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The Winner of The Daily Meal's Ultimate BBQ Road Trip Sweepstakes

The Winner of The Daily Meal's Ultimate BBQ Road Trip Sweepstakes

See who won The Daily Meal's Ultimate BBQ Road Trip Sweepstakes

Nathan Cyphert / @natecyph

The Ultimate BBQ Road Trip

The Daily Meal presented its first Ultimate BBQ Road Trip, a meaty odyssey exploring the best barbecue restaurants in the United States, in September. In honor of the inaugural BBQ Road Trip, barbecue lovers and pitmasters alike were invited to enter The Daily Meal's Ultimate BBQ Road Trip Sweepstakes for a chance to win two VIF (Very Important Foodie) all-access passes, to the World Food Championships from Nov. 1 to Nov. 4 in Las Vegas, plus a three-night hotel stay at a Caesars Entertainment hotel in Las Vegas.

You responded in great numbers by following The Daily Meal on Pinterest and pinning your favorite barbecue photo with the hashtag #BBQRoadtrip; downloading The Daily Meal's Best Dishes App for your iPhones, then uploading pictures of your favorite barbecue specialty; and mailing photos to The Daily Meal's offices in New York.

The winner of The Daily Meal's Ulimate BBQ Road Trip was Regina M. of Los Angeles. Congratulations to Regina M., who will share her experience in an upcoming feature on The Daily Meal.


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10 fast-food restaurants you haven't heard of

Ever had a Wimpy Burger? If you have never feasted your eyes on a Wimpy restaurant, you’re not alone. It’s one of many fast-food chains that have not made it to the U.S., and it's likely to be a fast-food restaurant you’ve never heard of. The Daily Meal has compiled a list of fast-food restaurants that are worth seeking out if you’re headed abroad.

Fast food is no small industry here in the U.S. — Americans spend nearly $100 billion on fast food every year. There are close to 50,000 fast-food chain locations in the country, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and of those, McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain.

By now, you are likely familiar with Birthplaces of Fast Food in America, here is a recap: the contemporary fast-food industry was born on Sept. 13, 1921 in Wichita, Kan., when Walter A. Anderson teamed up with Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram to open the first White Castle. In the next 15 years, White Castle would open seven more locations, expanding to other mid-Western markets.

Almost two decades after the first White Castle opened, the fast-food movement experienced a surge of momentum when the McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice, opened their first hamburger restaurant, McDonald’s in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1940.

From then on, the industry proliferated. Colonel Sanders, who had opened his first restaurant in 1930 in North Corbin, Ky., opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1952. Burger King’s predecessor, Insta-Burger King, was founded in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1953, while the first location of the current company opened in Miami in 1954. Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969.

Many American fast-food institutions, such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Burger King, have gained major traction overseas, but their counterparts abroad don’t always make it to the U.S. While some overseas restaurants emulate major American institutions, others have created their own regional versions of fast food.

From Nigeria, where Mr. Bigg’s has more than 170 locations serving traditional cuisine such as moin moin and ofada rice, to Barbados, where Chefette, famous for its roti, is celebrating its 40th anniversary, diners are likely to find a localized fast-food chain almost anywhere in the world.

After searching all over the world, The Daily Meal found 10 fast-food restaurants you haven't heard of, but should definitely know about.

MOS Burger
With locations in Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, Japanese burger chain MOS Burger first opened in Tokyo in 1972 and was the first food service company to open in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Unlike other chains, MOS burger employees don’t prepare the burgers, fries, and other offerings until after an order is placed, making the wait time at MOS Burger a bit longer than other fast-food chains. Worth the extra wait are the teriyaki burger, teriyaki chicken burger, MOS rice burger, and Hokkaido pumpkin croquette. Until 2002, MOS Burger had an outpost in Hawaii, but it hasn’t hit the continental U.S. yet.

Wimpy
If you have been to England, no doubt you have seen the red and white sign with the word "WIMPY" sandwiched between two slices of bread. There is nothing wimpy about the burgers here, which are served with lettuce, tomato, onions, and ketchup in a white bun. The Wimpy chain, which opened in 1954 at Lyon’s Corner House in Coventry Street London, claims to be the first to have served a vegetarian burger, the Spicy Beanburger, but it also serves fish and chips, "toasties," and Tea-Time treats, which include toasted tea cake with butter and carrot cake in more than 23 countries.

Nordsee
If you ever find yourself in Germany, you can order a "California sushi box," salmon fillet, mackerel fillet, or smoked maties at Nordsee, a fast-food seafood chain.

Supermac’s
Founded by school teacher Pat McDonagh in Galway, Ireland, in 1978, Supermac’s has more than 100 locations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The company claims to have pioneered curry chips and the snack box craze in Ireland. Supermac’s menu has burgers, chicken sandwiches, cod and chips, and eight different varieties of french fries, including coleslaw, taco, curry, and cheese fries.

