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Allen & Sons BBQ

This is the one in Hillsborough.

I have been fortunate enough to eat here twice in the past two weeks. Their Q is awesome. However, their price seems out of line. A plate of Q with slaw and puppies and 1 coke is over $12.00 with tax and before tip. You do not get refills on soda either. Portions are good sized but not excessive. It seems overpriced to me compared to what I pay at other Q restaraunts. I'll think twice before I eat there again. Does anyone else feel this is overpriced?

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  1. I think they probably charge what it takes for them to stay open. If they didn't raise their prices they would likely have to close their doors.

    3 Replies
    1. re: blewgo

      It does sound like prices have gone up but that isn't unexpected given the rise in food prices.

      We tried to go to the CH Allen & Sons last night but they were, oddly, not open (no lights, no activity). We had a nice meal at BBQ Joint instead.

      1. re: brokegradstudent

        That's not odd. Allen & Son is only open for dinner Thursday-Saturday. Lunch they are also open Tuesday and Wed. It's always been like that.

        1. re: mikeh

          There's my problem, for some reason I thought it was W-Sat for dinner

    2. I stopped by there about a year ago to get takeout BBQ to take to my parents in Georgia as they'd heard so much about it -- for a pint, it did seem pricey compared with the Lexington BBQ I usually bring down....it was good, but IMHO Lexington is better....and just as far out of the way from Durham...

      1. Anybody can throw some meat and wood pellets in a gas smoker, set the thermostat and timer, and go home. Keith Allen chops his own hickory wood, burns it down to embers, which he then uses to cook his pork shoulders, tending the fire the whole time. This is a very labor intensive and time consuming work. In my mind, it's a craft to be appreciated and worth paying extra for. Get it while you can because I don't see people making BBQ this way for much longer. It's too hard and the alternative is just too easy.

        1. It's not overpriced when you consider that the guy wakes up at 2 a.m. every morning to singlehandedly man the BBQ pit for nine hours, bakes all 16 of his own pies, chops his own hickory wood, etc. The higher prices are just a figment of the loss in efficiency by being a one-man operation - but it's old-school, and one of the few left in this state.

          I personally like the taste of his Q more than any other place in the area (including anything east of I-95), so for me it's worth it the same way it's worth paying $20 for an entree at Lantern in CH. Think about it this way - a pizza at a non-fast-food pizza place will run you at least $12, and the time, effort, and uniqueness of the effort going into making that pizza is nothing compared to what Allen does to produce that Q.

          I haven't yet tried Lexington #1, but that's a 220-mi roundtrip that after you add the cost of gas and time, is far more pricey an endeavor coming from Durham.

          1. In my post, I failed to mention "heading to Atlanta" on end part of post re: same distance from Durham to Hillsborough or Lexington for BBQ -- as a veteran of I-85 from Durham to Atlanta for over 25 years, a side-track of a mile or two in Hillsborough vs. Lexington doesn't really make a big difference in the trip.

            4 Replies
            1. re: beebs

              "Anybody can throw some meat and wood pellets in a gas smoker, set the thermostat and timer, and go home." - I agree. But what about the other BBQ joints that cook with wood, like Stamey's in Greensboro or Lex BBQ, that charge much less($5-6.00 range for a plate of chopped.)? How can they sell their Q at a much lower cost?

              I agree that what he does is very labor intensive and probably should charge more than he does but in todays tough economic climate, I worry that his prices are out of line compared to other BBQ joints and his business might suffer. I certainly hope not as he makes some awesome Q but i have to watch my wallet as well. And I dont like the policy about no refills on soda. That seems outdated.

              1. re: webvanman

                Lex BBQ #1 has a reputation that's without equal in NC and pulls in people from near and far. Stamey's is in a busy part of Greensoboro that sees a lot of traffic. Allen & Son doesn'r have Lex BBQ #1's reputation and is located between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough (two small towns) in the boonies. So Allen & Son doesn't do nearly the same volume of business and thus get the economies of scale that the other two places do. Besides, I've had their BBQ, it's fine, but I like Allen & Son's BBQ much better primarily because it's smokier.

