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Barbecue...Lexington v.s. N. or . S Carolina

Can anyone tell me the difference between different kinds of barbecue? I have been on quest since I moved from Montana to N. Carolina and while I know what I like, I am not always sure of what I should be looking for. I had the most awsome barbecue experience at the flea market in Hillsville, Va. a few years ago. It was a food stand that served the Lexington type. I liked it better than the tomato sauce base I had had before...and it went with a cole slaw that had a vinegar base instead of mayonnaise.

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  1. My wife is in love with the Lexington or western NC cole slaw. Whenever we pass by a BBQ place that has the slaw we must stop and buy a gallon. That said, Bob Garner has written a book that talks about the diffrent styles and recommends some of the better BBQ restaurants for good cue.

    He also has done a TV show that is aired once a year during WUNC's fund-raising Festival in Febaruary and March, please look for that for a good explanation. Whether you prefer Eastern style, Western style, or like both the same is just a matter of personal preference. One is not inherently better than the other.

    1. There are several different types of 'Q

      In St Louis we mostly get Kansas City style - with a sweet and tangy tomatoey sauce

      There is also a style (Lexington??) with a peppered vinegar sauce.

      I believe that in Eastern Carolina they add a bit of tomato to the vinegar sauce

      We also have 'Q with a Mustard based sauce - Western Carolinas???

      The important thing is that they are all good!

      This summer, my wife and I, who are both Kansas City Barbecue Society Certified Barbecue Judges who hae been to many 'Q contests around St. Louis will be judging a 'Q contest in Vermont. We are interested in seeing if we notice any regional difference.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rich in stl

        Mustard-based, as I learned yesterday in another thread, is South Carolina.

        For NC, both primary sauces are vinegar-based -- Western/Lexington adds tomato, Eastern doesn't.

        1. re: rich in stl

          I took my very southern daughter to Montana last year and she ordered barbecue in a restaurant. It was very dry and not seasoned well at all. I'm not sure northerners can make barbecue! lol

        2. BBQ is more than a food down here-- it's a way of life. It reminds us of good times with the people we love the most. We defend our particular type of BBQ the way we defend our families and our traditions-- hope that explains a little of why people are so insistent on the "best" type of BBQ. That being said--

          THE BEST BBQ IS EASTERN NC BBQ!!! The vinegar-basd sauce is the best to me. Additionally, I think eastern NC bbq is the best b/c most of the mom & pop shops separate the fatback from the meat b/c they can sell it separately-- this makes eastern nc bbq- by far the leanest-- i mean- to me- there's nothing worse than pig fat! ooh!

          the best bbq place i have ever eaten is Marvin's BBQ in Kenansville, NC-- you won't get an honest taste of the authentic eastern nc bbq at parker's, smithfield's or other large chains-- you definitely have to try a home-made bbq.

          i am originally from georgia & i have to say- the bbq there is awful! while south carolina bbq (mustard) is okay-- it's just different-- it's pork slow cooked with sauce on it-- the eastern nc bbq sets into the meat and makes it what it is-- sorry folks- i think lexington bbq is gross too--

          there is actually one eastern nc bbq place in NY that is pretty decent-- i forget the name though...

          well- enough raving about eastern nc's BBQ-- try Marvin's-- it's worth the drive-- it's a cool experience too-- Marvin is a larger than life soul and the restaurant is all owned and operated by him and his family-- expect a family experience when you go. If you go on Sunday- you're bound to encounter folks from the community hanging out there after church as late as 4:00-- it's somewhat of an economically depressed area-- but comprised of good- earnest people who will welcome you with open arms.

          Marvin has catered some picnics for my fam (not in eastern nc) and has never left without someone asking for his contact info! he's a good-honest man who's quite entertaining-- and I think-- exhibits the idea that the greatest act of love is preparing a meal for others-- he takes pride in his work and aims to please.

          1. So far you've seen that cue can engender quite a bit of passion -- and misinformation.

            Parker's is not a chain and it is one of the better examples of the Eastern Carolina style. I prefer Wilbur's in Goldsboro but you will find many other fine options. The Eastern style is also served in the Tidewater region of VA.

