Editor's note: All summer long, the Southern Foodways Alliance will be delving deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. Dig in.
Back in February 2011, when Charlotte, North Carolina, was selected to host this year's Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama found herself on the hot seat when she praised the city for its charm, hospitality, and "of course, great barbecue." The declaration drew a chorus of jeers from Carolina barbecue fans, who are passionate about their smoked pork but not so hot on offerings in the Queen City.
University of North Carolina sociologist John Shelton Reed, the co-author of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, had perhaps the best rejoinder. "Complete the sentence," he challenged the Associated Press. "As a good barbecue town, Charlotte is: one—not what it used to be; two—like Minneapolis for gumbo; three—good enough for Yankees; four—not far from Shelby."*
Not even the editorial board of the Charlotte Observer would come to the defense of its city's barbecue, saying, "Everybody knows to get the best stuff, you gotta drive north to Lexington."
Curiously enough, considering its reputation today, Charlotte may well have been the home of North Carolina's first barbecue restaurant. In March 1899, Mrs. Katie Nunn ran a classified ad in the Charlotte Observer announcing that she was opening a grocery store and barbecue stand at 13 South Church Street and that her husband, Levi Nunn, had constructed a large pit behind the store where he would cook the meat.
This was a good two decades before Sid Weaver and Jess Swicegood - considered among the pioneers of North Carolina barbecue entrepreneurship - started selling barbecue from tents outside the courthouse in Lexington.
Today, pork is synonymous with barbecue in North Carolina: whole hog in the eastern part of the state; shoulders in the Piedmont. Mr. and Mrs. Nunn's menu, however, included not just pork but beef and mutton, too - meats almost never seen in a Tarheel barbecue joint these days.
Little else is known about the Nunns. By 1902, their grocery store was no longer listed in the Charlotte city directory, and they appear to have moved on to another city. Perhaps they headed north to Lexington.
*Shelby, if you haven't been, is the home of Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, a famous purveyor of the Lexington-style barbecue that's native to the western Piedmont.
Today's installment comes courtesy of Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper and author of "Barbecue: the History of an American Institution". Follow him on Twitter at @mossr.
Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog.
Previously - How a barbecued ox ended up in the Cape Fear River and How L.B.J. nearly brought BBQ to NYC
This web page is really a walk-by for all the information you needed about this and didn�t know who to ask. Glimpse here, and you�ll undoubtedly discover it.
Great post man, keep it up.
BBQ gets everyones panties in a knot. to those who dismiss it as "unsophisticated" or chared meat, you haven't had good BBQ.
To those who say Charlotte is a wasteland of BBQ I say. "It was." Times be a changin' and things are looking up.
We have Spoons n South Blvd., Sauceman's on Remount, Midwood Smokehouse on Central, 10 Park Lanes on Providence and the Queen City Q on 7th.
Each of these serves respectable BBQ and it's worth paying for. If you want somethin close to Charlotte try 521 BBQ on 521 in Indian Land or Rannucci's BBQ in Belmont. No need to travel the countryside to get good Q. But, as always, the best BBQ is found in my backyard on saturday afternoon.
It's all about Lexington BBQ #1 in NC.
I can excuse the First Lady her gaffe. I have had BBQ from Murphy to Manteo, but never chanced to have it in Charlotte. No reason–it just came out that way. Ergo, if I had been asked, I would assume that a Piedmont city like Charlotte would have some fine BBQ shoulder somewhere. I had no idea that Charlotte had suffered the same yankee-ization as Atlanta. You folks in the Queen City have my condolencess. It's cold consolation that as Atlanta's BBQ has gotten worse, the bagels have gotten better.
It's called Reconstruction. Somewhat necessary after the 'Late Unpleasantness' as my Great-Grandmother called it. Unfortunately the carpet bagging SOB's never left. As for Barbeque, it is native to all over North Carolina. Since most of the pig farms are in the Eastern part of the State I would guess it all started there. Charlotte? Very unlikely. Import from the East no doubt.
Don't like BBQ from anywhere. No comment necessary. Oh .... wait ....
