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Jul 27, 2009 06:39 AM

Eastern NC Barbecue - Blackbeards

This restaurant needs to be included in any conversation about Eastern NC barbecue. I can't believe how close I live to this restaurant and just tried it for the first time. It's a relatively young restaurant, especially by barbecue standards, at seven years old. They have an extensive menu, including plenty of seafood, veg sides, burgers (very good), and hot dogs. It looks and feels like a dive barbecue joint that's been there forever. There's a large, visible wood pile on the side of the building and when you walk in the door you can smell smoke.

So, about the food. Kick ass barbecue with a nice smoke flavor and relatively clean content. Crispy skin is offered for sale on the side. Moist, loaded with flavor and superior to all but a few barbecue parlors in the eastern part of the state. Two kinds of slaw, vinegar or mayo based, were both tasty for their style. Barbecue chicken was decent, but not as good as B's (needed crisper skin). Veg sides were all tasty and I did not detect any frozen/canned items except for french fries. Fried squash, broccoli & cheese, sliced tomatoes, marinated cucumbers, field peas and beans are all recommended. Thank you to Naco for turning me on to this little treasure, which incidentally is on 64 alternate in conetoe.

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  1. Nice report. Just to reiterate, the barbecue is really top notch- I rank it right up there with B's, Pete Jones, and Wilber's.

    Also, the address comes up wrong in Google; it's listed as RR 1 for some reason, even though rural routes were phased out here in the early-mid 90s. Like the previous post says, it's actually on Alt-64 in Conetoe, which is about halfway between Bethel and Tarboro. This would make a good on the way to the beach stop for people coming from Raleigh and other points west.

    Finally, it's only open Thursday-Sunday. Sunday hours are 11am-3pm, other days are 11am-9pm. IIRC, of course.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Naco

      Hey, Naco: school us on the proper pronunciation of "Conetoe"? I've heard "kah-NEE-tah" and "ko-NEE-toe."

      Planning to ride my bike out there from Greenville this weekend; psyched to try Blackbeard's.

        1. re: kagi

          Interested to hear your take on it. I have to say that I was disappointed by my last visit, about a month ago.

          1. re: Naco

            What was off with your last visit?

            1. re: meatn3

              Few sides available, and what I had (sides and barbecue) wasn't up to the usual standards.

              1. re: Naco

                I went to Blackbeard's for the first time a few weeks ago and was underwhelmed. I got the BBQ sandwhich and my wife got the chicken. The BBQ was bland, the chicken was dry and flavorless - neither had any hint of smoke. The side dish of cucumber and tomato salad was overly sweet with refined sugar. The fries were average, but freshly fried. The staff was awesome, friendly and accommodating, but I guess I maybe caught the food on an off day? Or maybe I was just expecting too much after all the rave remarks in this thread?

                1. re: ToothTooth

                  Your experience about matches my most recent one. I wouldn't say you were expecting too much; I felt like I was eating at a different restaurant than the one to which I'd become accustomed.

                  1. re: Naco

                    Thanks for the pronunciation link. I would agree with the above assessments -- the pork was good, not outstanding. Not as good as Skylight, Bum's, or B's, and all the sides were way too sweet. Especially the vinegar slaw and the hush puppies (disappointed in the lack of regular, non-fried cornbread, too). I understand that a lot of Southern cooking uses sugar in ways that non-Southerners might not like, but this seemed way out of line with what I've come to expect at places like Bum's, B's, Lee's Country Kitchen (never seen it mentioned on this board, by the way, but it's a nice little place to stop in for fried herring, not far out of Greenville), Abram's...pretty much everywhere else around here. Next time, I think I might go for a burger or some fish, and see if I can get them to ease off on the sugar in the veggies.

                    By comparison, I rode out to Bum's today (doing a lot of biking to barbecue, lately); great pork, even better fried chicken, outstanding yellow squash, and nice salty non-sweet cornbread.