            Fatback is not removed from a whole pig before cooking. That is the point of cooking a whole pig. Most of the fat will cook off in the long, slow process.. If you remove the fat prior to cooking, the meat will be unbearably dry.

            Eastern Carolina sauce is primarily vinegar and peppper. Western Carolina is the same with the light addition of a tomato product. Mustard-based sauce is a South Carolina specialty, also very good in its own right (although I'm still a little dubious about the hash).

            A party where a whole or half pig is the guest of honor is properly a pig pickin'. A picnic is where you bring sandwiches and fried chicken and eat on a blanket.

            I recommend you make up a list of bbq places you'd like to try and road trip it over a few weekends. The Bob Garner book may very well be a good place to start and get an overview of what it's all about. Many of the great restaurants are within a reasonable driving distance of the Triangle and it's a good way to get to know your new home state. If you're going on a Sunday be sure to check if your destination is actually open. Some few cue joints are open on Sunday but many are not.

            As a sidebar, note the variations in side dishes that will be offered with your cue. It will vary depending on where in the state you are. Try as many as you can. Even the slaws will vary - red, white, or yellow, mayo or none - again all different and all good.

            There's good eatin' 'round here. Enjoy!

            4 Replies
            1. re: rockycat

              This is all very interesting to a northern gal. I understand that when I eat at Sweatman's in a few weeks that I will be eating SC BBQ. ... with mustard. (I hope I like it!) I am still a bit confused about the difference between Western NC and Lexington BBQ although my experience of them is that they are very different, or at least the slaw is. This is a lifetime quest, however, and not to be completed in a few weekends..(.I have been here since 1979) ( READ SLOW LEARNER) Thanks, all for the tips. Happy eating.

              1. re: deborahtnc

                Sorry about the assumption if your new move. You've been here a bit longer than most of us. You're right though about it being a lifetime quest. I personally believe that BBQ Nirvana doesn't exist. If I believed it did I would have to stop searching for that pinnacle of perfection and where would the fun be then?

                1. re: deborahtnc

                  Don't worry about the sauce at Sweatman's. They offer a couple of different ones that you get to apply yourself. Sweatman's is probably the best example of traditional SC barbecue. Don't miss the hash and rice. It's very unique and very good.

                  In NC, the farther west you get, the higher the concentration of tomato product in the sauce. Eastern NC sauce is basically seasoned vinegar. Lexington style sauce is Eastern style sauce a bit of tomato added. Certain variances exist. In Winston Salem, some joints use more tomato than other Lexington style spots.

                  Slaw down east is usually coleslaw with mayo as a key ingredient. Lexington style slaw is known as barbecue slaw and is made with Lexington style sauce (known as "dip") with a good bit of sugar added to it.

                  Traditional Eastern style barbecue is whole-hog. The whole critter is barbecued and meat from the entire carcass is chopped together. Crisp skin and a little fat may be mixed in to enrich the barbecue as the hams tend to be quite dry. Traditional Lexington style consist of whole shoulders which contain more fat and don't require additional enrichment.

                  The most important thing to remember about traditional Southern barbecue is the method of cooking. Real barbecue is cooked over coals burned down from hardwood, usually hickory or oak. Sadly, most places in NC now cook meat in gas or electric ovens, perhaps with wood sticks added for a smoke flavor. The product of such methods may be very tasty (see Speedy's in Lexington or Ken's Grill in LaGrange) but it just ain't real barbecue.

                2. re: rockycat

                  Good post, rockycat.

                  I have been shaking my head at some of the misinformation posted on this thread.

                  One bit of clarification regarding Parkers, however. They have two locations of which I am aware - Wilson and Greenville. That may be what caused someone to suggest that they are a chain.

                3. Here's a link to a site with information on a number of NC and SC bbq places: http://www.carolinabbqjoints.com/

                  Go to the forum for info (and photos of some of them).

                  1. Try this site: http://www.hollyeats.com/NorthCarolli...
                    There are a few places that I would make day trips out of if I lived in NC. Allen's, Lexington, Sweatman's, Stamey's, Wilber's. Check out the pics!