American tastes are so unsophisticated. You all really need to develop more refined tastes like Europeans have. Right now, you seem like little children. You all need to grow up.
Really? It's sophisticated to like only a certain few prescribed foods that are approved by self-appointed cultural elites? Get real. True food lovers have an open mind and a diverse palate that can appreciate not only steak au poive and frisee salads, but also delicious meticulously crafted smoked meats. Plenty of Americans are plenty sophisticated, and not all Europeans are. Just ask my German friends who adore spaghetti topped with ketchup.
Nevermind the fact that just about every European country has their own traditions of barbecue and grilling, and that modern American barbecue exists because of European interaction with the native peoples of the Americas.
But keep talking. Why let things like facts get in the way of perfectly good trolling, right?
People eat what is available wherever they live. The reason the French drown everything in sauces is to hide what the rest tastes like. I don't know if it the genus of cows they and England have but you can't find a decent steak anywhere in the whole continent. I suspect that is the real reason our ancestors came to the new world. Better Food.
McCall's in Goldsboro, NC (although Wilbur's down the highway is very good too). Both are on Hwy 70 (I think its 70). I always put slaw on my barbecue sandwich – you get the tangy vinegar and then the cold mayo slaw.
They not only make nasty BBQ sauce, but they also suck pretty mightily at making clam chowder.
Why in the world would you order clam chowder in North Carolina???
I guess for the same reasons I ordered BBQ once in NC: stupidity; naivete; ignorance.
Two styles of good BBQ in NC. I've heard it said you could tell which straight ticket locals voted by the way they preferred their BBQ, with the east being home to the vinegar style and most of the state's Dems and the west having a heavier sauce and more Republicans. The middle splits its ticket and its BBQ. Charlotte doesn't really count because half the population thinks they're in NY and the rest think they're in SC. By the party/sauce measure, the DNC would have been more at home in Rocky Mount, Wilson or Princeville. Sad to say, some of the best small BBQ places in the east closed after Hurricane Floyd in '99.
Being from Alabama I have consumed barbeque all over the South. It all depends on where you first tasted barbeque, everything else is wrong.. :-) I live in Utah now where anything cooked on a grill is called Barbequeing, go figure..
I'm not a fan of Carolina style of BBQ at all. The only thing I like about it is that it's pork, but I don't care for the way it's prepared it and I definitely don't care for the sauce. To me the only REAL BBQ is Memphis style BBQ.
Drive down and eat at Shealy's Bar-B-Que located west of Columbia, SC. Their cue is served with a mustard-based sauce and stands up well to any style served in the Old North State and elsewhere.
I concur that the picture in no way represents eastern or western NC bbq. And yes, if you're in Charlotte and you want good cue, you drive up I-85 to Salisbury or Lexington. Make mine coarse chopped outside, please!
Bill's BBQ in Wilson, or Parkers in Wilson and Greenville. Someone also mentioned B's, which is awesome. As a native of Eastern NC, and someone who lived in Charlotte, I can say that Charlotte's BBQ is boring, bland, and as good as anything you can get at a chain restaurant anywhere in the country. If you want BBQ in NC, you have to go to Lexington, or east. Anyone who brags about Charlotte BBQ has obviously has no idea what they are talking about. Which is par for the course for polititians (and their wives).
What a snarky comment...and everyone knows Ralph's Barbeque in Roanoke Rapids is the very very best...
Spoons BBQ on S Blvd in Charlotte hands down the best.
B's in Greenville, NC. Get there early because when the food is gone. They close.
You have to love B's. No phone, no advertising (except the pack of vehicles parked on the side of the road), a cash box (no register), a real pit, real smoke, tiny building, and tremendous food. A true classic.
Everyone talks about Bs but I have yet to go. (I only live 45 minutes from Greenville). I will have to put it on my priority list!
I think I've seen it before after driving a relative for an appointment nearby... the place was packed!!
Bubba's BBQ, just north of the city exit 16 on I-77.
The Denny's on Rte 1 serves up a mean BBQ sandwich.
Yappers – So, YOU think bbq should NOT be juicy? Do YOU think bbq should be over-cooked, dry and chewy? No way jose!
