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Abbreviated NC BBQ Tour

I will be in eastern and middle North Carolina in a few weeks and I would love to hit some of the best BBQ places along my journey. I have a list of about 20 places I would love to get to but unfortunately there will just be no way to get them all in during this 36 hour car trip (from roughly the Greenville/Ayden area to Lexington/Winston-Salem). If you were forced to choose a couple places in Greenville/Ayden that best represent Eastern NC BBQ which would they be? Skylight Inn and Bum's? What about B's? What about Jack Cobb's? My thinking is Skylight and Bums since they are very close to each other and it would minimize time but I want to hit the best one or two.

Same question for the Raleigh Durham/Chapel Hill area. Im told if you go ANYWHERE you MUST go to Allen & Son. Is it that good? Anywhere else? Best two or three in that area.

And finally Lexington where I can better concentrate visits because of the density of the Lexington BBQ places. Best 2 or 3 there that best represents the native Cue. Thanks for your help!

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  1. In Lexington go to Lexington BBQ for chopped, and you must go to Speedy's and get "Sliced Outside Brown" Amazing flavors. Also, get a bag of skins and some dipping sauce to go. Be prepared to walk or run about 200 miles to make up for this, but I can tell you first hand, it's worth it!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: lutherben

      Eastern--B's, Skylight Inn
      Triangle--Allen and Son in Chapel Hill (not in Pittsboro)
      Lexington--who cares? ;-)

    2. You could probably just leave it at Allen & Son's for the Triangle area, but, if you really want to go somewhere else too, I would recommend The Pig in Chapel Hill.

      1 Reply
      1. re: brsmith2

        Agree about The Pig but I'd skip the que. The pastrami, country ham, bologna, hot dogs-- all homemade-- are great.

      2. Greenville:

        Definitely the Skylight Inn. My other regular place is Blackbeard's, in Conetoe(about 30 minutes from Greenville).

        I think Bum's is overrated. I would go to B's or Jack Cobb's before I went to Bum's. Between B's and Cobb's, I'd pick the latter.

        Blackbeard's is Thu-Sun only and Cobb's is something like Wed, Fri, and Sat.

        1. Thanks for the recommendations all. I feel like a kid in a giant candy store trying to figure out which 3 or 4 candies he wants to get...

          What about Wilburs and/or Gradys? Is it worth it to continue south west to Goldsboro to hit those two places rather than up to Jack Cobbs or Blackbeards?

          And in Lexington, Lexington BBQ is definitely on the list. But what about Smileys or Barbecue Center? And is it worth going 10 miles south to hit Cooks if we are heading north?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Insidious Rex

            Wilber's and Grady's are both quite good. It really depends on what route you prefer and when you'll be traveling. The places listed are all pretty close in quality.

            1. re: Insidious Rex

              Smiley's, Bar-B-Que Center, Smokey Joe's and Cooks are all worth a visit in addition to Lexington Barbecue. Asks for some outside meat mixed in. Speedy's isn't a wood cooker and is not worth the calories if you're seeking out real barbecue. For the down-east stuff, I'll defer to Naco, although I've had some fine barbecue at Bum's.

            2. I did a similar thing back in Sept '04--started a BBQ tour in Kansas City, then drove straight thru to NC and had BBQ a total of 14 times in 11 days--roughly a clockwise tour starting up in Banner Elk, then Greensboro, Lexington, Ayden, Wilson,Goldsboro etc. Posted a lengthy trip report here and I think it's still archivable. (Try a Yahoo search of "Chowhound"+"Banner Elk"+"Wilson"+"Stamey's"+"KyMikey" and you will pull it up.) I would definitely recommend Stamey's, The Skylight Inn, Wilbur's, Lexington BBQ (maybe more than one in that golden BBQ town!), Allen and Son, maybe B's in Greenville if you get there when they open. Skylight Inn is pure history (before the Civil War) and is BBQ in its purest form--2 guys hacking away with cleavers at a mound of meat, minimal menu served on paper, etc. If you could only go to one, this would be the one Just realized you only have 36 hours--If you hit The Skylight Inn and B's close together (the latter as early in the day as you can-maybe get carry out), then maybe Allen & Son, and hit Lexington BBQ when you get there, that's a pretty good sampling of the best.

