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BBQ - Chopped vs. Pulled

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Hello all!

Recently, a friend and I were discussing general BBQ likes and dislikes and, much to his shock, I confessed an overall distaste for the BBQ I've found in the Triangle. I've tried a lot of BBQ here... The Pit, Holy Smokes, Shane's, Danny's, Old Time, Allen and Sons...to name but a few.

I take nothing away from these places...they're making BBQ as they know people want it. My problem is with the texture of chopped BBQ. I hate to say it, but it kinda makes me think of dog food. I love the taste...that vinegary, peppery, bite...I love it! But I think chopping ruins everything that's great about slow roasted pork.

I'm in the hunt for a place that "pulls" the pork, instead of "chopping" it. There's something about long strands of roasted pork shoulder...its luscious, in ways that chopping utterly kills.

Does anyone know of a BBQ place in the Triangle (or surrounding areas) that's treating their pork this way, instead of chopping it to bits?

Thanks everyone!

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  1. The Pit has a pulled pork barbecue, although it's just shoulder meat, apparently.

    Why do you think chopping changes the taste?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Naco

      Pulled or chopped is really a personal preference. I grew up in eastern NC and prefer chopped BBQ. Chopping seems to be an advantage for more consistent and even seasoning and saucing of the meat. However if I'm someplace which traditionally serves pulled BBQ that's the way I want it rather than having them serve something the establishment is less familiar with. I just let the best do what they do best and usually enjoy it.

      Bib's Downtown in Winston-Salem serves pulled pork, ribs, brisket, smoked chicken, and turkey.

      1. re: Bluemold

        Its funny you say that about even seasoning and saucing. I disagree that such a thing is actually required.
        I guess where I diverge from Carolina BBQ is that Carolina seems to feel that smoke, spice, and vinegar is where the primary flavors should come from. Texas, for instance, disagrees in that the primary and important flavor there is meat, oftentimes getting nothing more than salt, pepper, and smoke.
        Pulling pork leaves the meat more intact, leaving you more chance for meat flavor, rather than BBQ flavor.
        Neither is bad...it really does come down to opinion. But texturally, for me, pork is better when left is a more natural state.

        1. re: bvl1

          "Its funny you say that about even seasoning and saucing. I disagree that such a thing is actually required."

          Good point. The late great Pete Jones said (paraphrasing) BBQ is not about sauce it's about the meat. I am a heavy saucer and like the sauce hot and spicy on BBQ and just about everything else.

          1. re: bvl1

            Carolin bbq seems to feel that smoke, spice, and vinegar is where the primary flavors should come from? Where the heck did you come up with that?

            Carolina bbq is all about the meat. "Sauce" as a term is used completely different in North Carolina than it would be anywhere else in the country. Traditionally, NC sauce is used as a seasoning...that's it. It's all about the meat. We don't use smoke so I have no idea where you get that one.

            Other states that use sauce tend to slather meat with it. NC is very different in that respect.

        2. re: Naco

          It doesn't change the taste, but it sure does change the texture. The thing is, I didn't grow up with southern bbq, but I did grow up on braised and/or roasted beef and pork. That luscious roasted thing that happens to meat...oh baby. And chopping it to bits, well...you just lose me.
          I suppose I'm going to have to try The Pit again. I've been there twice and disliked it both times. The BBQ was fine...Ed Mitchell and his crew doing a fine job, but the rest of the kitchen making a mess of things. The second visit, we ordered biscuits, and they arrived raw. Not slightly under...utterly raw in the middle. We sent them back. The waiter apologized, and agreed they were unacceptable (so it wasn't just me). He brought new ones and they were raw too. We left pretty unhappy with the overall experience.
          Anyway, long luscious strands of smoked pork is nirvana. :-)

        3. I don't mind chopped unless it's so chopped you can serve it from an ice cream scoop and it holds the shape.

          5 Replies
          1. re: LBD

            Hmmm, I don't think I've ever seen bbq served with an ice cream scoop.

            1. re: carolinadawg

              I haven't either, it was just an example. I've seen some that was so finely chopped it was essentially mush.

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  I hope this isn't a jab at K&W. I've got memories there, man!

                  1. re: raleighboy

                    I think some K&Ws are better than others. I didn't have a bad experience there, but was tryign to make the reference of stereotypical (and sometimes true experiences) of school cafeterias and how things like mashed potatos and such were served via scoop. Though seeing how all of us are out of elementary school I was trying to relate it to something we may come across.

            2. Some bbq places will have chopped, coarse chopped and sliced bbq. You might want to try the coarse chopped and sliced...you may like that better.

              8 Replies
              1. re: carolinadawg

                Any recommendations of places slicing their BBQ?