Chefette
What better way to celebrate your time in tropical paradise than with fast food? Chefette, a chain with 14 locations in Barbados, was named by combining the words "chef" (to cook) and "fete" (to party). The chain is famous for its roti, made with curried vegetables and meat and wrapped in wheat flour wrap. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Chefette’s menu includes pizza, chicken, sandwiches, and salads.


BBQ Brawl Flay vs. Symon review: Regional styles bring unexpected results

BBQ Brawl Flay vs. Symon is looking to crown the Master of Q. With only two spots available in the Food Network show finale, could the title go to a woman pit master? Whoever earns the title, she definitely cannot just wing it.

The summer Food Network show has captivated a lot of foodies. While the barbecue is show&rsquos focus, Bobby and Michael&rsquos banter is equally entertaining. From their cooking challenges to the good natured ribbing, this show exemplifies that food is more than just a pretty plate.

To kick off this episode, Bobby and Michael had their own challenge to give one team an advantage. Since this entire episode was based on regional barbecue flavors, the two chefs had to cook Carolina barbecue.

Thinking about Carolina barbecue, there are certain flavors and elements that always stand out. The slightly more vinegar tasting sauce to the coleslaw pairing, a Carolina pork sandwich is instantly recognizable.

Looking at the two chef&rsquos dishes, Bobby&rsquos open face sandwich was more Carolina inspired than a direct application of flavors. By transforming a pork loin into an open faced pulled pork sandwich, the judges appreciated the slight twist on the traditional.

Michael&rsquos sandwich took a more expected route. Where Michael should be commended is on the use of so many parts of the pork. Blending all those items together offered a nice contrast of flavor and texture.

Winning this challenge was Bobby. The advantage was a big one. He was able to assign all four competitors&rsquo regional flavors for the challenge.

In a way, Bobby&rsquos flavor decisions were smart and strategic. For example, he gave Lee Ann Memphis, which was definitely a plus for her infamous rub. In contrast, giving Lynnae Alabama style barbecue was quite difficult.

Still, all these four pit masters should be able to create any barbecue style and two complementary sides. Although everyone has a preferred style, this competition is all styles, not just a specialty.

Of course, every episode has to have a twist. This week, the twist was for the contestants to make some wings. This twist showed the chefs&rsquo creativity.

At the beginning of this challenge, everyone was lead to believe that Phil and his crack wings had a big advantage. But, as the judges tasted the wings, they felt the flavor was a little too salty.

Looking at the various wing flavors, Lee Ann and Lynnae had the most interesting ones. Lynnae&rsquos thai inspired dish with peanut dipping sauce sounded delish. It is a nice reminder that barbecue doesn&rsquot always have to be traditional American.

Lee Ann had a little twist to her flavors, too. The combination of heat and lime was both refreshing and spicy. Plus the sriracha sauce was a real plus.

Winning the chicken wing challenge was Lee Ann. While there isn&rsquot necessarily an advantage, the win is weighed in the final decision.

While these mid-challenge twists are good for the competition aspect, it would have been nice to see the challenge work into the main challenge. Although wings are relatively easy to make in a short period of time, it would have been nice to see something related to each chef&rsquos regional flavor.

The pressure seemed to be weighing on these chefs. Lee Ann was indecisive about her sides, Lynnae had seasoning issues with her potato salad and Phil committed the ultimate cooking competition don&rsquot, a dual dish.

It was curious that Susie, the person with the non-Southern barbecue choice seemed relatively calm. The person with the least experience seemed mostly at ease.

Going into the judging, it was Lee Ann&rsquos spot to lose on Bobby&rsquos team. Even though she burned her carrots and was worry about the doneness, her plate was spot on. The judges loved her famous rub. More importantly, her plate was composed and represented Memphis well.

As for Phil, it wasn&rsquot necessarily a smart choice to do both burnt ends and ribs. The judges inevitably will like one part better than the other. Also, his slaw needed more flavor.

In the end, Phil was eliminated from Bobby&rsquos team. That decision ensured that the Master of Q would be a woman.

Tonight&rsquos decision is based on just how well the competitors were able to represent their region. Follow along with the judges and learn your stuff with this quick BBQ road trip: https://t.co/4zy5MiTURv! #BBQBrawl

&mdash Food Network (@FoodNetwork) August 16, 2019

On Michael&rsquos team, the battle between Lynnae and Susie was tight. After being the last chef picked, Susie has found her groove. Given that she had to cook Santa Maria style barbecue, she had a big challenge.

While her tri tip was perfectly cooked, the components on her plate were best enjoyed as a single bite, not individually. Still, she handled the situation well.

In a way, a few comments early in the episode foreshadowed some of the judges&rsquo criticism of Lynnae&rsquos plate. Michael warned her that the potato salad was a little salty. It didn&rsquot appear that she ever went back to re-adjust.

Granted, Lynnae might have been a little gun-shy about seasoning. After previously hearing her dish was under-seasoned, she might have been somewhat heavy handed.

