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Jun 9, 2003 07:17 PM

North Carolina BBQ

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For as long as I can remember, there has been an ongoing argument about which is better... the barbecue from Eastern or Western North Carolina. (Western is the tomato-based sauce and Eastern is vinegar-based.)

That question might have been answered last week when three City of Lexington, NC, (stronghold of vinegar-based sauce) vehicles stopped in Charlotte at the Old Hickory House Restaurant and bought large quantities of tomato-based take-out barbeque.

Interestingly, there is a new "Cajun" BBQ joint in Chimney Rock, NC, that features Eastern and Western NC BBQ as well as Texas-style (beef) along with descriptions of the different sauces):

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  1. Purely by happenstance, I have been to Old Hickory House in Charlotte.

    It's not what most people consider "western NC barbecue" AKA Lexington or Piedmont style, which has just a hint of tomato in the thin vinegar-based "dip" (sauce).

    Instead, Old Hickory House serves what I have come to learn is predominant in what is really western NC, Ashville and beyond. Their 'cue comes in a much thicker, very tomatoey sauce. It's pretty good for what it is.

    It's really nothing like what you get in Lexington, which is probably why the guys from Lexington drove down to get some.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Bob W.

      What you describe of Western NC sauce is hardly indigenous to Western NC. As you probably know already, a thick tomato-based sauce is common in the Deep South (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) as well as Kansas City and even Memphis.

      1. re: Sant

        Which is why most NC bbq aficionados don't bother venturing past Shelby.

        What's commonly referred to as Western NC 'cue really should be called Central NC 'cue (if you're not going to call it Piedmont or Lexington 'cue). In other words, as far as barbecue is concerned, what is served way out in what is really Western NC isn't even on the map.

      2. re: Bob W.

        Any one out there know of a rib joint in the west jefferson area of north carolina,or galax virginia..

        1. re: sculpaway

          Wrong part of the country for rib joints, I am afraid.

          1. re: sculpaway

            There is a decent BBQ place in downtown Galax called The Galax Smokehouse. I've never had their ribs, but it would be worth try. There 'q is pretty good.

        2. Lexington is not the stronghold a vinegar-based sauce. In Lexington, they add a little ketchup to the sauce and call it a dip. It's still a thin sauce, and to the rest of the 50 states, it might appear to be a vinegar-based sauce, but here in NC, the mere presence of a smidgen of tomato causes fightin' words.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Brent Kulman

            I stand corrected. Actually, I suppose we should add a third category for the Lexington style... maybe call it Piedmont-style Barbecue!

            "Piedmont-style" (which, by the way, typically contains only pork shoulders) is a mixture of the vinegary sauce of the East, combined with tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar.

          2. BBQ is not in the sauce.

            Eastern style is whole hog,

            their sauce of choice is vinegar & a few spices.

            Western style is whole sholder

            their sauce of choice is just like eastern with a little ketchup added.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Raine

              And if you were blindfolded and a plate of each (Eastern & Western) was placed in front of you with no sauce... you could tell the difference?

              I don't think so.

              1. re: Hog farmer

                Just to be clear, by no sauce you mean other that what is applied during the cooking process, right?

                If that's the case, I think a large percentage of NC barbecue lovers could tell the difference, because the Eastern would be chopped much finer than the Western.

                Lexington aficionados often denigrate Eastern NC cue as "minced."

                1. re: Bob W.

                  The bbq's I had in Etowah and in Saluda were minced to the point of being like sawdust. They were dry to that point, too.

                  Maybe, as another poster suggested elsewhere, there should be 3 divisions of NC bbq - Eastern, Piedmont, and Western.

                  1. re: Sandy

                    It has been run through a buffalo chopper with a fine blade, and that will ruin good bbq.

                  2. re: Bob W.

                    Don't think they cook it with sauce.

              2. Southern Living last month called The Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC not just the best bbq in Carolina but the BEST BBQ IN AMERICA. Southern Living.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Joe H.

                  Boy, now that's the way to start a real fight.

                  If their review of SC places is any indication, they didn't get very far from the interstates.

                  1. re: Sandy

                    The Skylight Inn IS that good. I've posted on here several times that I believe it and the Luling City Market in Luling, TX are America's two best. Totally different yet as good as each style gets. There's nothing in either Carolina-not Sweatman's, Lexington #1, Wilber's, Stamey's-nothing in the league of The Skylight Inn. When you walk in the door you'll understand. One man stands behind a butcher block with two cleavers, doing literally nothing but chopping pork over and over for hours. This is whole hog q from a man whose family has been doing it since 1830.


                    1. re: Joe H.

                      Be it as good as you say, that still wouldn't stop the fight.

                      1. re: Sandy

                        True, sometimes it's one town's best q vs. another's and it involves a lot more than just the bbq!

                2. joe h. is right. until you've tried the skylight inn, you wouldn't understand. sandy is just stuck on some kind of sentimental kick. skylight inn is in a category of it's own, and there's no way another restaurant could create such gold out of a pig, some wood, and a couple cleavers. best bbq, hands down.