                1. re: bvl1

                  Most Lexington style places will do it- I know that Lexington Barbecue does. I don't know of any eastern style places that do this, though.

                  1. re: Naco

                    You won't find sliced bbq in eastern NC (unless it's a non-traditional place). You'll find bbq in eastern NC that has been cooked longer than it's western NC counterpart. Unless it's undercooked, you can't slice eastern NC bbq as it would fall apart.

                    We like pig pickings and for that you must cook the pig to a high enough temperature to pull. Slicing takes a lower temp.

                    1. re: JayL

                      Yes- but I added that caveat for a couple of reasons.

                      First, I don't recall it myself, but I know some people who speak fondly of a now defunct place near Plymouth/Roper called Simp's that had sliced eastern NC style bbq. Second, if you've ever been at Pete Jones when they bring out a new piece of meat, they carve it before chopping it- the meat isn't pulled. And I've done shoulders are home that had some parts that could have been sliced, but which was perfectly okay and tender once chopped fine. That's what the Lexington places do, AFAIK- the sliced bbq comes from a particular part of the shoulder.

                      In short, I think it's not so much that it's impossible, just that it's not common. But if someone did it in the past, someone could be doing it now. I know none of the top places do, but there might be a gas burner somewhere that does.

                      1. re: Naco

                        You are right & your points are valid. Temp differences between slicing & pulling can be as little as 5 degrees.

                        Shoulders (actually one part of the butt end) will slice "best" when cooked below 190 degrees...175-185 works great. The lower end of that will be hard to chop, but great for slicing. Pulled pork generally will be around 195 degrees. You won't be slicing it at that temp as it just falls apart...and it's really easy to chop.

                        Each piece of pork cooks different. There are times you could slice pork in eastern NC if you wanted to. Most traditional folks don't use a thermometer so the temp varies from one piece of meat to the other. At the Skylight if it won't pull apart by hand they will use a knife to slice it off. When it's time for lunch it's time for lunch...cooking time is over & it's time to chop.

                        1. re: JayL

                          You are exactly correct and a very knowledgeable man. At home I have settled on cooking rubbed butts to 170-180 and we slice it all. If and when I do chop them I cook them to just under 200. And about the texture thing, I hate people that chop it down to baby food consistency. I chopped two pigs this summer and I was not making baby food. Trust me. I cook on a medium sized Weber over lump.

                        2. re: Naco

                          Simp's was the bbq of my youth. I do remember them offering sliced meat, but don't remember anyone ordering it.

                    2. re: bvl1

                      Not that the bbq was any good but I remember the Sonny's chain in SC/GA having those variations.

                  2. I prefer pulled. I pull mine....er.....

                    Anyway, I like how the strands kinda tangle up and it holds its shape better when it's on a bun. I would never, ever turn down good cue that was chopped though.


                    1. I'm a chopped person, all the way. Whole hog, chopped. Cooked over real wood embers with as little "smoke" as possible. Sauce it during the day so that the flavor cooks into the meat, and if the cooks don't eat all the ribs by day's end, something isn't right. Sauce isn't something you coat on top of, it's something infused into the meat, and at the end it should all be moderately dry.

                      1. I have to say that I could care less whether it's chopped, pulled, sliced or just a hunk waiting for me to carve it up myself. If it tastes good (or tastes like it should), I'm gonna eat it. I don't have time to nitpick (or nitpull or nit chop).

                        1. I like my pork pulled (because it's stringy) and my beef sliced (because it's not). Problem is, it's hard to find a single place (outside of Texas) that serves them both ways...

                          1. I am a big fan of sliced. Around Lexington and Greensboro if you order the "sliced outside brown" you will get the best of both worlds, big hunks with the excellent smokey crust. They don't mention it on the menu, you just have to ask. As far as pulled goes, I recently ate at a Smithfield's in Mebane and noticed their was more pulled than pureed.

                            1. North Carolina BBQ is either "chopped" or "sliced." You probably want to ask for sliced. The term "pulled pork" is a recent import from who knows where, maybe NYC, apparently brought in by chain restaurants and transplant's to the area. Does anyone know the history of the term?

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: bordbill

                                Don't know the history there but I have often wondered the same thing.

                                Also, the chopped vs. sliced option is primarily a feature of Lexington-style BBQ. I can't recall ever seeing it in Eastern style BBQ joints, where the chop tends to be very fine. I have never seen one of the long-time established BBQ joints anywhere in the state offering pulled pork as an option.

                                1. re: brentk

                                  I usually haven't seen pulled pork offered as an option in ordering. In Lexington and Eastern N.C. joints, the barbecue generally comes as it comes, and that tends to be chopped, whether finely or coarsely.