                    1. re: kagi

                      Every time I've gone to Lee's Country Kitchen, the service has been awful. I don't expect much from what is, in essence, a convenience store, but I've been actively ignored by staff and glared at by customers and staff-on multiple occasions. I drive past it all the time and go out of my way not to stop.

                      1. re: Naco

                        Huh. Not my experience at all (and I'm a bike-ridin' yankee). Nice people, decent food. Nothing to get excited about, but just fine.

                    2. re: Naco

                      This seems like a theme, unfortunately. We had a few sub-par meals in a row a couple months ago. I don't know what the deal is. Same people running the kitchen. I haven't been back in a month, so I will stop by next week and give a report.

                      1. re: veganhater

                        Had lunch today and our food was very good. Best barbecue I've had there in recent memory with nice smoke hints. Very moist. Chicken pastry and mess burger were delicious. Had a fried squash starter that was good, although the ranch on the side was out of a bottle. Tomato and cucumber was tasty, although a touch sweet. New potatoes and corn on the cob were delicious. All in all, a very good lunch with top notch barbecue. Much better than our last couple of visits. Long list of sides today.

                  2. re: Naco

                    This sounds like my Blackbeard's experience from 3-4 years ago on a Sunday. I expected a spread of wonderfully-prepared southern sides. They had only two or three available (limas, field peas, and green beans). I heard them reheating our food in a microwave.

          2. Just got back from Blackbeard's again. This has surpassed Jones' as my favorite barbecue. Absolutely perfect bbq with better(IOW, not hard) skin than Pete Jones and excellent smoke flavor. Field peas were excellent, brunswick stew with fresh butterbeans and corn one of the best I've ever had, awesome fresh snap beans, great hushpuppies. The barbecue is so good that it's almost bittersweet, as they usually have really interesting specials that I want to try, but forego because I can't pass up the barbecue. Today, it was a plate of pig feet. I *almost* ordered it, but the 'cue won out.

            Anyone with any interest in eastern NC barbecue needs to eat here.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Naco

              Thanks for the report,I will try this on my next trip back to Little Washington to visit my mom. When I was there a few weeks back, I ate at Pete Jones' and thought it to be the best NC 'cue I had ever had! I actually had it for the first time last year even though I grew up there. That was certainly my loss!

              BTW, interesting name in "Blackbeards" as I believe there still is "Blackbeards" tavern/restaurant in Washington. It opened back in the 60's. Guess ol' Edward Teech's influence abounds in that part of the world!

              1. re: RetiredPowerGuy

                It's really not so rare for something like that to happen. People tend to be attached to their favorite bbq joints, often to the point of overlooking others. I've been eating Pete Jones' my whole life because my grandfather loved it, but I still haven't gotten around to trying Bum's.

                There is a Blackbeard's seafood restaurant in Little Washington still but AFAIK it has nothing to do with the one in Conetoe which is the subject of this thread. Blackbeard's in Conetoe does have seafood, though.

                1. re: Naco

                  May some one please kindly advise if you are heading east on 64, the exit you take to go to Blackbeards.

                  Thank you

                  1. re: NXS

                    It's on Alt-64, so if you're coming from the west, you'd take the Princeville/Scotland Neck exit(Google says this is exit 14) and then head towards Princeville. Blackbeard's will be on Alt-64 on your right about 4-5 miles outside of Princeville.

                    1. re: Naco

                      Thank you sir, will stop by the afternoon o Sept 13

                      1. re: NXS

                        I've found the exact location using StreetView and added it to Google Maps here:


            2. We always stop at Shaw's Barbecue in Williamston. Never been disappointed.

              5 Replies
              1. re: foodjack

                Shaw's is atrociously bad IMO, and I grew up and still work near Williamston, so I've been shanghaied into going more than my fair share of times. The barbecue is a gas-cooked, gristle-filled, cloyingly vinegary nightmare. The only place I can think of that rivals it for sheer awfulness is the Greenville branch of Parker's.

                Growing up, a lot of people in Williamston wouldn't even eat at it and would drive to Bun's in Windsor instead. Lately I've been trying to spread the Blackbeard's gospel, as it's only about 20 minutes from Williamston.

