff offers a wide-ranging, pork-centric menu, but he respects the tradition of whole hog barbecue and that reverence is evident along with his creativity. 

In a recent interview, Suchoff was kind enough to share with me the reasons he cooks with an electric smoker, why barbecue is the dish he’s most proud of cooking despite all the variety on his menu, and why vegetarianism is an easy way to get girls (at least in L.A.).  Follow this link to read the interview.

BBQ Jew’s View: The Pig

 630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC
919.942.1133
Website
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A- (but it’s complicated)
Porky Says: “Wholly different whole hog.” 

Pondering the Meaning of Whole Hog BBQ
The Pig’s website proclaims–in large lettering–“Serving whole hog barbeque.”  But chef/owner Sam Suchoff’s definition of whole hog barbecue extends beyond that used in Eastern North Carolina tradition.  Indeed, many old school pitmasters and barbecue eaters alike will cringe, roll their eyes, feel their blood pressure spike and mumble a few choice words when they find out what “whole hog barbeque” means at The Pig.
 
In Eastern North Carolina, “whole hog barbecue” typically–okay, always–refers to chopped pork made  from a whole hog, with hams, shoulders, loin, skin and so on chopped together into a glorious mess.  (In other parts of North Carolina, joints tend to rely on shoulders and sometimes hams, rather than whole hog.) The Pig’s chopped barbecue sticks with the whole hog tradition by using multiple parts of the hog.  However, the “whole hog barbeque” served at The Pig includes quite a bit more than chopped and sauced whole hog.  In fact, their menu would not fly in most parts of the state and may well be a criminal offense in Salisbury, Lexington, Goldsboro, Ayden and other barbecue meccas.  But The Pig is located in Chapel Hill, a strange southern town where folks have a little more linguistic freedom, even when talking about barbecue, and where many diners are, to put it politely, not from ’round here. (Yankees.)
 
Nouveau ‘cue
At The Pig, “whole hog barbeque” seems to refer to using every part of the pig but the oink–as folks from ’round here often say–but not just in one dish called barbecue.  Rather than simply chopping the whole hog up to make traditional ‘cue, Suchoff and his team take diners on a menu-wide culinary trip from snout to tail and back again.  I’d challenge anyone to name a restaurant, barbecue or otherwise, in North Carolina that uses as much of one animal to such great effect.  For example, on a recent and ever-so-slightly overindulgent visit to The Pig, I sampled the following kinds of divine swine: Continue reading

The Pig Now Open in Chapel Hill

As of a couple of weeks ago, The Pig has opened in Chapel Hill in the old location of The Barbecue Joint at 630 Weaver Dairy Road.  We speculated about the possible connection between The Barbecue Joint and The Pig in a previous post.  In fact, according to The Pig’s Facebook page, the owner “worked at The Barbecue Joint for a couple of years and owe[s] allot [sic] of my chops to Damon Lapas but The Pig is in no way associated with either Damon or Jonathon.”  The menu (available on the website) certainly bears some resemblance to The Barbecue Joint in that it appears to include some inventive twists on traditional barbecue joint offerings.  We’ve yet to check out it out for ourselves but are excited to do so soon. In the meantime, try it for yourself: the hours are Mon-Thu 11 to 9 and Fri-Sat 11 to 10.

Backstage at Hog Day

The four-person judging team from Hillsborough Hog Day 2010, below from left: Dale Volberg Reed, John Shelton Reed, Joel Grodensky, and Ed Mitchell (not pictured, Chief Judge David Hunt).

They look pretty good considering they just tasted barbecue from 35 cooking teams!

Hillsborough Hog Day Tonight & Tomorrow

The 28th annual Hillsborough Hog Day festival takes place tonight and tomorrow in historic Hillsborough, but I guess you figured that much out from the title of this post. 

Hog Day is a fun, free event that I have been to many times over the years, and the 2010 version of the event promises to be better than ever with the addition of the Hog Day Invitational People’s Choice competition.  Last year’s top finishers from the festival’s shoulder cooking competition will serve their barbecue (cooked fresh this year, let’s hope!) direct to attendees, who will then vote on who has the best ‘cue.  This is an improvement over the usual festival format where only judges get to sample competitors’ pork before it is lumped together to serve to the public. 

Other Hog Day attractions include live music, a car show, a pig calling contest, arts & crafts for sale, and copious amounts of BBQ sandwiches plus various carnival foods (giant turkey legs, gyros, etc. etc.).

Oh, and did I mention that this year’s event also features a beer garden featuring Durham-based Fullsteam Brewery’s beer?  Get thee to Hog Day!

BBQ Jew’s View: Whole Foods BBQ Bar

81 South Elliott Road, Chapel Hill, NC
919.968.1983
Website
Hours: Sun-Sat 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Whole Foods serves BBQ?!”

