Over the summer months in 2008, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Carolinas, in particular, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (The Triangle) and also the Columbia, South Carolina area. Two cities which are as different as can be from a cultural and socio-economic perspective, but which do share something in common — Barbecue.
Even if you are trying to shed the pounds like I am, when you travel, maintaining discipline can be extremely difficult, especially when you are surrounded by co-workers who want to go out and have a good time. And when you’re in the South with a bunch of out-of-town males, particularly in the Carolinas, evening entertainment can usually be classified into two distinct areas — ones which involve Pork and ones which do not. I’m not going to get into the details of the ones which do not, because that could get me in trouble with the wife.
Here are all my Carolina Barbecue sins exposed, some of which I am proud of and would repeat again, and some of which I would not.
Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.
Allen & Son BBQ
6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill NC
If you’re visiting the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area, and if you ask anyone where the best Barbecue restaurant is, the answer will probably be “Allen & Son”. I have my own biased opinion of who makes the best pork BBQ in the Triangle, but I will say that Allen & Son makes some damned good pulled pork and is an experience that should not be missed, particularly if you are a Yankee like myself that has never experienced the REAL South. The restaurant has been open for 30 plus years and has a devout following.
Allen & Son is a truly authentic North Carolina BBQ experience. Just getting there is half the fun, driving through back roads and passing beautiful farmland, particularly during the Spring and Summer months. However, like many barbecue restaurants, be advised that Allen & Son has limited hours — closed Mondays, Tue-Wed 10am-5pm, Thu-Sat 10am-8pm. The first time I tried to get there was 5:30PM on a Tuesday afternoon after work and I was devastated when it was closed.
I’ve been told the home made desserts are excellent, but as this was going to be a total sin in terms of screwing my diet plans for the week, I decided to bypass them.
The interior of the restaurant looks like something out of a BBQ Americana exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, or a theme restaurant at the North Carolina pavillion at EPCOT, if one ever existed. The kitsch is REAL, folks.
The classic North Carolina BBQ menu. Pulled Pork, Ribs, and Chicken. As it should be. Click on the photo to enlarge.
Here’s a plate of BBQ, with Brunswick Stew and Cole Slaw. My only major complaint is that the restaurant does not serve greens, which I think any self-respecting BBQ place should.
However, they do have awesome hush puppies which more than makes up for that glaring omission.
Diet Coke, in a nice big frosty mug. I was kind of hoping for a Ball mason jar, but that would have just made it over the top redneck.
Okay, maybe I spoke too soon.
This one doesn’t sing. I’m guessing this Big Mouth Bass was noodled for real.
Jim’s Famous BBQ
115 S Elliott Rd, Chapel Hill, NC
Web Site: http://www.greatpigs.com
On the Tuesday night my co-worker and I arrived at Allen & Son when it was closed, we searched for other BBQ options in the local area. One place which was recommended to me was Jim’s, which is a more family-style, mass market appeal BBQ restaurant. While I would be happy to have anything close to a Jim’s back home in New Jersey, it was pretty standard issue for BBQ, and probably more smoked than I would like.
If Allen & Son is minimalist, then Jim’s is all over the map in terms of the broadness of the BBQ styles it offers.
While the main menu gave me some pause, I was happy to see they had a nice array of sides.
The cornbread is skillet style. Texturally, it was pretty good, but I thought it was way too sweet. I’m more of a savory, corn taste type guy when it comes to cornbread. This tasted more like a corn muffin than cornbread.
Jim’s Pulled Pork. It had a nice chop, but not much of a smoke flavor.
The greens weren’t as cooked as I liked, but I did like the mashed cauliflower very much.
According to the server, these Memphis-Style Baby Back Ribs were smoked for 8 Hours. They had a very overpoweringly smoked flavor, which any North Carolinian or skilled pitmaster will tell you is a no-no. I ordered my Ribs dry, but you can also get them sauced.
Here’s what my co-worker, Karl ordered.
The Brunswick Stew was pretty heavy on the Lima Beans.
I will say this, the array of sauces and condiments is impressive.
And the atmosphere is definitely festive.