This article is absolutely right. There used to be lots of good BBQ in Charlotte, but with the "changing demographics" (ie. the influx of NYers), almost all of them have gone out of business. Now, the "best" BBQ in Charlotte (as rated by Creative Loafing at least) is Mac's, which is barely a step above that Lloyd's stuff you buy in the grocery stores. There is still some good BBQ at Lancaster's on Beattie's Ford though. Kyle Fletcher's in Gastonia is good if you are out that way, but you will have to deal with the all of the UNC stuff littering the walls (almost enough to make you lose your appetite). Red Bridge's in Shelby is OK, but their BBQ all comes in those little paper baskets and they only have red slaw. None of these can hold a candle to PC's which was in Mt Holly before it recently closed, though.
My favorite subject! People all over the world love to eat barbecue, BAR-B-CUE or BBQ. Just like the spelling different meats take center stage according to the locale. Of course the local hardwood & fruit trees will also change the flavor of identical cuts of meat!! Then to sauce or not! If you do sauce do you go sweet, tart, sweet & tart? The combinations are endless! I could go on all day about this subject, but I've suddenly developed an intense desire for a pulled pork sandwich! On my way there I'll decide whether to slaw or not. Decisions, decisions!
The word barbecue comes from the Spanish barbacoa, a derivative of the Taino word barabicu. The Taino were Native Tribes to the Greater Antilles, which include Cuba, the island of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. They not only invented the grille, fashioned from the limbs of the bearded fig, but also the first marinade/BBQ sauce made from native tropical herbs. If you want to eat REAL barbeque (not pulled meat steeped in sauce)derived directly from it's historical origins, there are Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican restaurants that will roast a whole SEASONED hog, turkey or calf by turning in a pit over wood charcoal until you can crack the golden-brown skin on it with the side of a knife, after which you can have your choice of cut, instead of being fed from a pan full of bland, mashed meat. Now that there is good eatin'. Buen provecho.
Being from in Miami and have traveled all over... North Carolina is still the best barbecue pork and mojo styles come short compared to those varieties in the Carolinas, particularly those cooked with wood. Just because a term originated in the DR, Cuba, or beyond- doesn't mean someone else didn't perfect the art of cooking barbecue pork or use a spit/barbecue before the term was developed.
Most importantly, pigs/pork/hogs/swine/cerdo were introduced in those regions from Eurasia. I have a hard time believing nobody roasted a pig until they arrived in Cuba or the DR.
Having lived in Puerto Rico and now living in Charlotte, there is some truth to what you say, but true NC BBQ is cooked whole-hog and then pulled off the carcass as it falls apart. The meat is seasoned by the wood and later by the sauce. Of course Puerto Rican lechon is marinated (adobado) continuously giving it more flavor off the bone without having to add sauce.
I like them both!
I suspect that mankind has been bar b qing meat since he first learned how to bump rocks together to make the fire. We will probably be debating this until the cows and the pigs come home. Having said that I love NC BBQ- but I'm from Memphis- We have several very famous BBQ places where 3 President's have come to our city. Bush, Clinton. and of course President Obama and legend has it even Pres Reagan ordered some from our world famous Rendevous. We have the World Champion BBQ Contest where even the Japanese, to win-*
Whoever said you don't put cole slaw on a BBQ sandwich has been mislead. Legitimate, slow-smoked BBQ pulled pork is almost always served with a spicy, vinegary sauce (on the side) and a nice mayo slaw to cool it down. It may come on the side, but you put it on your sandwich before you dig in. Only yankees hate cole slaw, and then only because they don't eat mayo mixed in with stuff. Mayo is only a condiment in the northeast, not an ingredient. In the south we put mayo in (almost) everything, and serve cole slaw with our BBQ.
Alright now. I grew up in NJ and I love mayo in everything you can put mayo in. The difference is that in the north, we don't eat BBQ, we HAVE a BBQ, meaning cooking hot dogs, hamburgers, or chicken on the grill. There is no "BBQ – pulled pork" in NJ. a BBQ is a get together with friends or family where we cook out and have a good time.