                That said, Allen & Son has a lunch deal where you get a substantial BBQ sandwich and a choice of one side for like $5.75. Easily fills me up and I'm not a little guy by any means. I've never gotten soda there so I didn't know that policy. However, if you get iced tea they bring you a glass and an additional carafe of tea to do your own refills for free.

                And as an aside, stick to his chopped pork. His ribs are terrible. Alway overcooked.

                1. re: bbqme

                  This thread actually inspired me to get some Allen & Son, which I'm eating right now after getting it to go. BBQ and brunswick stew combo. platter with slaw and hushpuppies. I'm eating this and thinking - you know, this didn't cost me more than the beef brisket platter + drink at Q-Shack, and no one ever seems to complain about the prices there.

                  and yes, please please don't get the ribs. they are awful. I've had an out-of-town friend who once insisted on getting them for himself, and he looked like he was dying while eating them. He ended up stealing half of my chopped pork.

                  1. re: mikeh

                    Hah, I had the brisket platter at the Q Shack for lunch last Thursday! The Q Shack's quality was inconsistent there for awhile when Dan Ferguson took on a partner and expanded into Raleigh and the Southpoint Mall. Now that he's severed those ties and is just making BBQ at the Durham location the quality of his product is better than ever.

            2. You're right that it IS INDEED overpriced. But you also have to understand that any restaurant has the right to price their product as they see fit. I wouldn't pay $12 for a plate with slaw & pups and a drink with no refill. Not when really good bbq can be had for $5 or $6...and $7 or $7.50 with a drink (with refills). Just use the information you have and make your bbq buying decisions accordingly.

              8 Replies
              1. re: JayL

                A few things that make it worth my while - 1) they give unlimited refills on sweet tea, which I like much more than soda anyway; 2) I don't agree that "really good bbq" can be had in the local area for a cheaper price. I find Bullock's and BBQ Joint and even Hog Heaven and Mitchell's The Pit in Raleigh to be pretty insipid compared to Allen's stuff. Anyway, I guess there are enough folks like me who think Allen & Son bbq is unbeatable by a long stretch that they can price discriminate like this. I'm also not one to second-guess what it costs them nowadays to cook BBQ the way they do.

                1. re: JayL

                  Please let us know where to find this really good bbq for $5 to $6 in the Triangle area. Thanks!

                  1. re: carolinadawg

                    I think Bullock's in durham is cheaper and as good. Plus if you like sides, Bullock's is the place ot go to get your Q. I have eaten at both and would honestly pick Bullock's over Allen and Son's. But again, it's all a matter of taste.

                    1. re: pulse301

                      Bullock's can't compare to A&S, sorry. Not even close...like comparing a rock in your driveway to the Hope Diamond.

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        Your response made me chuckle but I have to agree with you. I haven't been to Bullock's for a while but I think I don't recall being impressed by their BBQ. There was something else I liked better, the chicken maybe, but I cannot recall.

                        1. re: carolinadawg

                          On this we can agree! Other stuff is decent to good but their BBQ is awful.

                          1. re: bbqme

                            Absolutely! Bullock's fried chicken is great. In fact, most everything besides the bbq is very good. I don't know why they bother to keep making it.

                        2. re: pulse301

                          I have to agree with beebs and pulse301. Based on this thread, I visited A&S for lunch to go last week. I had an okay bbq sandwich and the worst hushpuppies ever. I couldn't imagine dining in there. It's pretty grubby. While I was waiting, I spotted what looked like a real stuffed fox with an inch of dust on it at the cash register, facing the dining room. If I thought it was worth it, I'd go back and pay the prices and have another meal, especially to support a local business. I think Bullocks is better, (not great). I really long for Lexington bbq, being from the Triad area. It's better than any bbq I've had around here.

                    2. They may be charging what they need to stay open, and if so, that's understandable.

                      However, both Allen & Son's restaurants (different owners for each location) are vastly over-rated for what you get... maybe it's because of them both being close to Chapel Hill with whatever aura that brings, but given another choice - even Smithfield's - I'd go somewhere else.

                      Both places have lacked woefully for good service the past few years and greasy bbq is becoming quite their staple.

