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CBJ heading to Lexington and Edenton . . . and where to eat in between

Way behind schedule on doing my research for this trip and thanks be for the rich archive of posts on the Southeast board to guide me. I'm flying in on Thursday and will be judging the Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned contests in Lexington and Edenton. I'm especially excited to try whole hog in Edenton.

Lexington BBQ Capital Cook-off 4/22 & 23
http://www.uptownlexington.com/Events...
http://bbqjew.com/2011/04/20/judgment...

Edenton Hog Fest 4/29 & 30
http://www.hogfestedenton.com/

When I first set up this trip, I had thought I'd follow the barbecue trail for the week in between as I made my way from west to east.
http://www.ncbbqsociety.com/trail_map...

But my hosts in Winston-Salem suggested that I check out the Outer Banks, and I making that loop instead and will have more diverse meals. I'll be taking a little break from 'cue in between weekends, it looks like from what I've been reading here.

I'd like to use this thread topic to ask my questions and to aggregate the past threads that are relevant to my itinerary.

First question, where else besides Lexington Barbecue #1 should I try in town? The cook-off organizers sent me a list of the 16 bbq restaurants in the Lexington area. The ones that cook in a pit are specified in the brochure and I've linked them below. The same info can be found online here:
http://visitlexingtonnc.com/lexington...
http://visitlexingtonnc.com/barbecue/
Barbecue Center and Speedy Lohr's of Arcadia are also on the trail map. The others don't get talked about much and I'm wondering if there's a hidden gem there. Also I'm curious about skin sandwiches --- does the skin get crunchy enough or just hard?

While the competitors will not be offering samples at the Lexington contest, there will be three vendors: Johnsonville Brats Big Taste Grill, Carolina BBQ Company, The Little Red Pig Championship BBQ. Any info on Carolina or Little Red Pig?

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Barbecue Center
900 N Main St, Lexington, NC 27292

Smokey Joe's Barbecue
1101 S Main St, Lexington, NC 27292

Whitley's Restaurant
3664 Nc Highway 8, Lexington, NC 27292

Cook's Barbecue
366 Valiant Dr, Lexington, NC 27292

Backcountry Barbecue
4014 Linwood Southmont Rd, Lexington, NC 27292

Smiley's Lexington BBQ
917 Winston Rd, Lexington, NC 27295

Speedy Lohr's B B Q of Arcadia
8000 N Nc Highway 150, Lexington, NC 27295

Troutman's Barbecue
18466 S. NC Hwy 109, Denton, NC

Lexington Barbecue
100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington, NC 27295

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  1. LEXINGTON to CHARLOTTE

    On Saturday I'll leave Lexington in the late afternoon for Charlotte. I've read the comments that Charlotte is bbq-deficient so I'd like to take some with me to my hosts. I can purchase some in Lexington, and I thought it would be interesting to stop along the way.

    The trail map of historic pits highlights three places: Richard's Bar-B-Que, Wink's King Barbeque & Seafood and M & K Barbecue.
    http://www.ncbbqsociety.com/trail_map...

    What do 'hounds think about these three spots? Any danger that they'll run out on Saturday night before I get there?

    -----
    Wink's King Barbeque & Seafood
    509 Faith Rd, Salisbury, NC 28146

    Richard's Bar-B-Que
    522 N Main St, Salisbury, NC 28144

    M & K Barbecue
    215 N Salisbury, Granite Quarry, NC

    4 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Melanie, I've yet to have BBQ in the Salisbury area that I considered great. It might be too much of a detour, but I highly recommend the dipped chicken at Keaton's as an alternative. Here's a link to a discussion: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/549458

      Not as famous, Reid's in Granite Quarry also does a good dipped chicken, and they are only a few minutes off the interstate--but you may want to call first as their hours can be irregular. Here is their info: 408 Hwy 52, 408 Salisbury Avenue, Granite Quarry 28072, (704) 209-0905.

      BTW, at Lexington BBQ#1, I definitely recommend the course chopped outside brown if you are eating there and a mix of course chopped outside brown and inside white for take-away (pure outside brown may dry out a bit on reheating).

      1. re: Low Country Jon

        Thank you, I'd taken note of Keaton's Barbecue in another thread and lamented that it was a little too far afield. Reid's sounds like it may be just the ticket.

        I've arrived in good shape, flights on time, and am happily in residence in Winston-Salem with the door to the porch cracked open a bit for some fresh air through the screen door. I've had butter pecan ice cream from Homeland Creamery for dessert tonight.

        -----
        Keaton's Barbecue
        17365 Cool Springs Rd, Cleveland, NC 27013

        Homeland Creamery
        6506 Bowman Dairy Rd, Julian, NC 27283

        Reid's Chicken
        405 N Salisbury Ave, Granite Quarry, NC 28146

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          How was Reid's, Melanie? I saw your flickr pics.

