Not Really Smoke Free, Praise Be

Holy Smoke author and wood-cooked barbecue evangelist John Shelton “Reverend Smokey” Reed was kind enough to send along the below picture.  Being a Billy Graham-level traditional barbecue preacher, John titles the picture, “Not really smoke free, praise be.”

In case you need further explanation, the Bar-B-Q Center is one of the state’s oldest (and best) barbecue joints and still cooks the pork in traditional wood pits, despite the state imposed ban on smoking in the dining room. Praise be indeed.

Got Wood?

I received an email from a BBQJew.com reader with the following problem. I’m hoping someone out there in the Internets can provide some specific advice. If you’d rather not share the full contact info here, drop me a line at BBQJew at gmail.com and I’ll pass it along.

“Greetings,

We are planning to resurrect a very old brick cookpit on our property.  Would you be able to share a source for wood in the general Raleigh area?  We live in Wake Forest. Thanks for any info. you may have.  : )

 Sincerely, Diane
P.S.  I found you by way of a search I’d describe as nearly exhaustive!”
Diane’s exhaustive search probably would have been more productive had in been focused on Craigslist, the yellow pages, or even wandering around the streets of Wake Forest rather than trying to find a BBQ-eating fool like me.  But I appreciate her effort and want to help her out. Anybody out there know of good sources of cooking wood in the Raleigh area. Though she doesn’t specify, I assume Diane would prefer hickory but oak may do too.

There is plenty of wood at Grady's in Dudley...

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Barbecue

Baseball season is in full swing and the biggest news is from the concession stand.  Since Dillard’s BBQ, long-time Bulls game concessionaire, met its demise (well, mostly) in the offseason, my hometown Durham Bulls have brought in some new ‘cue.  Does the BBQ come from long-time Durham Bullock’s? Nope, they are only AA BBQ. Relative newcomer Backyard BBQ Pit? No again.  The Bulls have made the barbecue equivalent of signing a big name, albeit overhyped, free agent. “Now introducing, for your hometown Durham Bulls, our new barbecue vendor: The Pit restaurant from Raleigh, North Carolina!”  (Of course, soon enough The Pit will be from Durham too.)

I must say, at $6 for a sandwich The Pit’s ballpark barbecue is annoyingly overpriced like all ballpark concessions, but the ‘cue is a significant upgrade from Dillard’s.  To put it in baseball terms, the Dillard’s barbecue was like veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer: okay for five or six innings but not too special and likely to give you some heartburn before the game ended.  The Pit ain’t exactly Phillies ace Roy Halladay–maybe it’s Cole HAMels?–but it’s a big step up from Moyer: wood-cooked, good texture and generally capable of filling mealtime needs well into the late innings. (For the record, I’m not a Phillies fan and I’m not sure why I am using a convoluted Phils-centric analogy… deal with it.)

A picture of my too small, overpriced but fairly tasty The Pit barbecue sandwich is above. Note the crappy, from-a-plastic-container coleslaw, which is unforgivable. Still, better than an shriveled hot dog and a more than adequate representation of North Carolina barbecue; something we can be comfortable with the many out of town visitors to Bulls’ games tasting if it happens to be their first exposure to North Carolina barbecue.

Take me out to the DBAP,
Take me out with the crowd/
Buy me some peanuts and bar-b-q,
I’ll eat ’em both ’cause I’m the BBQ Jew/

Let me root, root, root for the D-Bulls,
If they don’t win it’s a shame/

For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game!

PLAY BALL!

BBQ Jew’s View: Hillsborough BBQ Company

236 South Nash Street, Hillsborough, NC
919.732.4647
Website
Hours: Tue-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fri&Sat), closed Sun&Mon
BBQ Jew’s Grade:
B+
Porky Says: “Unconventionally traditional barbecue.”

New Traditions
As of this moment, the Hillsborough BBQ Company is the newest barbecue restaurant in North Carolina, as far as I know (of course, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit may open three new franchises before I finish this sentence).  It’s obvious from the vintage black and white barbecue pictures on the Hillsborough BBQ Company’s website that the owners of the newly opened joint respect the state’s BBQ tradition.  And it is obvious from the simple fact that the joint has a website, and a fairly slick one at that, that the Hillsborough BBQ Company is not afraid of breaking from tradition.  More to the point, Hillsborough BBQ Company shows its dedication to tradition by cooking whole hog Eastern-style barbecue  over wood coals in a real pit.  Yet unlike the few dozen other BBQ joints in NC that still use a wood pit, Hillsborough BBQ Company cooks much more than just pork. 

Although hand-chopped pork barbecue is featured on the menu, diners may also order the following meats: beef brisket, pork ribs, chicken and turkey.  The rest of the menu is similarly diverse: NC staples like hush puppies, slaw (white and red), okra and banana pudding; and non-traditional NC dishes like a wedge salad with pork skins and keylime pie.  But the Hillsborough BBQ Company is definitely not trying to be all things to all people: the menu remains focused around barbecued meats and dishes that go well with them.  The well-stocked bar–featuring draft beers, cocktails, and “vino”–is really the only jarring element of the BBQ Company from a barbecue traditionalist’s perspective.  And since I am no teetotaller, I am willing to accept a bar as a nice addition to a barbecue joint. 