Still, Lynnae impressed with her chicken and white sauce. That dish is difficult to execute and she nailed it. That accomplished should have been rewarded.

But, the judges eliminated Lynnae from Michael&rsquos team. Personally, this decision was flawed. Given the challenge, her dish, even with the extra salt, was the better choice.

In BBQ Brawl Flay vs. Symon, the winner will be a woman. At the beginning of this series, no one would have guessed that the Master of Q would be a woman. Maybe this Food Network show will inspire some more women to light up the grill.

What did you think of this BBQ Brawl Flay vs. Symon episode? Who do you think will earn the title?


Day three: A cowboy storyteller, trail riding, and a Twisted Sister

Start with breakfast at Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia, where the Redden family makes buttermilk pancakes the size of hubcaps and the building is notable, too: Dating to 1904, it has served as a Masonic lodge, a drugstore, a classroom, and a doctor’s office.

Next, join “cowboy storyteller” Lee Haile for a guided nature tour to some of the Hill Country’s mightiest trees, including a 96-foot-tall, 438-inch-round Bald Cypress next to Buffalo Creek. The trees are located on private land, so you need permission to access them. Besides, Haile is good company—entertaining his troops with campfire songs and an impressive knowledge of the local ecology.

After bidding Haile adieu, drive to Elm Creek Stables in Concan, a quarter mile north of Garner State Park, to go trail riding. Beverly and George Streib have run the Frio Canyon Horse Refuge for nearly a quarter of a century. Of the 30+ horses in their stable, only a dozen or so people-loving equines lead tours the rest of the seniors are free to simply enjoy their retirement. The horses are gentle and the terrain is easy to navigate, dotted with dainty wildflowers and strapping oaks. The low trails are particularly novice-friendly experienced riders may request a steeper amble along higher paths.

Ten minutes north of Elm Creek, turn right onto Ranch Road 337 . This is one of the Twisted Sisters, three routes widely considered the best motorcycle drives in the Hill Country. But even in a car, it’s a blast of a roller-coaster ride, winding past shallow creeks and under towering limestone bluffs.

Thirsty yet? Cool off under a shade tree, sipping chilled Polvadeau Vin Symphonique. Order a glass of this smooth white wine at Lost Maples Winery and Polvadeau Vineyards in Vanderpool, or request a flight with 10 generous pours. (The winery’s best seller, Polvadeau Vin Elegante, is a velvety Hill Country cab with hints of plum and currant.)

Dinner tonight is at The Laurel Tree , back in Utopia, the restaurant where Treehouse Utopia co-owner Laurel Waters really shows off her Le Cordon Bleu training. The antiques-stuffed hideaway is open just one day a week, on Saturdays, and reservations are essential. Waters grows many of her own vegetables and herbs, and her five-course menu is seasonally inspired. (Count your blessings if she’s making her tangy lemon-artichoke soup or signature brisket Wellington.) In the backyard, you’ll notice yet another stunning tree house: this one perched in a 450-year-old live oak. This tree house was Waters’s first collaboration with Nelson , before they cofounded Treehouse Utopia. The tiny lofted abode seats two to six people and may be reserved for private dinners. Alas, nabbing a reservation in the tree house dining room requires considerable planning because seatings book out six months in advance.


America's 25 Best Barbecue Chains

Barbecue is one of those foods that's fiercely regional. In Texas, it's all about the beef in Carolina, the focus is pork and so on. Thankfully, there are great barbecue restaurants all across the country with multiple locations that are spreading the barbecue gospel far and wide. We surveyed nearly 10,000 folks from across the country, and these are the 25 chains that received the most votes.

Chains tend to get bad raps, because (for the most part) they rely on production lines and cost-cutting measures to deliver food that's as inexpensive and quickly-made as possible (think pizza chains versus an actual pizzeria). But when it comes to barbecue, there's really no way to cut corners. Because if you cut corners with barbecue -- by using low-grade meat, for example, or employing artificial means to give it smoky flavor -- people will know. And not only will they know, they'll get angry. You can screw around with burgers or pizza, but you can't screw around with 'cue.

All the owners of the restaurants on our list keep this fact close to heart, and it comes through in the food they serve. In order to assemble our ranking, we created a survey with 67 chain barbecue joints and asked the public to weigh in and vote for their favorites. Nine thousand, six hundred, and seventeen votes later, there was a clear champion.

Choosing a favorite type of barbecue is a subjective matter, but I think we can all agree that when done right, there's nothing on earth that's more delicious. And while some of these chains specialize in Texas-style barbecue and others focus on St. Louis, we should be mighty thankful that they've decided to expand and grace parts of the country that might otherwise not have access to great barbecue. So loosen your belt and read on to learn which 25 barbecue chains are America's best.