There’s a Whole Fool Born Every Minute
I hope you are seated as you read this next sentence.  Whole Foods serves its own, house-cooked barbecue.  And I actually worked up the nerve to try it. 

I know, I know, eating barbecue at Whole Foods seems about as wise as a barbecue joint offering tofu on its menu.  But I am an intrepid soul when it comes to barbecue and I’ll do nearly anything for the sake of a blog post.  Plus, Whole Foods is based in Austin, Texas, which even this Carolina boy admits is pretty serious barbecue country.


No Foolin’
It pains me to admit this, but the NC-style pork barbecue at Whole Foods was not bad.  Not real good and certainly not great but okay, adequate, passable, just fine, thank you.  I was expecting a gussied up dish that bore little resemblance to real NC BBQ but the pork was rough chopped to a nice consistency, moist despite being on a steam table, and served with a simple Eastern-style vinegar and spices sauce.  The pork even contained some outside brown meat, firmer and more flavorful than the rest.  Most importantly, the barbecue contained no unwanted additions: no chunks of organic kumquat fruit, no sauce made with locally-raised fig compote, and no free-range kale juice used as seasoning. 

Whole lotta pork.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are relatively few barbecue joints I’d pass up in favor of Whole Foods, but if you find yourself (as I did) needing a quick NC BBQ fix you could do worse.  (As an aside, I had the beef brisket too and it was awful.)  If you find yourself in that weak position, do what I do and recite the following prayer for strength:

“Yea, though I walk through the parking lot in the shadow of Whole Foods, I will fear no tofu: for thou art with me; thy pork and thy sauce they comfort me.  Thou preparest a Cafe table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my tongue with vinegar; my iced tea cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the church of ‘cue forever.”

Notes from the Underground (aka Unhinged Ramblings from a Real New Yorker)

I recently received an email from a reader, Aaron Weiss of… ahem, cough, cough… New York.  As you might have guessed from his name, Aaron is a fellow BBQ Jew.  He visited North Carolina recently and gave me a full run down on the rather substantial BBQ-related portion of his itinerary.  Check out Aaron’s reviews of The Pit and Allen & Son’s below.  Note that I edited his report slightly just to remove some non-BBQ commentary that diluted from the pig-centric focus of this website.  Once you’re done reading Aaron’s interesting report, check out his other writings here.

——–
As I prepare to head back to NY in the morning after being here in the Durham area this week, I wanted to share my experiences. In a perfect world, I would have eaten at a dozen bbq places and be able to write a comparative tome.  [Editor’s note: In a perfect world pig grease would heal the sick and give sight to the blind.  And maybe it does.]  But unfortunately I can’t eat like that anymore.

Last year we’d been here on our first trip to the area and had eaten at the Barbecue Joint in Chapel Hill and also Allen & Son. At that time we really liked the Barbecue Joint. I know you gave it a lackluster review, and I certainly would not pretend to disagree with your wisdom [Editor: They don’t have sarcasm in New York, right?]. I do think their pork was quite good on our particular visit (in fact, we went there twice on that trip). When we hit Allen & Son that time, I think we were a little porked out. I remember liking it, but didn’t remember coming away from it wowed (although I did remember being wowed by the pecan pie).

This year, things worked out a little differently. First of all, the Barbecue Joint is now closed. Apparently this just happened recently. Upon arriving in the area, we made our first stop at Allen & Son. Guess what? This time, we were wowed. Really, really wowed. I’m not saying the food was any different — maybe it was just as good last year and we Continue reading

The Barbecue Joint in Chapel Hill Kaput?

5/17/10 UPDATE: SEE COMMENTS SECTION!

A few alert readers have written in to let us know that The Barbecue Joint in Chapel Hill appears to have closed several weeks ago.  Since then we have been working hard–or at least hardly working–to confirm this rumor.  Sure enough, the doors to the restaurant are closed and there is a sign from the Sheriff’s department saying that anyone who enters the restaurant is trespassing, or something to that effect. 

Recently we heard from a highly placed source (given the Watergate-esque nature of this story we will refer to this source as “Hush Puppy” to protect his/her identity), who confirmed the joint’s closing.  Hush Puppy told us, “they’re flat out of business and the lock on the door is the landlord’s, for non-payment of rent.  Apparently they got over-extended… The scheme for raising money by offering $2,000 worth of future food for $1,000 now was made necessary by some major backers pulling the plug.” 

Bad news for The Barbecue Joint’s loyal fans, especially any who ponied up $1,000 or more to invest in the place when it announced plans to move to a larger location awhile back.   Allen & Son is now back to being Chapel Hill’s only NC barbecue joint.  As much as I love Allen’s, maybe this opens the door for a new barbecue joint in town?