          1. re: Low Country Jon

            Thanks for the rec. Reid's didn't hit crave-worthy for me, mostly due to chicken quality, but I'm glad I had a chance to try it.
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/781781

    2. Melanie,

      I wouldn't miss the following, both incredible Eastern NC BBQ places, not too far off your route, but definitely a detour:

      Parker's BBQ
      2514 US Highway 301 S
      Wilson NC
      (252) 237-0972
      N35 41.422W77 56.772
      Not as interesting as Ayden, but the BBQ might even be better. Well known.

      and

      Skylight Inn
      4618 Lee St
      Ayden NC
      (252) 746-4113
      Way off the beaten track. At lunchtime they were chopping a whole pig with skin at counter. Marvelous flat dense cornbread. Very interesting place with a Capitol dome on the roof. Next door is the Collard Shack, which shouldn't be missed. Highly recommended.

      As for Lexington, I never bother with anything but Lexington #1, along with the above 2 it is among the top 5 in the country on my list (others are Louis Mueller in Taylor, TX, and Arthur Bryants in KC, MO). Don't miss the hush puppies at Lexington #1!

      One other still further south is amazingly good (competes with above) considering it is not wood fired is:

      Ken's Grill and Barbecue
      7645 U.S. 70
      La Grange NC
      +1 (252) 566-4765
      BBQ Wed and Sat only.!!

      I will be in NC in June and am not sure I will get far east, but I have been told to check out a place in Chapel Hill. I will post the name when I get it.

      I sure wish Ayden were closer to San Francisco...

      -----
      Skylight Inn
      4618 S Lee St, Ayden, NC

      3 Replies
      1. re: Thomas Nash

        Thanks Thomas. I've been drooling over the descriptions of Skylight, but alas, it is too far out of the way. I will be going to a pig pickin in Edenton, as well as putting more than a pound of 'cue down my throat judging that day, so I hope to get my fill then.

        I'm glad you mentioned that Ken's Grill and NC Barbecue is Wednesday and Saturday only. I could have gone there, but wrong day.

        -----
        Skylight Inn
        4618 S Lee St, Ayden, NC

        Ken's Grill and NC Barbecue
        7645 US Highway 70 W, La Grange, NC 28551

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Double check those opening days for Ken's by phone. That information is from last year.

          1. re: Thomas Nash

            I did call Ken's when I passed by La Grange, and bbq is still limited to a Wednesday and Saturday schedule.

      2. Please, for the love of God, don't fly all the way across the country and go eat at Parker's. It's totally bog standard gas cooked barbecue- and worse, it's not far from some really excellent places that cook traditionally.

        As for taking a break from barbecue- you don't *need* to if you don't want to. What's your route, exactly? Also, what days of the week are we talking about?

        We mentioned Blackbeard's on another thread, and that's right off 64. If you detoured a bit and took 264 into Greenville, you'd be within a stone's throw of several really great barbecue places- Cobb's in Farmville, B's in Greenville, and Pete Jones(Skylight Inn) in Ayden. Pete Jones is the best of these, although the other two are quite good. B's has the ramshackle ambience going for it.

        The Collard Shack is a produce stand, not a restaurant. They do sell cooked collards, but they're for reheating. They don't serve them hot. Bum's(also in Ayden) has very widely known collards, but the barbecue is only okay, in my book. Bum's reputation is built on its sides, and you can get barbecue that's much better, and sides that are just as good or better at Blackbeard's- so living in Greenville, I have little reason to ever go to Bum's. However, Blackbeard's doesn't always have collards, so if that's a must have, you might want to grab a pint or quart from Bum's or the Collard Shack. The thing I don't like about collards from Bum's is that they don't offer any homemade pepper vinegar, and I don't like the Texas Pete pepper vinegar they do have. Collard Shack sells a homemade pepper vinegar, though.

        IIRC you were looking for meats. There's a local butcher called Sumrell's Country Sausage outside of Ayden a bit. They have great...country sausage. Try the air dried hot. Their chorizo is good, too. They usually have hoop cheese, as well.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Naco

          I had mixed feelings about Parker's. Last time through we went back to Parker's after filling up at Ayden. And damned if Parker's BBQ didn't even seem (a teenie bit) better than Skylight. I was full, yet it just seemed to grow on me. So, even if it is big and boring, and gas fired, I think it is one of the best.

          If I was going to one, I would pick Skylight.

          And the hot pepper vinegar from the Collard Shack is fine.

          Will try Blackbeard's next time.