#25 Dickey's BBQ Pit

With more than 470 locations in 42 states, Dickey's, founded by Travis Dickey more than 70 years ago, is the world's largest barbecue franchise. Each location pit-smokes its meat on the premises, and free kids' meals are still offered every Sunday. While it's certainly old-fashioned, that's more the result of an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. Meats are served by the pound, and include Southern-style pulled pork, hickory-smoked brisket, honey ham, spicy Cheddar and Polish sausages, pork ribs, chicken, and turkey breast. There are no frills at Dickey's, just solid, honest-to-goodness barbecue.

#24 City Barbeque


Photo Credit: City Barbeque

With six Ohio locations, two in Kentucky, and one each in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Indianapolis, City Barbeque has been dishing up award-winning craft barbecue since 1999. Meats are smoked upwards of 18 hours, and while the owners don't claim to hew to any particular region's style, they're really representing the best of all worlds -- and doing it well. Brisket, pulled pork, pulled pork with slaw, turkey, pulled chicken with Alabama white sauce, and smoked sausage are sold on a bun, on their own, or by the pound, and St. Louis-cut ribs come slathered in their classic barbecue sauce. Sides and desserts are scratch-made daily don't miss the gumbo, hush puppies, or banana pudding.


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I prefer to cook briskets in my Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM). I receive quite a few e-mails asking for help with barbecue brisket and thought I'd share some questions I received today.

Do you cook brisket with direct or indirect heat?

I use indirect heat and cook the brisket slowly at a temperature of 225-250 degrees.

Do you cook with fat cap up or fat cap down?

I begin cooking the brisket fat cap up for the first cooking segment. I don't flip until the brisket reaches 130 degrees or so. That's the point when the bark starts to harden a little bit. Then I flip it to fat side down. I used to skip this part but wanted a little more bark and found that this method will promote more bark formation.

Do you use foil?

I wrap in foil when the internal brisket temp is 165 degrees or if it's been cooking for at least 5 hours. Most of my briskets are completely done in 8 hours or so. I cook to an internal temp of 196-198 degrees and hold them in an Igloo cooler for a few hours to "rest" before slicing.

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Eat. Watch. Do. Newsletter

Marinate: 30 minutes or up to 4 hours

Cook: 20 minutesMakes: 4 to 6 servings

Recipe by Dinner at Home columnist JeanMarie Brownson.

1/2 recipe sweet and tangy ginger-soy marinade

2 pieces, about 1 pound each, trimmed pork tenderloin

1 Put marinade into a plastic food bag or shallow baking dish. Add pork to the marinade turn to coat. Refrigerate covered at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

2 Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium heat. Remove pork from marinade place on grill directly over heat source. Cover grill cook, 10 minutes. Turn tenderloin move to a cooler section of the grill. Continue grilling until an instant-read thermometer registers 135 degrees in the thickest portion, usually 10-15 minutes more.

3 Remove to a cutting board let rest 10 minutes. Serve thinly sliced and garnished with cilantro.

Sweet and tangy ginger soy marinade

Prep: 10 minutes

Makes: a generous 1/2 cup

2 large shallots, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp or 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger or refrigerated ginger puree

2 teaspoons each: ground coriander, sugar

1 teaspoon each: salt, ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne, optional

Mix all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate covered up to 2 weeks.

Pork tenderloin with orange-avocado-jicama salad

Prep: 15 minutesCook: 23 minutesMakes: 4 servings

Recipe by Food & Dining Editor Joe Gray.

1 large avocado, peeled, pitted, chopped in 1/2-inch dice

2 oranges, peeled, segmented, chopped in 1/2-inch dice

1 cup chopped jicama, in 1/2-inch dice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon blanco or reposado tequila, optional

1/2 teaspoon ground chilies, such as ancho, chipotle or arbol (or chili powder)

Chopped cilantro or parsley

1 Stir the avocado, orange, jicama, olive oil, orange juice, tequila and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a bowl set aside. Season tenderloins with the ground chili and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.

2 Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium heat. Place tenderloins on grill directly over heat source. Cover grill cook, 10 minutes. Turn tenderloin move to a cooler section of the grill. Continue grilling until an instant-read thermometer registers 135 degrees in the thickest portion, usually 10-15 minutes more.

3 Remove to a cutting board let rest 10 minutes. Serve the tenderloins, sliced against the grain in 1/2-inch slices and sprinkled with the fresh herb, accompanied by the salad.

Pork tenderloin with rhubarb sauce

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Adapted from a recipe by Chicago food stylist Corrine Kozlak.

1/2 cup bottled teriyaki sauce

1 cup rhubarb (2 to 3 stalks), finely chopped

1/4 cup sweet onion, minced

1/3 cup pomegranate or tart cherry juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 Put tenderloins in a zip-close, plastic food-storage bag pour in the teriyaki sauce. Squeeze out the air seal. Marinate at room temperature, 20 minutes.

2 Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat saute rhubarb and onion until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add juice and vinegar, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan and incorporating them into the sauce. Melt preserves into sauce mixture, stirring to combine. Season with the salt and pepper. Cook to reduce sauce to desired consistency. Makes about 1 cup sauce.

