Parties at the Pits

An easy to read post for Friday morning: four belated pictures from Spring barbecue celebrations, the first two from the Cuegrass event at The Pit in Raleigh and the second set at customer appreciation day at the Backyard BBQ Pit #1 in Durham.

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

Weekend Double Feature: Cuegrass & Fire

Looking for something pork-related to do this weekend?  You have at least two good options.

1) The 14th annual Kings Mountain Firehouse Barbeque Cookoff.  There are 35 teams confirmed to compete in the KCBS-sanctioned cookoff and more than twice that many confirmed judges… hmmm.

2) The 2nd annual North Carolina Cuegrass Festival at The Pit in downtown Raleigh.   The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and features music, Ed Mitchell’s BBQ and local beers.  Now that’s a tasty combination plate.  

The headliner musical act is the (in)famous Southern Culture on the Skids.  SCOTS are known for throwing fried chicken into the crowd at their shows.  Since it’s pretty hard to throw chopped barbecue (trust me on this), maybe they’ll toss the fans some hushpuppies.  No word on how much the event costs but it’s a fundraiser for an interesting organization that supports family farms, and I am sure you’ll get your money’s worth in ‘cue and brew too.  Hat tip to burgeoningfoodie and Eryk Pruitt for letting me know about the Cuegrass event.

Guest Post: Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ

[BBQ Jew’s note: Today’s post was written by Holy Smoke author and intrepid airplane passenger/swine taster John Shelton Reed.]

Yes. I know that both Porky LeSwine and H. Kent Craig have knocked Brookwood Farms grocery store barbecue, but when Dale and I found ourselves in the Delta terminal at RDU, waiting for a noon flight that served no lunch, we weighed the options and went for the stand that says “Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ,” and I’m here to tell you about it. (By the way, I gather that they’re also in the Charlotte airport.)

First, let me say that, to my mind, Brookwood is missing a great opportunity to educate outlanders, the way the Salt Lick outpost in the Austin airport introduces folks to the Texas product. I guess they’ve done the numbers, though, and decided that catering to travelers whose ideas of barbecue vary wildly requires them to take what I’ve come to think of as the “International House of Barbecue” approach: some of this, some of that, something for everyone, none of it great, but all of it, I guess, OK. For our part, we passed up the “Santa Maria tri-tip,” the barbecued chicken, and barbecued turkey, and went for the barbecue – that is, for the pork. Here the choice comes down to a $7.00 sandwich or a $10.00 plate. (Yes, those prices are steep, but this is airport food, after all.)

We decided to split a plate, which comes with hushpuppies and a choice of two side dishes. Since slaw and Brunswick stew were on offer, naturally those had to be the sides. Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque

109 E. Davie Street, Raleigh, NC
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Cooper’s is past retirement age.”

Urban Barbecue
Given the modest piece of real estate it occupies in the shadows of some of downtown Raleigh’s sparkling new office towers, Clyde Cooper’s BBQ’s continued existence is noteworthy.  And the location in the heart of downtown gives Cooper’s a better excuse for not cooking over wood coals than most joints have.  Between Cooper’s location and history–the joint has existed since 1938, and founder Clyde Cooper lived from 1899 to 1998–I really want to like it.  Yet I have eaten there several times over the years and found it mediocre at best.  Because new owners took over Cooper’s late last year, I decided to give it another try.

The good news is that the current owners wisely kept Cooper’s old time atmosphere, thick and authentic, intact.  (The NC license plate on the wall that reads “Soieee!” is a nice, I think new, touch).  The bad news is the current owners kept the mediocre barbecue intact too. 

Still hanging on after 71 years.

Like many joints, both urban and rural, Cooper’s used to cook with wood but the days when grease-laced hickory smoke wafted out of the back of the joint are long since gone.  Alas, I suspect it has been that long since Cooper’s has served a good plate of barbecue.  The fact that Cooper’s, though an Eastern-style joint in terms of its menu and sauce, cooks hams and shoulders rather than whole hog barbecue, doesn’t help my opinion of it either.     

The Food: Not Yuppicue, Just Not Good
I respect the fact that Cooper’s has stayed true to its roots in terms of the feel of the restaurant and the type of menu it offers.  It might have been tempting to turn Cooper’s into a sort of barbecue showplace/museum that caters to convention center visitors and other barbetourists.  (As an aside, can we organize ourselves as a state and create a barbecue museum already?!) Yet the menu remains simple, the presentation plain and the price fair.  That’s Continue reading

Raleigh’s Got Sauce


Thursday, October 29th is the deadline to enter’s “Pit Master’s Choice Awards: North Carolina’s State Sauce Competition.” Any North Carolina resident can enter; Yankees, Texans and other such scourge of the earth need not apply.

The contest will be held Nov. 7 at Raleigh’s Ray Price Harley-Davidson in conjunction with the dealership’s annual barbecue cookoff and blood drive (blood type BBQ+ is in especially high demand).  There are amateur and professional divisions, and sauce can be entered in Eastern style, Western style and non-traditional categories. 

Judges include N.C. barbecue expert Bob Garner (a man who has eaten his weight in BBQ several times over), food critic J. Scott Wilson, sanctioned barbecue competition judge Jerry Snead, Wake Tech chef-instructor Fredi Morf, and “voice of the people” (we have no idea what that means but the event website says it) Ned Perry. 

For all the details and an entry form, visit the Web site.

