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Jan 23, 2008 04:33 AM

On First Looking into Lexington Barbecue #1

A report from a casual BBQ lover whose BBQ street cred rests down east -- I lived 6 years in Ayden, NC, and was particularly fond of Bum's, then B's, and was one-and-done on Parker's and Pete Jones / Skylight Inn.

Today I found myself in Lexington, NC, yes that Lexington, the epicenter of Lexington-Style BBQ. The Lexington style is slow-cooked pork shoulder, rather than the whole hog, and a "red" sauce rather than a white, vinegar-based sauce popular down east. And the place to find the best representation of the Lexington style, or so I've been told, is just out of downtown on Highway 29/70 -- Ruby Tuesday's. Had you, didn't I? No, it's the creatively-named Lexington Barbecue No. 1. When you find yourself in such close proximity to a veritable shrine like this, a place that BBQ aficionados discuss either rapturously or in hushed, reverential tones, you feel obligated to go see what all the fuss is about. Even if it's 10:30 in the morning.

Too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, I nevertheless sat down a the diner-style lunch counter in the small, wood-paneled dining room. There were a few booths and tables inside, and the restaurant feels small on the inside compared to the size of the building from the parking lot. It was founded in 1962 and it has a frozen-in-time ambiance to it. The women work the front, the men work the back, and never the twain shall meet. It takes them about 10 hours to cook a pig. I was eating the pigs cooked yesterday, and the smoke puffing out the smokers were for the pigs that would be eaten tomorrow.

Lexington BBQ cooks whole shoulders over wood and then separates them into different sections: outside brown, regular, white, lean. I asked the waitress what I wanted and she said "outside brown and lean." I told her I'd take it. I ordered the small BBQ tray ($5), and it came with slaw and unlimited hush puppies. The BBQ came sauced. Their "red" sauce is thin and consists of water, salt, sugar, and peppers. The BBQ was smoky and moist, the brown pieces of "bark" add chewiness but no crunch. No fat in my tray. The sauce was spicy but not particularly hot. The waitress proffered a bottle of Smokehouse Sauce, which she said was their hot and tangy sauce. It was. I liked it. The BBQ was so good, however, that you could have been happy eating it sans sauce.

The slaw wasn't bad either. The cabbage was finely chopped to the size of rice grains, and its vinegar (no mayo) base made it tart and tangy. The thumb-shaped hush puppies were right out the deep fryer, left a slight film of oil on your fingers, and tasted delicious. I stopped at one basket, despite my waitress's protestations.

In summary, even at that early hour, it was an incredible lunch. The BBQ was some of the best I've ever had. The restaurant is cozy and clean. The service could not have been friendlier. For BBQ fans, this is a must visit.

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  1. Now that is pretty much the definitive post on Lexington #1, coming from someone, no less, raised on the other side of the parochial NC BBQ trail.

    I even learned a few things. Next time I am going to ask for "outside brown and lean" instead of just "outside brown" as has been my practice all these years.

    1 Reply
    1. re: brentk

      That's the most appetizing small BBQ platter I've ever seen. "Outside brown and lean" has been added to my vocabulary as well. I'll definately stop by there on my next trip to the environs of Charlotte.

    2. What a good, well-written review. Thank you for taking the time!

      1. What a great well presented review. You really captured the essence of the place (
        I believe locals refer to it as Monk's). I also learned something....outside brown and lean...that'll be my mantra on my next visit from Winston-Salem.

        1. Nice report, and I agree wholeheartedly with you that Lexington No. 1 is outstanding. One slight correction, however...Lexington style sauce contains an additional ingredient or two beyond those you list, namely catsup (or sometimes tomato sauce) and occassionally a shot of worchestershire sauce. That is what gives it its characteristic red color. Frankly, I tend to agree with Bob Garner, who says its a "distinction in search of a difference". In other words, there isn't that big of a difference between eastern and lexington sauce, but it is a difference. As they say, though...its all good!

          2 Replies
          1. re: carolinadawg

            Eastern sauce is just vinegar and black pepper -- no tomato products. Sweetness comes from the pork not the sauce. I personally think it is a huge difference not just a distinction. I prefer the vinegar sauce. But a good red sauce like at Monk's is fine. But there is a difference.
            Now maybe there are other ingredients beside vinegar and pepper in the eastern sauce, but I don't think so. If I am wrong I hope someone corrects me

            1. re: gashrink

              I think a fair number of eastern places will add sugar directly to their sauce as well to sweeten things up a bit along with perhaps salt and other spices. I agree with you though that there shouldn't be any tomato products

          2. Lexington BBQ is the greatest ever.
            I am actually the owners sisters grandson.
            Its great because we always get free food.
            Ive heard stories that Great Uncle Wayne Monk actually has catered for presidents and such. He is a good man with a great restaurant.

            1 Reply
            1. re: CooperHartsell

              I'm ashamed that I've liven in NC my whole life and never heard of this place until now. I went 2 weeks ago and it was amazing. The meat, the slaw and the hushpuppies. However, the beans did me in. I have always absolutely hated pork & beans, baked beans and barbecue beans. I'm not a bbq beans believer by any means. But their beans were so absolutely amazing !!! They're sweet and rich and salty and buttery and smokey all at once. Not waxy, not dry. The flavor and texture was heavenly. I'm making room in my freezer so that I can bring some home, in case I ever again doubt the power of the bbq'ed bean.