3 Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium heat. Remove pork from marinade, discarding marinade place tenderloins on grill directly over heat source. Cover grill cook, 10 minutes. Turn tenderloin move to a cooler section of the grill. Continue grilling until an instant-read thermometer registers 135 degrees in the thickest portion, usually 10-15 minutes more.

4 Transfer to a cutting board let rest 10 minutes. Serve the tenderloins, sliced, topped with plenty of sauce.


Regional North Carolina Barbecue - Eastern & the Piedmont

The battle between Eastern Carolina whole hog vs. Western Piedmont shoulders is an age old feud. Advocates of whole hog claim that the varying textures and fats coming from the both dark and light meats found throughout a pig, chopped and mixed together, will create a more complex array of flavors. Those from the Piedmont say that the higher fat content and dark meat of the shoulder will yield a richer and more satisfying result. One thing is usually undisputed, though: no matter what style your preference, any great barbeque must be cooked with wood, under low temperatures and over a long period of time to impart a mandatory smoke element as well as to slowly and naturally tenderize and break down the meat.

I’ve had a strong desire for awhile now to do a BBQ road trip in North Carolina, one where I could compare mostly wood-burning BBQ establishments of the Piedmont (Lexington and its environs) to those operating in Eastern Carolina (basically east of Raleigh-Durham). I’ve had my fair share of Eastern Carolina Barbecue over the years and yet not once had I ever made a pork pilgrimage to the western stretches of the state. My reason for not going there are obvious to anyone who’s ever spent anytime there. My good friend of almost thirty years who grew up in Smithfield (eastern North Carolina) could never see a legitimate reason for us going to the Piedmont, asking me whenever the subject arose “Who in the hell would want ketchup in their barbecue?”. Longstanding divisions between the Eastern and western BBQ worlds are real. My efforts to convince him to check out the world of Piedmont barbecue were always futile.

I finally demanded that we check out what’s happening in enemy territory. We plotted a barbeque road trip that would encapsulate highly praised and notable places from both Eastern Carolina and Western Carolina (the Piedmont) to sample in succession their differences as well as similarities.

The Pit (Raleigh, NC)
Raleigh hit it big when they convinced Ed Mitchell, the former great pit master and owner of Mitchell’s BBQ in Wilson, NC to head to the big city. Mitchell uses all natural pigs raised on a farm somewhere near the Greensboro area. They aren’t all shot up with the usual hormones, antibiotics, or other bullshit that most other pigs are usually subjected to. And unlike most other former wood-burning places in town (and in nearby Durham), The Pit still insists on cooking its whole hogs in the traditional Eastern Carolina fashion - meaning low and slow over wood coals, even though they’re within the city limits . The end result is exquisite tasting barbeque. This is absolutely delicious high-grade pork— moist on its own, but also properly anointed with the classic Eastern-style vinegar/pepper sauce. Its high moisture quotient definitely contains a respectable level of fat but is largely derived from the pig’s natural juices. This is some of the tastiest pork I’ve had anywhere. Unfortunately, the portion sizes were ridiculously small, a Depression-era ration at best. The hush puppies, however, were amongst the best (if not the best) anywhere and the other sides (green bean casserole, collard greens, black-eyed peas, mac n cheese, and potato salad) were all good to excellent. Mitchell’s spare ribs are the totally fall-off-the-bone variety with a semi-leathery outer texture and pleasant pull. They’re tasty but the overall mouth feel was not to my liking.

The Pit is a must-stop. You might not groove on the more well-groomed appearance of the place but the higher-than-normal quality of his product is evident. This is a welcome addition to the shortlist of first-rate barbecue places found in North Carolina.


Note the coal vault doors found on the lower portion of the pit. This allows fresh coals to be fed into the pit without causing spent ash to be agitated and fly upwards onto the BBQ. Most pitmen of Eastern Carolina don’t work with a pit with this feature and are forced to pour the hot coals from above, a less desirable method.

***
Piedmont Region BBQ Restaurants


Stamey's (Greensboro, NC)
Warner Stamey bought his BBQ business back in the 1930s from his boss, Jess Swicegood, often considered one of the founders of Lexington-style barbeque. Storied history or not, this place was a massive disappointment serving low-quality chopped pork and being almost totally void of flavor. Their overly sweet, ketchup ladened coleslaw was inedible and the overall service here was clearly unenthused. The boys out back in their smokehouse appeared equally unmotivated. Stamey’s is unquestionably riding on their laurels.


Lexington BBQ #1 (a.k.a. Monk's in Lexington , NC)
Now this is what a true BBQ place is all about. From start to finish, every employee could not have been friendlier and more accommodating (contrary to Stamey's where frowns and limpness prevailed). I got a tray of chopped pork with “outside brown”, the dark meat found on the outer portion of the shoulder. These outside brown pieces were chopped in beautiful small chunks that were mixed in with the interior pig. This pork was so good, in fact, that we ordered another tray. The actual quality of the pork wasn't in The Pit’s league, but Monk's execution with what appeared to be a standard hog was far better than what is usually found with a comparable starting product. The hush puppies were to my liking even though the other boys thought they were pretty standard fare. The ketchup-based red coleslaw served here (and almost everywhere else throughout the Piedmont) is way too over-the-top sweet for my palate.