Porky’s Pulpit: Pro Bono Barbecue

Swineday Bloody Swineday
According to an informative paid advertorial article in the News & Observer, when international supergroup U2 visited the area this past weekend for a concert they ordered out for barbecue from Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue in downtown Raleigh.  Cooper’s co-owner Debbie Holt received a late afternoon call from a member of U2’s staff from on board their private jet a short while before it touched down at RDU.  (Do private jets come equipped with $3.99 per minute Airfones in the seatbacks?  Can even Bono himself afford these rates?) 

Despite rumors to the contrary, Bono is not a vegetarian, though his bandmate Larry Mullen Jr. may be.  Despite the presence of a vegeterian in their midst, the U2 entourage placed an order for slightly more than $225 worth of barbecue and sides, which had to be delivered to the jet after their concert ended in time for a 10:50 p.m. departure. (“We love you, Raleigh, but it’s time to go… there’s barbecue waiting on the jetway.”)  Debbie Holt, her husband Randy Holt, and cook Chess Smith stayed well past Cooper’s usual 6:00 p.m. closing time to cook up the food for the hungry, pork-loving Irishmen. 

Interestingly, this is not U2’s first NC barbecue encounter.  There is a vintage photo of U2 on the wall of fame at Bullock’s Barbecue in Durham, where famous visitors to the restaurant are honored.  The photo features a picture of circa mid-1980s U2 along with the classically underwhelming caption, “U2 – Band from Ireland.”  A couple decades and more than a few millions album sales later U2 is back eating ‘cue in NC again.  Apparently, slow-cooked pork is a hit Where the Streets Have No Name.

Porky’s Pulpit: If Pigs Could Fly…

If pigs could fly, which airport would they use?  Not Raleigh-Durham International (RDU), at least if they knew they might get cooked there.  Brookwood Farms BBQ is a relatively new entry to RDU’s dining scene, with a location in the posh new Terminal 2 (which used to be the still pretty new Terminal C before it got torn down, and before that there was just old Terminal A and old Terminal B, but Terminal B was closed after Terminal C was built, and… well, it’s a long story). 

According to the blurb on the RDU website, Brookwood Farms BBQ is located near gate C-9 (even though the terminal is now called Terminal 2, not Terminal C, mind you) and is open from 4:30 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.  The website says of the restaurant, “Hailing from nearby Siler City, NC, Brookwood Farms BBQ invites you to come and sit a spell while enjoying real down home cooking.”  Needless to say, despite that folksy quote, I am highly skeptical of the quality of any BBQ joint that is in an airport.  Plus, the folksiness smacks of faux ‘cue to me, but I’ll reserve final judgment until I visit, hopefully on my next flight out of RDU since even I can’t justify driving to the airport just for a meal. 

Actually, let’s be honest, I’ve pre-judged Brookwood already because their wholesale barbecue is sold at large grocery stores.  I’ve had it before and it is simply not good.  See H. Kent Craig’s scathing review if you want the gory details.  Interestingly, Craig says he used to really like their ‘cue, even going so far as describing it by saying, “it embraces your mouth like a silken sexy lover, kissing your tastebuds with one of the most pleasant initial tastes, as well as pleasant aftertastes when you burp your signal of approval later that night.”  Craig writes that the BBQ’s quality has dropped markedly over the years.  But maybe the ‘cue served “fresh” at the restaurant at RDU will be different?  Heck, maybe pigs can fly!

The Pit Expanding

A tip of the hat snout to Raleigh-based food blogger Dean McCord, who reports that The Pit is expanding.  The Pit, which I “reviewed” awhile back (see what I mean here), is an upscale BBQ restaurant in downtown Raleigh.  Apparently the people of Raleigh were not persuaded by my snarky commentary and continue to head to The Pit like, well, hogs to the slaughter.  See Dean’s full post on The Pit here and check out the main page of his interesting food blog VarmintBites.

BBQ Jew’s View: The Pit (A Non-Review)

328 W. Davie St., Raleigh, NC
The Pit’s Website
(caution: this website is dangerously slick)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: I for incomplete
Porky Says: “Can’t we leave well enough alone?!” 

I just can’t bring myself to go to The Pit.

If barbecue was meant to be upscale it wouldn’t be made of chopped pork. And if folks in Raleigh need cloth napkins and a glass of chardonnay to enjoy barbecue, then perhaps they should just do without and leave the pork for the huddled masses. That said, The Pit’s pitmaster Ed Mitchell is a legend of NC barbecue. He used to own a joint in Wilson that had a stellar reputation, and sadly I never had the good fortune to visit it. That fact alone has almost drawn me to visit The Pit.

Main Course
Unfortunately, The Pit is a far cry from Mitchell’s old place—it is set up as more of a barbecue zoo than a barbecue joint, putting the wild barbecue beast on display for visitors to stare at while keeping a safe distance. The Pit’s website claims the restaurant is “a celebration of all of the great culinary offerings of the Old North State.” Based on the menu, apparently North Carolina’s “great culinary offerings” include Hot Spinach Bacon Dip with Baked Baguette Chips, Meatloaf with Onion Demi and Blue Cheese Crumbles, and Barbecued Tofu. I have never seen tofu slow-cooked over wood coals but I can only imagine tofu lets out a squeal that would scare the vegetarian right out of even the most devout PETA member. If serving tofu at a barbecue restaurant is not a sin in the First Church Synagogue of ‘Que, I am not sure what is.

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Just Desserts
In fairness, The Pit’s menu features some classic whole hog NC barbecue and sides, and I have little doubt that Ed Mitchell is a great pitmaster. Plus, the focus on locally raised organic hogs and local produce is admirable. I just can’t quite bring myself to visit a barbecue zoo when a true barbecue safari can be had within 20 miles in any direction.