                      $12 for a plate of that bbq does a dis-service to really good bbq as well as to hard earned money.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: goodeatsinadive

                        I agree that Allen and Sons is not the Q nirvana that some imply. The cue and slaw are very good, but everything else -- fries, puppies, pies -- are lame. I'm not sure why they can't figure out how to make a decent french fry, considering they serve a ton of them. Allen and Sons is a good and fun dining experience, but at $12 per plate I show up every six months rather than every few weeks. We are a family of three, and these prices are beyond our everyday lunch budget. We will spend $20-$25 on a random lunch out for no particularly good reason, but not $45. Thai Palace, Mint, and Merlion are other good local restaurants that price themselves out of our weekly rotation. If they can fill their restaurants charging $15.99-$18.99 for sometimes smallish and not always fantastic entrees, more power to them, but we will be dining more cheaply at Elmo's and Tyler's, or, as more often the case, opting to eat equally good or better food at home.

                          1. re: Sinophile

                            Of course there is genre-specific preferences that can't easily be substituted away by doing "something equally good or better" at home. When I want BBQ, the best Thai food isn't going to cut it if that BBQ is good enough. So while I fundamentally disagree with Sinophile about the quality of the Allen and Son experience (I would put it on my short desert island list along with Manresa in Los Gatos, Alinea in Chicago, La Bernardin in NYC, and Mrs. Wilkes in Savannah as restaurants I wouldn't give up for the world), even for those who don't hold it in as high esteem, that doesn't necessarily take it out of the regular circuit.

                            Take Chinese restaurants, for instance. Sinophile himself has canvassed the area's Chinese restaurants with keen thoroughness and seems to enjoy the experience of going to the best incarnations of them in the area (Red Palace when they were open, and now Super Wok in Cary). There's probably no doubt that better Chinese food can be gotten in the major cities, and no doubt that he could make something better at home from a different genre. Yet, there's a demand for the type of food itself that, if a good-enough representation of it exists, you cannot substitute away from and would pay good money to get the best available rendition of it. I think that's what Allen & Son provides to those who wouldn't sacrifice their first-born for it like myself :-P.

                            1. re: mikeh

                              With all due respect to Mikeh -- a very savvy Chowhound and great local reporter -- I just don't see it. For the sake of argument, I will forget the limp fries, the mushy microwaved pies, the dense, greasy hushpuppies. The cue itself -- yes, it's good, even very good, moist and subtly flavored, but NC cue, lacking the textural and taste complexity produced by the caramelizing effect of direct fire, can never, in my opinion, be truly sublime. I'm willing to compare a world-class taco or a Memphis rib to Le Bernadin and the like, but the local cue never quite makes it over the hump. I say this having tried all the most storied North Carolina cue restaurants with the exception of the Skylight Inn in Ayden (admittedly, this is supposed to be the very best), and having more or less enjoyed them all.

                              Reservations aside, I do recommend Allan and Sons. Whenever we have out-of-town guests, we bring them there. I stop short, however, at superlatives. Among local cue shacks, I also recommend Blue Mist BBQ on I-64 just outside of Asheboro. They wood-smoke out back, and the cue is wed to an ample, classic, and well-executed diner menu. I never understand why Blue Mist does not have a larger and more enthusiastic following.

                              1. re: Sinophile

                                "...but NC cue, lacking the textural and taste complexity produced by the caramelizing effect of direct fire, can never, in my opinion, be truly sublime."

                                Am I reading that wrong? Are you saying NC bbq is not cooked over a direct fire? The majority of the country's que is not cooked over a direct fire, but NC bbq is.

                                1. re: Sinophile

                                  "...but NC cue, lacking the textural and taste complexity produced by the caramelizing effect of direct fire..."

                                  Do what? NC cue IS cooked over direct heat, and does get carmelized, thus the famed "outside brown".

                                  I would also disagree with your description of the hushpuppies at A &S. And try the key lime pound cake....it'll change your opinion of their desserts.

                                  1. re: carolinadawg

                                    As long as they don't nuke that Key Lime pound cake, which is the default action made by the waitstaff. [cringe]

                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                      My understanding of the mechanics of NC cue may be hazy. I merely wanted to draw a distinction between flame broiling (i.e. placing the meat directly on the fire) and smoking (removing the meat from the direct lick of the flame). Am I wrong in my understanding? Whatever the mechanics may be, I would not describe NC cue as notable for its effect of caramelization, with all its complexity of texture and flavor. But this is not to dismiss NC cue. I love it (see above). I merely hesitate before granting it a place in the starriest pantheon of world cuisine.