Rick Monk proudly showed us his smoke pits and gave us a nice tour around. Afterwards, we all walked out of there buzzing. This is one of the very best run BBQ places I’ve experienced anywhere with excellent barbeque that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the NC Piedmont.


John T Edge describes Monk’s smokehouse as “an oversize dairy barn with a six-chimney nuclear reactor tacked onto the backside.”


Chopped BBQ with “outside brown”. Though it doesn’t look like much from this picture, there was a good reason why we ordered another half-pound tray damn good stuff.


Rick Monk, son of the legendary BBQ man and founder of Lexington BBQ #1, Wayne Monk, proudly shows off his finished pork shoulders. Cooking shoulders like this is standard in the Piedmont region. The use of cardboard as a cover serves a dual purpose it helps keep ash from circulating upwards and clinging to the barbeque as well as being a better insulator of heat than metal. Surprisingly, it rarely catches on fire.


Tar Heel Q (Lexington, NC)
Driving up and smelling the barbecue in the air from the parking lot, our hopes were high. until we actually ate the stuff. We had the coarse chopped outside brown pork, daily rib special, and a chopped pork sandwich. The large chunks of coarse chopped pork were stringy and dried out and tasted like it was day old and cooked at much too high a temperature. I hate to say it but it reminded me of many aquarium-smoked BBQ places found in Chicago that cook their pork far too rapidly, causing a similar type outcome. Don’t lynch me, please.

The sandwich had far too much sweet coleslaw on it and the pork was flavorless cotton candy. The ribs were also dried-out and drowned in a thick slather of BBQ sauce. The meat was served with standard-issue hush puppies and sweet, red slaw. Tar Heel Q was filled with many locals and undoubtedly has its admirers. Why, I’ll never know. My meal was a total mess.


Cook's BBQ (Lexington, NC)
This is an out-in-the-country cabin with many local municipal employees (fire, police, ambulance drivers) dining here for lunch. Excellent chopped pork sandwich. Nice pork flavor and respectable slaw. Sliced pork sandwich was also enjoyable but served a hair on the cool side. Good flavor, though. The BBQ chicken (dark) was exceptionally moist and beautifully smoked. Ross said that this was some of the best chicken he'd ever had. Good hush puppies, too. They're doing a lot right here. Cook’s is very good and definitely worth taking a nice country ride for.





Backcountry BBQ (Lexington, NC)
Good thing we hit this place on $2 pork sandwich day (Wednesday's). The sandwiches were so good we just kept ordering them. The young waitress was convinced that the fat Yankee doing the ordering (me) was getting them all for himself (not true). We had about 7-8 coarse chopped outside brown sandwiches. Although slightly dried out and light in texture, being coupled with their not-overly-sweet coleslaw brought out its subtle porky smokiness well. A bit salty, though. The skin sandwich was crispy and very enjoyable. I also enjoyed their grilled hamburger (topped with chili and slaw). As usual, the sides lacked in offerings (just the standard baked beans, coleslaw, hush puppies, fries, etc.). I enjoyed this place a lot and the beautiful Piedmont countryside was a pleasant bonus.

Backcountry BBQ is owned by Doug Cook Sr. (Doug Cook Jr.'s father from Cook's BBQ nearby). Senior has apparently moved away from cooking solely with wood to using a hybrid electric/wood contraption he designed himself. Overall, Backcountry BBQ is not as solid as Cook's BBQ, but isn’t too far off.


BBQ pork skin sandwich with red coleslaw.

***
The absence of greens with seemingly little emphasis on decent sides turned out to be my biggest complaint about the Piedmont BBQ culture.

***
Eastern Carolina BBQ Restaurants

Allen & Son (Chapel Hill, NC)
Going into this road trip, I knew that my long-standing love affair with Allen & Son’s BBQ would be put to the test after hitting a number of the other truly great barbeque places throughout the country. However, I’m glad to report that Keith Allen’s slow wood-cooked pork is better than I even remembered. Looking back on this roadtrip, Allen & Son was the only place where I savored each and every bite, hoping to extend a beautifully crafted meal for as long as possible.

Mr. Allen told us that although he will cook whole hog by special request, he believes that his best barbeque results come from using strictly pork shoulders. He also told us that he is dead set against the idea of adding pork skins to the finished chopped product, being extremely unhealthy. The pork is visibly darker than any I’ve seen elsewhere, containing a disproportionately large amount of outside brown compared to anywhere else I’ve tried. It is lusciously moist without being excessively fatty.