                1. re: Naco

                  Couple comments:

                  1. Can you expand on your description of Shaw's sauce? I understand that you don't like it, but is it really sweet or is it it overly vinegary? When I see cloying, I think really sweet -- if that's the case, I can see why you wouldn't like this stuff.

                  2. In the interests of accuracy, there's no Greenville "branch" of Parker's. They haven't been related for many years.

                  1. re: Bob W

                    1. I wasn't talking about the sauce, but the barbecue in general. It comes very heavily sauced, as is typical for gas-cooked ENC barbecue. Gas cooking places usually sauce the bbq pretty heavily, because the meat itself will have little flavor when you cook it that way. Mind you, I don't like Shaw's sauce, either. Too much vinegar, not enough red/black pepper.

                    2. That's true, but the menu and the taste of the food are still practically identical, so I tend to not think of them as distinct entities. There's less difference between Parker's in Greenville and Parker's in Wilson than there is between the Skylight Inn on Monday vs. Tuesday.

                    1. re: Naco

                      Sorry, but I swore off the Skylight on Mondays years ago. The only day you "might" not get fresh bbq.

                      Still, it's the best in the entire state.

                      1. re: JayL

                        Yeah? Monday is actually one of the days I'm most likely to eat there, due to my work schedule. I've never noticed a problem. In fact, it's been especially good the last 6 months or so. They stay so busy, I can't imagine that they'd ever have any leftover barbecue even if they wanted to reuse it another day. And if anything, Saturday ought to be their busiest day, so I'd be especially surprised if there was anything left.

                        I do like to go on overcast days, though. It's usually really good for some reason then.

              2. Do not miss the banana pudding at Blackbeard's. Just like grandma used to make.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Naco

                  I'll be sure and support this log burner next time I'm in the area.

                2. My wife and I take a trip down to eastern NC every year. This year, based on this thread, and a couple of other recs on chowhound, we stopped at Blackbeard's.

                  We generally stop at Wilber's, but figured we should change it up this year. Blackbeard's was a couple hours out of our way, but good BBQ is certainly worth a journey, so we plugged alt-64 in conetoe into the GPS and set off.

                  We got there at about 11:30, and the place was dead. This was a weekday however, and that's really not all that out of the ordinary. Most people just don't eat that early.

                  Anyway. We both ordered lunch. I got a BBQ plate with slaw, "broccoli nut salad", and hush puppies. My wife got a BBQ plate with collards and mac & cheese.

                  The BBQ was pretty good by itself, but its texture led me to believe it had been previously frozen. I tried a little sauce on a forkful of BBQ... This stuff was like sugar syrup with a hint of vinegar and pepper, not at ALL what I expect of eastern NC BBQ. I dove into the coleslaw for a little relief from the sweetness, and found none. The coleslaw was like candy as well. Then there was the broccoli nut salad, it seriously tasted like broccoli, peanuts, and raisins in sweetened whipped cream. The collards and mac&cheese were both pretty good, and the hush puppies were passable if a bit on the sweet side.

                  We didn't stick around to try the banana pudding, as I think more sugar would have sent me into a diabetic coma.

                  I guess I just wanted to let people know, that unless you have a love of sugary foods, this place can be safely avoided and left to the locals.

                  Blackbeard's BBQ and C-Food
                  5232 US 64 Alt East, Tarboro, NC

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: CharredBronson

                    A couple of points that I'd like to respond to:

                    1. Sweetness. I really don't get these comments. My wife, who has also been to Blackbeard's multiple times, agrees with me. The sauce and hushpuppies are slightly sweet(nothing unusual there), as is the slaw, which is supposed to be sweet. Blackbeard's also has a vinegar based slaw if you dislike the sweeter, mayo-based one. IMO comparing it to candy is ridiculous and grossly exaggerating, though.