              1. Well we did pretty well on our limited time in NC. At most of the places we hit we tried to get the combo plate of chicken and pork. Now I never realized that what most places call BBQ chicken in North Carolina is as much a stewed dish as it is anything else. I guess I was expecting more of a true smoked chicken type dish. Nevertheless, we enjoyed everything we got our hands on and hope to repeat this adventure again with much more time to devote to the many many great BBQ spots we could not get to.

                We started at Blackbeards where the owner very nicely opened up just for us 15 minutes before the regular opening time and we enjoyed some great chicken and pork with some slaw and potato salad. Whats interesting is that this place features more seafood dishes than BBQ dishes. But didnt want to risk upsetting my BBQ mojo for the day by sampling the clearly tempting "fresh herring" that they advertised on a sign next to the shark in front of their restaurant.

                Next stop was B's which was the only place on our whole tour where we had a hard time parking and where the line was out the door. Turns out most of those people were waiting for chicken as they had had a late delivery (the poultry truck was blocking me in when I tried to leave in fact). So we gave up on the combo plate and focused solely on pork which was outstanding here. Probably the best of the whole trip.

                Skylight Inn was next and their pork was great and their cornbread was very nice if you like doughy and corny corn bread but their chicken was especially wet and stewey which threw me a little bit. Plus their sides were minimal (slaw only?) The sauce was the best of the trip and we got a bottle of it to go which Im trying very hard not to use in a week.

                From there we drove to Grady's where we were spoiled by the multiple sides options (had some nice collards and some very fresh snappy black eyed peas) and some truly nice banana pudding in addition to the A+ pulled pork and again somewhat stewey but good chicken.

                After Grady's we took a BBQ break and went to some pharmacy in Raleigh where we had heard they had fantastic milkshakes and they certainly did. From there we went straight to Alan & Sons where we enjoyed everything they had to offer including the more familiar BBQ chicken and of course the great pulled pork. The potato salad was very nice and peppery with lots of poppy seeds in it which was a first for me but it worked well. The slaw was solid and the baked beans were about what youd expect.

                After Alan & Son we drove back to Durham and Chapel Hill where we took the girls on a tour of Duke and UNC (which was a main feature of our trip and thus the time limit). That took a few hours so by the time we got to Lexington we could only rush into one place before they closed and we ended up at Bar-B-Q Center for that last stop. Nice coarse pork chunks were a good change of pace after a day of finely chopped pulled pork. The chicken was good there as well. The cole slaw I could have done without. Is cole slaw with tomato paste a normal thing in central NC?? The baked beans were nice and sweat and smokey.

                So thanks one and all for the recommendations. I intend to return within the next year to do a more leisurely and complete BBQ tour finishing in Ashville and then turning it into a beer tour. So Ill be back for more recommendations soon!

                6 Replies
                1. re: Insidious Rex

                  Thanks for the report! Sounds like a great trip. In regard to the red slaw in Lexington, yes thats the standard slaw in the piedmont...instead of mayo, its mixed with the bbq sauce, which has some ketchup added to it.

                  I do hope there wasn't any "sweat" in the beans at BBQ Center! ;-)

                  1. re: Insidious Rex

                    When you return, just keep in mind that Asheville doesn't really have a traditional NC smoker to be found. 12 Bones is the closest one can get to actual bbq, but it's a more generic-styled Disneyland tour of barbecue.

                    The best wood smoker in this corner of the state is probably Bridges' Barbecue Lodge in Shelby, NC. I haven't found a better outside brown plate in the entire state. With Lexington #1 and Bridges' being basically equidistant to where I live, I find myself gravitating to Bridges' more often than not.


                    1. re: Insidious Rex

                      On your next trip go to Countryside BBQ in Marion, NC for a wonderful smoked chicken. Seriously good.

                      1. re: Leepa

                        And they have good pulled pork too! I really miss Countryside BBQ. I had lived in Marion for 10 years and didn't really starting eating their BBQ until about 2 years before I moved from there. Always had their chicken tenders before then.

                        1. re: vttp926

                          I will drive from Asheville just for their smoked chicken plate. I don't think I have tried their pork, but a friend who goes with me when I get a craving for their chicken gets it. Maybe I can get some to go....

                          1. re: Leepa

                            I almost never eat inside the restaurant. Just never have a dining companion and since it was when I was a local it was easier to take home. They also have really good home fries.