So true. I had to explain to my in-laws from Pittsburg that BBQ in NC is a noun, not a verb.
Erm, Big Ed's? It's not Deep South BBQ, but it doesn't suck...
Everyone knows that the only good 'cue is found east of I-95! We will smoke no swine before its time.
I worked in an office where everyone but me was from North Carolina - Boy did I learn about BARBEQUE - and the difference between NC STATE and NC Chapel Hill - Lovely people – I guess CNN will have to have a BARBEQUE Taste Test and find out who is the best.
There's only one Carolina...that's EAST Carolina!
I've heard of (North) Carolina, that political subdivision to our immediate South is called South Carolina, but according to every map I have seen there is no such place as East Carolina, unless you re talking about that Teachers College in Greenville?
And I should be horse-whipped for not mentioning The Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC, home of Pete Jones BarbECUe! The best pork they ever yanked out of a pig.
Wilbers in Goldsboro, NC is the absolute best ever. The best Q anyone has ever had.
Wilbers is by far the best. I agree.
Wilburs is good, but not as good as Parkers in either Wilson or Greenville. Either way, eastern BBQ is so much better than that stuff that masquerades as BBQ in the Piedmont.
Been a Wilsonite since I was 13. Parkers is great. (much better than Bills), but from what I hear, Bs in Greenville is even better. Wilburs is pretty good. I prefer their southern breakfasts more than anything.
I've lived in NC all my life, and I've had Bs, Parker's and Bill's.
Bs is in a completely different class than Parker's and Bill's.
If anyone is stuck in Charlotte and needs an Eastern NC bbq fix, check out Spoon's on South Blvd.
They're more expensive than I'd like and only open for lunch – but better than anything else that I found in the QC.
Oh – leave your credit cards at home...they only accept cash, checks and IOUs (at least that was what they accepted last time I was there)
If you're looking for fried chicken in the QC, check out Price's Chicken Coop on Camden.
And if you're looking for burgers, you want to find The Penguin or Brooks Sandwich Shop (for the real Brooks experience, look for the one on Brevard, not the one in noda).
I had a good bit of business trips up to Charlotte earlier this year May-June. I can't say that Charlotte itself has the best barbecue in NC or the US as a whole. However I ate at two pretty good joints while there. There is this place called Sauce Man's. It was pretty good, the pork was great and they've come up with several different concoctions and their versions of different regional sauces. (My personal favorite is the Low Country/South Carolina sauce that is mustard based) The people were really friendly, and had pretty good sides and decent beer on tap. The second place I ate at was this place called Mac's Speed Shop. It had pretty decent barbecue, large selection of different types, and the sauce was on par. This place had a TON of craft beer, and is a great place to get rowdy....lots of bikers. But yeah, if you want authentic NC bbq, you've got to drive north to Lexington.
If you want real barbeque, come to Chicago, Kansas City, or St. Louis. North Carolina is way overrated, and so is Memphis.
I don't know if I'd call it overrated...I think each region is passionate about their own regional style.
With that said...burnt ends in Kansas City...I'm drooling just thinking about them. I've never been able to
find them anywhere else.
Charred cow smothered in tomato sauce. Bleh.
Now, don't go getting the Texans all riled up. Everywhere else knows real BBQ is pork. The occasional brisket is OK, but pork is king when it comes to authentic BBQ. And yes, KC is truly one of the best places to go on a BBQ binge.
Your definition of BBQ is clearly different than traditional NC BBQ. Traditional NC BBQ is chopped pork, as in the photo, with either a vinegar based sauce (eastern NC) or tomato based sauce (western NC). There is no comparison to ribs, brisket, etc. Don't get me wrong, we love all of that as well, but that is not the BBQ NC is known for. Go to B's in Greenville, Bullocks in Durham, Wilber's in Goldsboro, or the Skylight Inn in Ayden, and you will experience some of the finest eastern NC BBQ.