                    2. What makes you think the bbq had been frozen? I've been to Blackbeard's 5-10 times now, and every time I've gone, you could smell smoke as soon as you walked in the front door. Every time I've gotten there as early as you did, there was a smoke plume coming from the back, as they were still cooking. Also, I cook barbecue at home all the time, and have frozen and reheated it, and never noticed any textural changes. But that's a moot point, because I really have no doubt that Blackbeard's cooks fresh barbecue every day.

                    1. re: Naco

                      FWIW on my visit to Blackbeard's last summer, I saw the server put the barbecue I ordered in the microwave to warm it up. I speculate that it was refrigerated and not frozen. I found it to be sweeter than I'm accustomed, but not overly sweet. This was on a Sunday afternoon on the way back home from my in-laws, so perhaps next time I can try it on Friday as we go down (although we usually stop at Allen & Son).

                      The barbecue had a distinct smoke flavor (almost overly smokey if this is even possible). Is it pit cooked over coals, or is it cooked on some type of smoker?

                    2. re: CharredBronson

                      I've never been to Blackbeard's so I won't comment on your dining experience. I would like to know, though, why, if you feel the food is sub-standard, should if be "left to the locals?" Do you mean to say that North Carolina residents don't understand what constitutes good food, let alone good bar-b-cue?

                      Since this is your first post on CH I don't know what part of the country you hail from, but insulting the local foodies in their own backyard is not the best way to make friends and influence people.

                      1. re: rockycat

                        I got the vinegar based slaw, and found it way too sweet for my taste. It didn't help that I had the sweet tea and there was no escape from the sugar. For reference, when I make slaw, one head of cabbage only gets about a quarter to a half teaspoon of sugar, a good slosh of white vinegar, half a finely minced onion, and some finely minced celery, or celery seed. When I make BBQ sauce, it generally gets vinegar (cider and/or white), salt, pepper, cayenne, and that's about it.

                        I'm not kidding when I say that this slaw was REALLY sweet. Maybe it was an off day? To take my view as gospel would be a bad idea as I was only there once at an off time. Maybe it was a bad day.

                        To clarify why I thought the BBQ MAY have been frozen. The BBQ was a little on the mushy side which tends to happen after freezing and thawing (ice crystals and cell walls don't get along). Maybe it just made more sense for them to reheat some of the previous day's leftovers? I could be way off here.

                        What I meant by best left to locals, is that the place has been there for what, ten years now, so obviously someone around there likes what they're doing. Maybe the sweetness is a local thing that I just don't get. I'm not much of a fan of the potato salad I get at most places down there either for the same reason, it's just too sweet for me.

                        To say I think people from NC don't get BBQ couldn't be any further from the truth. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the only places in the country that gets BBQ right. Unadulterated slow smoked piggies, with just a little bit of seasoning, and just enough of that vinegar sauce to make the pig sing. BBQ done right doesn't need a gloopy sweet red BBQ sauce.

                        I've lurked on CH for years, but have never been compelled to post anything until now.

                        For the record I'm a dyed in the wool yankee, living ten minutes outside of Manhattan all my life.

                        1. re: CharredBronson

                          For those of us "from here" your last sentence answers a multitude of questions. But, thanks for your comments anyway.

                          1. re: CharredBronson

                            The tea is one of the sweeter versions you'll find around, that I'll grant.

                            As for the texture of the barbecue, I think what you're noticing may be just a contrast with Wilber's, which does a much more coarse chop in my experience. They may also cook for a different amount of time. But in any case, there's definitely a textural difference between the two, but I find that kind of variety is what makes me really enjoy barbecue.

                            If they were reheating something from the previous day- which I doubt that they do(see above)- it wouldn't make much sense to freeze the meat, and bbq will keep in a refrigerator for several days. I do it at home with my homemade stuff all the time.

                            Anyway, thanks for chiming in. I don't think the fact that you're from New York answers any questions that aren't of a geographical nature. It's always interesting to see different perspectives on local's joints like this.