Besides The Pit in Raleigh, Allen & Son has the best hush puppies I know of in North Carolina. Their Brunswick stew (made with pork, lima beans, potatoes, corn, and slight tomato) is almost as good as the pork—it’s thick and tasty but not being overly sweet. Their excellent coleslaw is sweet, but not too, a rarity in this state. Allen & Son is well known for their marvelous homemade desserts, made in-house from old family recipes—
blueberry and chess pie, fruit cobblers, cream cheese pound cake, and ice cream to name a few. A wooded location, friendly wait staff and exemplary food make Allen & Son one of my favorite barbecue restaurants in North Carolina.


Keith Allen, owner & pit master extraordinaire


My travel companions, Ross & my namesake, Rob Lampe. To avoid confusion during the road trip, young Rob became known as “Skinny Rob” and me “Fat Rob”.


Don’t be thrown off by the pleated pants. Ross’ manliness will be assured as he has plans to slay a wild boar either with an aboriginal tribe in Australia’s Outback or more locally somewhere in the wilds of Eastern North Carolina.


According to Ross, one of the criteria for an honest beast slaying is the making your own spear.


Stellar hush puppies—its only serious challenger is “The Pit”.

Check out this wonderful interview with owner Keith Allen by the Southern Foodways Alliance (Amy Evans)


B’s Barbecue (Greenville, NC)
Having heard big praise about B’s over the years from different sources and being under the impression that they use wood, they have been on my short list of BBQ places to check out in NC. However, I feared the dark clouds ahead when I spotted the bag of Kingsford charcoal sitting just outside the smokehouse. Although many legitimate wood-burning places will often times start up fires with charcoal, I knew this wasn’t the case here when I spotted numerous bags stacked high inside the pit room. B’s does cook whole hog. Their BBQ chicken, apparently a local favorite usually runs out early. Hence, the big line that formed at their takeout window immediately after 11:00.

I got the BBQ pork/chicken combo. It looked like hell and didn’t taste any better. The chicken was spent and smokeless and the pork was indistinguishable in flavor from the chicken! I swear if you blindfolded somebody, they wouldn’t have a clue whether they were eating one or the other. Like other BBQ places in the area (Parker’s), cornsticks (not to be confused with the sniffin’ stick) are served instead of the more typical hush puppies. Although novel, these things were a greazy mess.

The fact that we had to get there at 11:00 or face a massive line out the door is truly befuddling. B’s is a classic rural BBQ shack and an absolute local favorite, but I have to say that it isn’t worth going out of your way for.


Note the bag of Kingsford near the front door of their smokehouse. I believe at one time B’s used wood.


The cornsticks were disgustingly greasy.


Pete Jones Skylight Inn (Ayden, NC)
BBQ mavens far and wide have long been singing praise for Pete Jones Skylight Inn BBQ located in the Eastern North Carolina town of Ayden. Besides Bum’s BBQ (also in Ayden), I am not aware of any other place in this country that still cooks true whole hog ( head , tail, and all) over burned down hardwood coals (anyone?).

Pete Jones came up with the name “Skylight Inn” since the restaurant was used as a guiding landmark for an airport that once existed out back. As Jones the younger (Sam) told me, his family initially got started in the 1830s when Skilton Dennis (7 generations earlier), supplied his barbeque for the annual bible convention held in Ayden (known back then as Ottertown). Accolades for his barbecue were so great that he eventually bought a nearby building and started a year round business. The modern incarnation came by way of Pete Jones (Skilton’s great-great grandson) who in 1947 originally opened up a hot dog and hamburger joint that also served barbeque. After a few years, the demand for the ‘cue was so great that he decided to stick exclusively to pork.

If you’ve read virtually anything about Eastern Carolina BBQ or have visited there, you probably know that the Skylight Inn is the self-subscribed "BBQ capital of the world", feeling at liberty to do so after a glowing 1979 BBQ article about them in National Geographic. Winning a James Beard award in 2003 didn’t hurt their egos either. Even so, on my first visit there I had had a sub-marginal experience there, chalking it up to being the last customers for the day and getting nothing more than the leftover scraps saved for the unknowing Yankee. But being a wood-burner and having continuously heard high praise about it from most sources, I thought it was only fair to retry this pillar/crowd-favorite this time around as well.

I remember on my last visit being turned off by the chopped skin added to the pork. If blindfolded, I’d swear you’d think you were eating small bits of room-temperature plastic. I could certainly see how their subtly smoked pork could be to one’s liking on its own but taking into consideration these plastic bits, a nondescript coleslaw and the spongiest of the spongy white buns, you get nothing more than a sub-par chopped pork sandwich. And having gone in town to Bum's BBQ immediately afterwards, it strongly confirmed my suspicions that the locals were in full agreement with this assessment. The Skylight Inn is for the tourist but Bum's is still their self-appointed community eatery and meeting place. Besides one table of maybe 3 or 4 locals, the only other people in the Skylight Inn appeared to be outsiders.