                                      1. re: Sinophile

                                        But bbq is not grilling (ie. getting a direct lick of the flame like a hamburger or a steak). BBQ is not caramelized by flame at all...in North Carolina or anywhere else for that matter.

                                        1. re: JayL

                                          I agree. The only kind of caramelization that I can ascribe to BBQ is when some folks baste ribs with sauce after it is done cooking and then finish it off on the grill or under the broiler to caramelize the sauce.

                                        2. re: Sinophile

                                          NC style bbq is not just smoked, its also cooked by the heat. And the heat is sufficient to "brown" the outside. Whether its caramelized or not is a matter of semantics. The point is, its not merely smoked, the heat does create a crust or sear.

                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                            Did somebody say outside brown?

                                            I believe carolinadawg said it right. The pig is getting cooked by smoke AND heat. Ever been to a pig pickin? Just look at the color of the pig. BTW "Caramelization" is a way overused term. I don't believe it applies here.

                              2. I can pretty much sum up this thread in five words - "You like what you like". What difference does it make if others have a difference of opinion? If you like A&S and think the price is fair, great - keep eating there! I'm sure they'll be grateful for the business in this economy. But if others think it's overpriced for what you get, well, that's why there are lots of different kinds of restaurants in this world.

                                1. Does the door into the dining room still have a wooden carved sign that says 'dinning room'

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                    Wrong Allen & Sons. That's the one in Pittsboro, which has been under separate ownership for longer than many of the posters on this site have been alive.

                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                        Just go to Smithfields and get a large combo for 7 bucks. Case closed.

                                        1. re: jellybear

                                          I hope you don't think Smithfield's bbq is as good as Allen and Son.

                                          1. re: jellybear

                                            I had the weird experience once of ordering a large tray of Smithfield's BBQ before a snowstorm to have some rations in case I couldn't get out and about (hey, no need to do the milk, eggs, and bread run - who needs french toast during a snowstorm anyway). I swear, the meat really shows its "true colors" when eaten cold or reheated - smells and tastes closer to dog food. Not sure why it does that because when eaten fresh I've had no such problems. In any case, A&S when reheated doesn't lose its patina so dramatically - and that's a testament to its quality.

                                    1. Just curious: with all this talk about the relative merits of various bbq places in the area, I'm wondering why nobody mentions Backyard BBQ Pit on 55. For my money (and it is certainly not expensive) it's the best Q around here (at least that I've tried so far). Anyone else a fan?

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: wallacam

                                        I am certainly a fan, and for those that don't like / want pork, the croaker is outstanding.

                                        1. re: zy1125

                                          As I was reading through this thread, I was starting to wonder why no one had mentioned Backyard BBQ PIt! But then I get to the end and see. :-) I'm totally with you wallacam and zy1125. I even just listed that as one of my top favorite restaurants in my profile I just filled out. I am lucky enough to live less than 5 minutes away, but didn't discover the place until after living near it for over a year! I am so glad I finally did. It's such a good price for everything too. Just over 5 bucks for a BBQ pork sandwich and 2 sides.

                                          As for Allen and Sons, I've certainly heard the hype but have yet to try it. Now after reading through this, I'm thinking it might not be worth the trip when I have such awesome BBQ right up the road. Heck, if it weren't so cold out today, I'd go get some now! It's been awhile.


                                      2. I just checked out A&S yesterday for the first time, and I think it was worth every bit of the $5.80 (+ tax) for a huge, utterly wonderful BBQ sandwich and side (onions rings, they were quite good too). I used to work like 5 minutes down the road from them and am now kicking myself that I didn't eat there regularly.

                                        1. Tried Backyard BBQ this week for the first time and agree with the other poster. This place is REALLY good. Go on a Thursday or Friday so you can get the brisket. The beef is cooked perfectly - tender but with an amazing carmelized crust on the outside. tHe best mac and cheese I have EVER eaten. Amazing hushpuppies. Homemade cake slices for dessert. And, all served by the nicest people! This will definitely be a regular on our foodie list!