                            1. re: Naco

                              As you mentioned on another post, sweetness has been an issue for some people. I just don't get it. I've eaten at Blackbeard's about ten times and do not find their barbecue or sauce sweet. Comparing it to sugar syrup is completely inaccurate. Maybe you grabbed the ketchup bottle by accident? Their slaw, vinegar or mayo, is in line with any great Eastern NC barbecue parlors. Slaw is always sweet in this part of the world, as are hush puppies. If you're not familiar with local Broccoli salad recipes, they all call for a good amount of sugar.

                              As far as Blackbeard's serving frozen barbecue, it's just not the case. Even if they did, barbecue freezes very well. Cell walls and ice crystals don't work with things like lettuce or onions, but do work well with slow cooked meat. Every trip I take to B's or Skylight includes a pint for the freezer, which is later enjoyed without a mushy texture.

                              This all being said, barbecue is fun to argue about. Everyone has their opinions and impressions when eating authentic cue, mine are just usually right.

                              1. re: veganhater

                                We ate there tonight and I focused on the sauce a bit more than usual, and I still don't get the comments about sweetness. It's like I'm eating at a totally different place. It's a very traditional eastern NC sauce that is on the mild side.

                                Blackbeard's is a great value for families, BTW. We got two large adult plates and two kid's plates plus drinks and four desserts for $30.

                                1. re: Naco

                                  Everyone will get tired of me posting about my meals here, because I agree I eat at a different restaurant than what is being posted. The sauce is not sweet, the barbecue is not sweet, and the sides kick ass on the canned/frozen vegetable dishes served at many barbecue joints. So, I will post every meal here in great detail. I may use a refractometer to determine sugar levels and dispel myths of sweet sauce and barbecue. What I like most about this place is the combination of wisps of smoke mixed in with pork vinegar and spice. all in a moist package. I still rank blackbeard's behind skylight and B's, but the experience there is top notch.

                                  1. re: veganhater

                                    I'd need a micrometer to measure the difference in quality between Blackbeard's, Skylight, and B's. Blackbeard's is best for family dining because of the wider menu, but I tend to go with Skylight if I'm by myself. B's I go to the least because of the hours and location(opposite side of town for me).

                                    1. re: Naco

                                      As promised, every meal at blackbeard's will be recorded. My last meal here was on Saturday the 12th. The barbecue was superb. Moist, smoky, and loaded with pork flavor, it was as good as I've had in my last five visits. The sauce, which does contain sugar, was still vividly vinegar based and contained no tomato base. The sides were great, with pork flavored cabbage and field peas being highlights. I will certainly admit their slaws are what keep them behind skylight, wilbur's and B's. They offer a vinegar based and a mayo based. I think they would be better off mixing the two, as neither one is memorable. The barbecue, in the end, will continue to make this restaurant a standard-bearer for Eastern NC barbecue (slow cooked whole hog over hickory wood with vinegar based sauce.).

                                      1. re: veganhater

                                        Sugar is one of those things that isn't universal in eastern sauces, but it's definitely not unheard of. Citrus is the other big one that comes to mind- a lot of people like to add lemon juice.

                                        I have to admit that I've only gotten the slaw at Blackbeard's a couple of times because of all the other sides on offer. I don't knock them for the slaw, though, because most of their other sides are the best examples I know of.

                                        Am I the only one that doesn't like the sides at Wilber's, though? I love the barbecue there, but the sides have consistently failed to impress me. Skylight's slaw is pretty good, though I don't really crave it. Often I just go with a plain sandwich and a piece of cornbread. I would miss that cornbread if I didn't have it.

                                  2. re: Naco

                                    Damn right about the value - two adult large bbq plates, hot dog & fries for the kid, plus drinks, a pint of q for home, bottle of sauce, and a quart of stewed tomatoes all for $34.

                              2. re: CharredBronson

                                Based on these reports I will be heading to Conetoe Saturday for some of the sweetness!

                                  1. re: Tsali39

                                    LOL you aren't a real chowhound until you've driven miles only to come face to face with an unexpected "CLOSED" sign. That seems to be a very common occurence with barbecue in particular.