Skylight has some personality, I'll give it that. If you enjoy checking out pit operations, they provide one of the better and more entertaining smokehouses. But everything happening upfront was average at best, at least in terms of those still willing to attempt real wood-cooked whole hog BBQ which in this day in age is few and far between. Maybe that's worth something in and of itself. Did I forget to mention that my culinarily-intrepid collegiate travel companion, “Skinny Rob,” literally had to spit out his only bite of their famous sliced cornbread?


Notice how the coals are added from above. Barbeque men such as Rick Monk’s (Lexington BBQ #1) or Ed Mitchell (The Pit) discourage this practice fearing ash hitting their barbeque.


It is virtually inevitable that a BBQ smokehouse have a highly destructive grease fire. This was the Skylight’s last one. This smokehouse was abandoned and a new one was built nearby.


Bum’s BBQ (Ayden, NC)
Right down the country rode and just in town is Bum’s BBQ, a place I’ve eagerly wanted to try since learning of its amazing family history some years back. As mentioned above, its owner, Latham Dennis, is also a direct descendent (7 or 8 generations) of Skilton Dennis. Although I couldn’t get the exact Dennis family history pre-1900, according to Shirley Dennis (Latham’s wife), Bruce Jones, and Sam Jones ( Pete Jones’ grandson), there is an unbroken succession of whole hog making traditions in this family since Skilton Dennis in the 1830’s.
Latham Dennis is Pete Jones’ cousin. Unfortunately, Jones died in 2006.
When we arrived, the place was buzzing at high noon with what appeared to be nothing but locals waiting in the buffet line with most tables occupied. Ayden is the self-designated “Collard Capital of the World”, holding the annual Ayden Collard Festival every September after Labor Day (don’t miss the pictures of the Collard Queens found in the “Photo Galleries”). Ayden produces a unique and wonderful local variety called cabbage collards, which are lighter in style than mustard, turnip, or the more commonly found collard greens found elsewhere. Trying these cabbage collards are reason enough to go to Bum’s despite the fact that their whole hog pork sandwich was pretty dried out and the other sides (green beans, black-eyed peas, and coleslaw) were equally unimpressive.


Head-on whole hog.


The cabbage greens shown here are a real treat.


Wilber’s Barbeque (Goldsboro, NC)
I’ve been to Wilber’s virtually every time I’ve gone down to North Carolina. Conveniently located off I-70, many barbeque lovers in the state try to make a stop here on their way to and from the Outer Banks. I like stopping there just to check out the beautiful smoke pits out back. Wilber’s is a classic whole hog, oak-burning BBQ lodge. Wood-paneled in 50s Michigan red pine, Wilber’s is an inviting place that is well-worn and homey.

When I go to Wilber’s, my usual order is the chicken/pork combo. If I’m feeling like a heifer or just giddy from the excitement of being there, I’ll throw in some fried livers for good measure. The chicken is all right, though it usually tastes like it was batch-made every morning and held to serve throughout the day. The skin was greasy and the meat a tad dry, I still enjoy it as a chaser to their stellar, smoky, peppery pulled pork. It is juicy with a very likeable pork profile. The sides here are nothing to brag about and their Brunswick stew is a dead ringer for Campbell’s vegetable soup. A visit to Wilber’s is entirely about the high-quality pork.

For a chain, gas-cooked barbeque operation, I find myself always pleasantly satisfied with the BBQ pork sandwich with coleslaw on offer at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q found throughout Eastern North Carolina. It’s not as good as most wood-smoked pork but if you’re on the run, it’s a satisfying simple pleasure.

After trying eleven places in both the Piedmont and Eastern Carolina, the shining stars overall were The Pit (Raleigh) and Allen & Son (Chapel Hill) with honorable mentions going to Lexington Barbecue #1 (Monk’s in Lexington). All three of these places had distinctly different attributes but undoubtedly stellar pork. As for resolving the debate, between East vs. West, great barbecue can be had in both areas.

The Pit
328 W. Davie St.
Raleigh, NC
(919) 890-4500

Stamey’s BBQ
2812 Battleground Avenue
Greensboro, NC
(336) 288-9275

Lexington BBQ #1 ( Monk’s )
10 Hwy 29-70 South
Lexington, NC
(336) 249-9814

Tar Heel Q
6835 W US Highway 64
Lexington, NC
(336) 787-4550

Cook’s BBQ
366 Valiant Dr
Lexington, NC
(336) 798-1928

Backcountry BBQ
4014 Lindwood Southmont Rd
Lexington, NC
(336) 956-1696

Allen & Son
6203 Millhouse Rd
Chapel Hill, NC
(919) 942-7576

B’s Barbecue
Greenville, NC
No Phone

Skylight Inn
1501 Lee St
Ayden, NC
(252) 746-4113

Bum’s Barbecue
115 E. Third Street
Ayden, NC
(252) 746-6880

Wilber’s Barbeque
4172 US Highway 70 E
Goldsboro, NC
(919) 778-5218