Judging the Food
To be honest, it is much more difficult for me to review a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company, where the menu goes far beyond chopped pork, than it is for me to judge more typical North Carolina ‘cue joints.  First, my primary reviewing strategy of ordering the same basic meal–chopped pork, slaw and hush puppies–at each restaurant in order to compare apples to apples is unfair to a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company.  Clearly, they want to be more than a NC BBQ purveyor, so it’s not really fair to judge them on one visit without trying more of the menu.  Second, I simply have less experience with brisket, ribs and the like and do not fully trust my palate to assess the finer points of these relatively foreign dishes.  But the show must go on.

I ordered a 2-meat combo plate with chopped pork and sliced brisket, as well as collards and white slaw (red slaw is also offered, but since the joint refers to its barbecue as “Eastern-style whole hog” I stuck to the variety meant for the pairing).  The brisket was somewhat overcooked, fall apart tender rather than a little give to it, but tasted good–heck, it’s brisket after all. I was not especially impressed with the sauce available for the brisket.  It was too ketchupy and lacked the depth of flavor that exists in the best Texas and Kansas City style sauces. Still, brisket really needs no sauce so perhaps that critique is irrelevant.  The white slaw and collards were both good but not exceptional. The slaw was slightly sweet, delicate and well chopped–slightly too much so for my taste–as Eastern NC slaw specimens typically are.  The collards tasted fresh and were not cooked to limp death, but were tender.  There was a bit of bitterness present but other that that no Continue reading

Backyard BBQ Season is Here

As I write this post it is one of those remarkably beautiful North Carolina spring days.   The temperature and humidity are perfect, the sky is Carolina blue (even for a devout Duke basketball fan like myself), and the swarms of summertime mosquitoes have yet to come out of hibernation or wherever the heck they are over the winter. In other words, it’s the perfect time to cook some barbecue.

If you want to become a master barbecue cook, or at least not embarass yourself too badly, I highly recommend reading through the great info at AmazingRibs.com.  The chief blogger/cook/all around BBQ guru over there, Meathead, offers a ton of free advice on everything from cuts of meat to buying guides for grills and accessories.  Really valuable info that ignorant wanna-be BBQers like myself can’t match.  If good old fashioned cookbooks are more your speed, I highly recommend Peace, Love, & Barbecue by Mike Mills or pretty much anything Steven Raichlen has written. Sure, he looks like a bit of a goofball but he knows his stuff.

You can spend a ton of money on a grill or smoker, but if you’re a newbie I recommend starting with something basic.  Cooking barbecue isn’t easy but it’s not all that complicated either.  There are lots of places to buy a grill, and online shops have started offering a lot of choices at competitive prices.  For example, CSGrills.com offers everything from entry level charcoal Brinkmann Smokers to top of the line Weber Gas Grills, as well as a range of other BBQ grills (with free shipping on most).  In my opinion, the only thing better than using a grill is dreaming about what a darn good pit master you’d be if you just had the right set up.  (Okay, maybe that’s just me).

Anyway, enough about my fantasies.  The bottom line: if you need a grill, buy one; if you have a grill, use it; and if you are planning to cook a bunch of barbecue, by all means save me some!  Happy cooking.

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…

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

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.

Ugly and Delicious

I’ve never accused North Carolina barbecue of looking pretty, but it sure is tasty.  Exhibit A is this plate of ‘cue at Wilber’s in Goldsboro:

A hot mess.

Unhinged Ramblings from a Real New Yorker, Part II

Below is a message I recently received from New Yorker Aaron Weiss, wanna be BBQ expert and all around good sport.

————

Hello Mr. LeSwine,

You may remember me from my Durham-area trip report from last spring. In fact, you posted it (with editorial comment!) on your web site. [Editor’s note: indeed I do remember you, with editorial comment.] I owe you a follow up, but I am afraid it may it ruffle your pig feathers. (Flying pigs have feathers, little known fact.)

This past January we drove home up north after a winter holiday in Florida [Editor’s note: typical for a New Yorker!]. On the way toward an overnight stop in Winston-Salem [Editor’s note: atypical for a New Yorker], I realized that we would be driving through Lexington. I know from reading your site and other ‘cue blogs that Lexington is considered a holy ground, but had not had a chance to visit before. Sadly, I do not yet own a smart phone, and I wanted to do the smart thing by referring to BBQ Jew before wandering into Lexington naked and clueless. So I stopped at a McDonald’s to take a ride on their free wifi, grabbed my netbook
from the trunk, and loaded up bbqjew.com [Editor’s note: and ordered a delicious McRib sandwich?].

We pulled into Lexington and stopped at, of course, Lexington #1. We ordered two “large” pork platters, one in the standard chop style and one in a “coarse” chop. Now, before I speak the words of heresy, let me be clear that we enjoyed our meals. I mean, come on — NC barbecue pork!  But…I have a few buts.

Portions were a little skimpy for the price. Maybe I am just the “pig” here, but a little more pork for the money would have seemed more fair. Likewise, we felt a little shorted on the vinegar sauce [Editor’s note: next time just ask for more, this is North Carolina, we’re friendly like that]. The Lexington-style cole slaw wasn’t quite to my taste, especially compared to Allen & Son, although my partner liked it more.

In sum, we enjoyed our meal but didn’t walk away feeling like we were on barbecue cloud nine, like we did at Allen & Son (and, before it went under, Barbecue Joint). I realize that this reaction is not quite in line with the orthodoxy, and so if I am now cast out of the tribe, I will understand and return to eating Buffalo wings. [Editor’s note: If you were Catholic, I’d listen to you repent for your sins, but as a fellow member of the tribe it’d be more appropriate for me to try and make you feel guilty… just remember to atone for your failures next time Yom Kippur rolls around.]

Porkless in NY,
Aaron