          1. re: Thomas Nash

            Bearing in mind that this is inherently subjective, de gustibus non est disputandum, and et cetera, I really could not disagree more strongly. Parker's is a decent neighborhood place if you're a local. It is emphatically not a destination restaurant and not a top notch barbecue place. It is not remotely in the same league as Pete Jones, as virtually any eastern NC barbecue aficionado would agree.

        2. I think most locals (based on my highly suspect sampling method) will tell you Speedy's is the best in the Lexington area. I definitely prefer it over Lexington #1. I'm an eastern-styler though, so I have to hold my nose when I eat this Lexington-style stuff. :)

          9 Replies
          1. re: arbyunc

            Speaking from the same perspective, I like Lexington style a lot in general, but it's not really as varied as eastern style to me.

            1. re: arbyunc

              I'm glad I asked! And that I'll have a chance to try both styles. Just read this piece in Serious Eats about the Lexington style and issues with dryness.
              http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/09/wh...

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                IMO a good NC barbecue of either style should be a little on the dry side. You don't want it oversauced.

                1. re: Naco

                  Oh yeah, definitely not oversauced for any kind of barbecue. The comment was that the meat in Lexington was dried out, overcooked and lacking meats natural moistness and relied on the slaw and sauce for wetness to compensate.

                  Here's the quote: "After a few more bites, the finer details of the Lexington style came out of the woodwork. I noticed that the pork, chopped so finely that it began to resemble a porky pulp, was more wet than moist. As I continued to chew, each hunk seemed to dry out between my teeth. The flavors of pork and wood became flimsy as the pulp ground down into tiny, papery strands."

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Interesting comments in that article. In my experience, one of the differences between Lex. style and eastern is that Lex. usually is more wet with sauce, sometimes practically swimming in it. Most places a sandwich bottom will become a soggy mess before you finish it. Eastern style is drier (as far as the sauce), but it's incredibly moist when done right.

                    1. re: arbyunc

                      But what about the texture of the meat and the juiciness of the meat itself? I think the writer's complain is that while Lexington has more sauce, the meat is dried out. The quality of the starting material may be at issue, as commercial grade hogs are leaner, as well as the cook's skill or geographic style.

                      Edited to add: Reading through yet another BBQ thread, I found this older post by "Bluemold" that addresses the issue of the changes in quality and fat content of commercial hogs. Says it much better than I could.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4542...

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Hmm, my experiences with western style, at least at Lexington #1 (which is the definitive version of the genre) couldn't have been more different. The meat retains a lot of natural moisture. And keep in mind that Lexington #1 does the thickness of the chop and mix of meats any way you like. So, for example, my wife's favorite is "coarse chop (which amounts to chunks that are plenty juicy/tender all the way through), mix of outside brown and lean". My favorite is "regular chop, mix of outside brown and inside white." It's not specified on the menu as such, but the waitresses know all the lingo. Just think of it like in-n-out's "secret" menu, but with varieties of bbq chops and textures.

                      2. re: arbyunc

                        That's why I always liked John Wayne's(sadly closed now)- it was the least wet of the Lexington places that I tried.

                2. re: arbyunc

                  I got an email from a shy 'hound who's a long time Speedy's person but saying the last time in the area, Lexington #1 was more flavorful. Guess I'll be buying a lot of sandwiches. :-O

                3. Tuesday: CHARLOTTE to BEAUFORT, NC

                  On Tuesday I'll be departing Matthews (east of Charlotte) for Beaufort.
                  http://maps.google.com/maps?q=beaufor...
                  Google is showing me three alternative routes for the journey which are about the same driving time, 5+ hours.

                  1) US 74 that jogs southward toward Wilmington then to Jacksonvile. If I go this way, should I go into Wilmington?
                  2) NC 24 into Fayetteville, Clinton and Jacksonville
                  3) US 70E through Fayetteville, Goldsboro, La Grange and New Bern

                  I'll need a place to stop for lunch and maybe a rest stop or two. Which route and stops do you recommend?

                  I will only have an overnight in Beaufort before heading to OBX in the morning, so I would like to arrive by afternoon to take a look around the historic district. What are your favorites for dinner in Beaufort and surrounds? I must admit to a morbid fascination with the Thai and crab shack combination represented by Mrs Culpepper's Crab Cafe.

                  -----
                  Mrs Culpepper's Crab Cafe
                  5370 Hwy 70 W Ste D, Morehead City, NC 28557

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    If it were me, I'd go down 70. That would put you going past(or very near) Wilber's Barbecue and the Skylight Inn.

                    For non-barbecue options, I like Tryon Palace Seafood/Stingray Cafe in New Bern a lot. Order off the specials whiteboard and get softshell crab if they have it. Softshells should be hitting soon. The fries and hushpuppies are hit or miss, but the seafood is fresh, local, and really good. Culpepper's is good and in the same genre, but also has Thai food. I've only eaten there once, though. Chef and the Farmer in Kinston is a more upscale place that does great food with an emphasis on local ingredients.