                                  But I have heard the term pulled pork used as a description in Eastern N.C., when I interview people about what kind of barbecue they make. The people in question aren't newcomers or out-of-staters, they're natives of places like Lumberton and Fayetteville. So I suspect the term may simply be a part of the local use of language.

                                  1. re: kathleen purvis

                                    I'm an eastern NC native and I've never heard anyone use the term "pulled pork" that wasn't a Yankee. Ever.

                                      1. re: Naco

                                        True. Any native NC'er knows that "pulled pork" on the menu is a sure sign you should order something else, or just get up and leave. ;)

                                        1. re: arbyunc

                                          I realize that these discussions are often difficult and it sometimes feels futile sharing information. But I wanted to share my experience from this weekend in Whiteville, N.C., at the N.C. Pecan Festival. Whiteville is off U.S. 74 about 60 miles west of Wilmington, in the area of North Carolina that is often called "Down East."

                                          I had two conversations about barbecue and the phrase "pulled pork." One was with a man who was in his mid-60s, a native of Whiteville who returned after 40 years in Wilmington. The second was a young man in his early 20s, also a native of Whiteville, who was raised in a farming family.

                                          Both said they had heard the term "pulled pork" all of their lives, that it's commonly used in that area. The older man said he personally didn't call barbecue that but knew many people who did. He didn't think of those people as "non-local" or "Yankee," he described them as local people.

                                          The younger man said that not only do people use the term, but he considers it a description of the difference between barbecue in his part of the world -- whole pig that you pull meat from -- vs. the chopped or minced barbecue that he expects to see farther west, in the Piedmont region and in Lexington.

                                          So, as I suggested earlier, it does appear to be a term that's part of the local dialect in that area of very southeastern North Carolina. I'm not suggesting that all Eastern N.C. uses the term. I lived in Wilson as a child, and we had neighbors who came from farther south, particularly in the Lumberton/Fayetteville/Laurinburg area. They had distinctive ways of talking that I now recognize as part of the accent from that part of North Carolina -- "herricane" for hurricane, "miseries" for Mrs., "carry" instead of take, and "pulled pork" for barbecue.

                                          1. re: kathleen purvis

                                            "So, as I suggested earlier, it does appear to be a term that's part of the local dialect in that area of very southeastern North Carolina"

                                            Perhaps this is the dead hand of South Carolina at work?

                                            1. re: Naco

                                              ^ Haha, could be an SC influence. I grew up in SE NC and I can tell you that "pulled pork" is not a common term there. Even at pig pickin's, where the meat is often pulled and not chopped, the term is not used in my experience. It's called "pig" (as in "Get yourself another plate of pig"), or simply "barbecue". These things are important, you know. ;)

                                            2. re: kathleen purvis

                                              Did you learn the proper pronunciation of Whiteville while you were there, Kathleen? :-)

                                              Kidding aside, I am curious about your comment regarding the texture of the meat. In all of the BBQ joints I have been to in the eastern part of the state, I find the pork to be finely minced. Particularly, when compared to what I see in Lexington, which is more likely to be in small or larger chunks.

                                              I beleive that the restaurant experience is different than a pig pickin' where you will see hand pulled as well as chopped meat, regardless of whether we are talking Eastern or Lexington style. Perhaps this is where the confusion is coming from.

                                              1. re: kathleen purvis

                                                Thanks for this testimony. Very helpful. I grew up in Memphis and Memphis barbecue is often referred to as "pulled pork," but in most Memphis barbecue restaurants the meat may be pulled off the bone, but it is then chopped, usually at the time a person places an order--the sound of pork being chopped is a sound I associate very closely with Memphis barbecue restaurants. I have also heard people refer to barbecue around the NC Triangle as "pulled pork," but nearly all barbecue I've had here has been chopped or sometimes minced.

                                            3. re: Naco

                                              Ed Mitchell used it quite often and I don't think he is a Yankee.

                                              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                Ed does spend a good amount of time in New York these days.

                                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                  He also sells/sold both pulled pork and chopped pork, and described the chopped pork as traditional Eastern NC style. At the very least he sees the two as different products, but I always got the impression he sold the pulled version to appease customers who didn't like the chopped texture, and would sell just chopped if he could get away with it.

                                        2. There used to be a Red, Hot, and Blue in Chapel Hill. Their barbecue, which is explicitly identified as Memphis-style, was definitely pulled. Bullock's in Durham offers pulled pork as an alternative. I tried it once and remember liking it. But you are right: the vast majority of barbecue in this part of the world (central NC) is chopped or even minced.

                                          1. Give me chopped anytime any day!nothing taste better then chopped barbeque from the whole hog. AWESOMENESS!