That photos is horrible! I can't speak to availability/suitability of bbq in Charlotte as I grew up in Eastern North Carolina. I can, however, agree w/ comments above that NC bbq (and there are several great places) as a general rule does not involve topping your sandwich with coleslaw (though I realize it's a matter of taste). Eastern NC bbq is chopped smoked pork. No coleslaw, no sticky sweet bbq sauce – just a red pepper based vinegar sauce that you can add to suit your personal taste. In Eastern NC I'm rather fond of Bum's BBQ in Ayden when I'm able to visit now that I live in Maryland. Luckily in MD there's Andy Nelson's which does a fabulous pulled pork sandwich and they make fresh brewed sweet tea. Now if they could just add fried green tomatoes to the menu I'd be Southern-style happy in (almost) Yankee-land.
*photo (not photos)
Gary's Barbecue in China Grove (on old US 29) is THE best NC barbecue and slaw you can get. Period.
Yep its a pulled pork sandwich. Nope, Tenn. BBQ sucks.
Well, I have had some pretty good Tennessee BBQ, at least on par with anything I ever had in NC. Places come and go, recipes vary by region, but I never saw any separation between TN and NC BBQ. Now KC, that's another story; you can't throw a stick without hitting a good BBQ joint.
Based on that picture, all I can say is they can have their BBQ. That looks like a gristly, soggy mess. It certainly doesn't appear appetizing. Yuck.
whoever put that together for the picture did a horrible job. when done right the bread does not get soggy.
That was actually the finest whole hog BBQ sandwich I have ever had the privilege of eating. If you'd pass that up, you'd really miss out.
@Kat- I have only had horrible Carolina BBQ experiences, but if you recommend it, I may just give it another go. I'm partial to TX BBQ but always up for a challenge. The last Carolina BBQ I had was likely from old C-Rations or something.
Can you be so kind as to tell us where the barbecue sandwich was served?
@campstovejack – It was at the BBQ MFA seminar hosted by Mike Mills and Amy Mills at 17th St. There was some seeeerious BBQ going on there. Lots of regions represented by the pitmasters present.
nasty looking sandwich; real bbq is made in middle tennessee!!!!
I live in Richmond, Virginia but was born and raised in North Carolina. The picture associated with this article is NOT bbq; but is better known as a pulled pork sandwich. At least that is what they call it in Richmond; an area which rarely gets NC bbq right either.
See, Richmond has enough bbq variety where one is specific in a description. This one has cole slaw on it so it has to be a pulled pork and not a bbq pork sandwich. Cole slaw on bbq is a big no-no to those in the know. And if the pork was cooked in a slow cooker like this example appears to have, it could hardly be called BBQ, could it.
Yep that sandwich looks mighty pale and lacking. Looks like something that's served in a uppity crust place in New York City or Washington D.C. Look, it was served on its own china plate!
Coleslaw on a bbq pork sandwich is the best! If you don't want the coleslaw, don't get it. That sandwich in the picture looks perfectly delicious to me, and it is making me hungry!!
Its okay to disagree about food likes and dislikes. I prefer my cole slaw on the side. a bbq pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw on it is technically a bbq salad sandwich.
Besides being a noun, BBQ is a transitive verb.
I agree. Looks like a stock photo of a BBQ sandwich from somewhere in NYC. The china plate is an absolute dead giveaway; everyone knows china leaches out the smoky goodness of BBQ. A wax paper lined basket is the best.
I was served that sandwich - with slaw - in a room where Mike Mills, Rodney Scott, Patrick Martin, Sam Jones, Brad Orrison, John Stage and more of the finest pitmasters in the country were serving up whole hog, five ways. You wanna tell me that's not real barbecue? You go right ahead. But you'll be very, very, very, very wrong.
I'm not sure why you would want North Carolina bbq in Richmond. It's only a short drive to King's Barbecue in Petersburg and they had the best minced pork I've ever tasted.
My family would go there any time we were in the area and I've been known to have a pork sandwich with coleslaw for dessert.
And Pierces pit BBQ near Williamsburg makes a mean BBQ sandwich. I remember stopping at the place when it was just a gravel parking lot and a open smoke pit, It was all in the open out doors, Pierce hadn't put the roof over it yet.
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.
Join 8,172 other followers