                    Going through Sampson and Duplin counties(Clinton/Kenansville/Beulaville) you will see a lot of taquerias and authentic Mexican places, but I don't have any specific recommendations as I very rarely get that far south. Here's a thread on places I and some others have visited, mostly in vicinities of Greenville, Wilson, Goldsboro/Wayne County:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/523769

                    I suppose if you took 24, La Cuata(in Dudley) wouldn't be an unreasonable detour. Here's a thread:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/641883

                    I don't have any Beaufort recs as I rarely eat there, but the subject comes up from time to time, so there should be some old threads.

                    1. re: Naco

                      I agree. Go on 70. Ayden is not a big detour from 70. Definitely go to Skylight!

                      We also tried Wilber's last year. It was recommended in one of Raiclen's books. My notes indicated: Good Eastern NC BBQ. Not as good as Ken's but great if on 70E on days when Ken's is not doing BBQ.

                      Melanie, as you can tell there is a major ongoing argument between proponents of eastern and western NC BBQ. My sister in law lives in Greensboro, but grew up near Wilson, and won't ever join us at Lexington, which is near Greensboro. Locals have strong preferences.

                      I guess I would agree that there is more choices at the extreme excellence level in the east. But Lexington's is very good. There is no tomato in the eastern sauces, just vinegar and spices. Lexington has much less tomato than any other BBQ sauce style in the US, but it is too much for the Eastern NC folks.

                      1. re: Thomas Nash

                        Ok, I checked and going to Skylight Inn would require another 25 miles or so of driving vs. Wilber's. It takes 4.5 hrs to get there from where I'll be in Matthews. Wish me luck on getting an early start, and it may be do-able.

                        Having lived all my life in California, I don't have an ingrained style preference. Just like with regional styles of ramen, I'll just be guided by what tastes good to me. :-{}

                        -----
                        Skylight Inn
                        4618 S Lee St, Ayden, NC

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I wish you luck. As far as my preferences are concerned, the triumverate of perfect NC bbq comprises Lexington #1, Allen&Son (in Chapel Hill) (this one being my "last meal on earth" place, no exaggeration), and Skylight Inn. Blackbeard's comes a close second to these magical places.

                          Bum's in Ayden is the best place in the state to get southern veggie sides (collards, green beans, rutabagas, black-eyed peas, etc.). I know Naco says that Blackbeard's holds its own with sides, but unfortunately the Sunday I went a couple of weeks ago(late around 2 p.m.), they were down to string beans and limas w/ sausage.

                          -----
                          Skylight Inn
                          4618 S Lee St, Ayden, NC

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            One option here might be to take 264 east towards Greenville, then cut down to Ayden to hit Skylight Inn and continue to Beaufort from there. This is only about an extra 12 miles vs. taking 70 to the coast, and you will probably make better time, as 264 is an interstate quality highway with a 70mph speed limit and little traffic all the way to Greenville.

                            I really can't recommend the Skylight Inn enough. If I had to go to one barbecue place in the entire state, this would be it.

                        2. re: Naco

                          Great info, I'd love to eat fresh softshell crab. Sting Ray Cafe and Tryon Palace Seafood is sounding very good.

                          Between Wilber's and Grady's, which would you choose? I might be ready to eat bbq again by Tuesday. :-P

                          -----
                          Wilber's Barbecue
                          4172 US Hwy 70 E, Goldsboro, NC 27534

                          Grady's Barbecue
                          3096 Arrington Bridge Rd, Dudley, NC

                          Sting Ray Cafe and Tryon Palace Seafood
                          520 S. Front Street, New Bern, NC

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            All else being equal, I'd go with Grady's over Wilber's, but it's a bit of a detour. Wilber's is right on 70. If you've already gone to the Skylight Inn and want to try another place, I'd say go with Wilber's. If you don't go to the Skylight Inn, then go to Grady's.

                            Grady's is only open later in the week, though. It's either Wed-Sat, or Thu-Sat. Wilber's is open 7 days a week IIRC.

                            -----
                            Skylight Inn
                            4618 S Lee St, Ayden, NC

                            1. re: Naco

                              Then that puts Grady's out of the running for my Tuesday drive.

                        3. re: Melanie Wong

                          Looks like I'll need to make a mid-morning stop somewhere around Fayetteville --- suggestions? Any non-Krispy Kreme local donut shops, bakers, coffee houses, diners with good pie, for example?

                          Wish I could check out Chef & the Farmer, but it's dinner only. Maybe I'll wave as I drive by.

                          -----
                          Chef & the Farmer
                          120 W Gordon St, Kinston, NC 28501