The Pit Authentic Barbecue
328 W. Davie Street, Raleigh NC
What can I say about Ed Mitchell and the Pit That I haven’t said already. He’s a Barbecue Genius and a national treasure, and I am completely biased in my opinion that it’s the best BBQ restaurant I have ever been to in all of the Carolinas. Nobody else does what he does, and nobody else can do it like he can do it. That’s all that there is.
The Pit on West Davie Street.
Ed Mitchell firing up one of his custom built pits for cooking Whole Hog, a process that takes approximately 14 hours.
A 200 lb Hog being prepped for his 14-hour smoke.
And there he goes.
This may be a barbecue restaurant, but its no shack either. Its got a wine cellar and a comprehensive beverage program that includes select small batch bourbons.
Ed’s Brunswick Stew is a meal in and of itself. In fact, it would be more appropriate to call this Barbecue Stew, because of all the smoked meats in it.
BBQ Chicken. While not the specialty of the restaurant, it’s mighty fine.
A proper array of BBQ sides, all of which are excellent.
Whole Hog, Pulled Turkey and BBQ Ribs.
Hush Puppies and Biscuits
Columbia, SC (Various Locations)
Web Site: http://www.mauricesbbq.com/
So much has been written about Maurice Bessinger that I think that it would be a waste of bandwidth on Off The Broiler to go into verbose detail of what this man is all about. I’d prefer to let his food and his restaurants, and not his views on politics and race speak for itself.
While it certainly wasn’t my preference to visit one of Maurice’s restaurants — I tried to go to the reportedly excellent Little Pigs on a weeknight (What is it with Mondays and Tuesdays in the South, anyway?) only to find it was closed due to to limited hours — it was the only BBQ restaurant that was open in that part of town I was in, and I figured that for the sake of informational purposes, it would be a service to my readers to actually eat the food there, even if I had my reservations about patronizing the establishment of an avowed Racist, Segregationist and White Separatist. And I had another duty, which was to verify the findings of the local food media. According to Columbia’s local free weekly paper, the Free Times, which had a taste-off back in May of 2008, they voted Maurice’s the #1 barbecue restaurant in the city. While I don’t agree with this sentiment, you can read their tasting notes here.
It should be noted that the location I chose was actually one of the newest branches, not the original Piggy Park. However, it’s my understanding that the ‘Q is pretty consistent between branches.
Okay, no obvious Ku Klux Klan symbology or Swastikas here. Looks safe enough. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing.
Prisoner transport vehicle parked in the lot. Oh, this is not a good sign.
Maurice’s BBQ sauce, the very same that used to be stocked on Wal-Mart shelves before the company pulled it due to Maurice’s insistence of vocalizing his racist beliefs. Vocalizing how, you ask?
The components of Maurice’s mustard-based BBQ sauce. The best way I could describe it is Mustard-flavored ice cream topping.
As you can see he’s got gift packs of different flavors. No preservatives, but the stuff is full of HFCS and sugar. ROTFLMAO!
Yup, they voted him best in 2007 too.
I hear he does a pretty brisk mail order business. I didn’t snap a photo as several very large good-ol-boy Department of Corrections cops were staring at me, but every employee in the establishment was white.
I like menus with pictures.
I’ll say this for Maurice, his restaurant was immaculately clean.
The tomatoes were fresh and I liked the hush puppies. Green beans were overcooked. I couldn’t even taste if the pork was smoked properly due to the overwhelming cloying sweetness of the BBQ sauce. You can’t get your ‘Q “dry” with the sauce on the side at Maurice’s — this is the default way it is served. Apparently some people actually ask for EXTRA sauce on top.
I’m not entirely sure exactly what battle this is supposed to depict from the Civil War (click on the photo to enlarge) but this looks like something from the opening scene of The Birth of a Nation. I took one peek at this and got really, really uncomfortable.
I’m telling you, I can’t make this shit up.
I tried a takeout order of ribs. Decent smoke, but again, the cloying sauce totally ruins it.
And this is what Maurice calls “Brisket”. Ugh.
Palmetto Pig Barbecue Restaurant
530 Devine Street, Columbia SC 29201
After the culinary disaster that was Maurice’s I needed to get some decent BBQ in Columbia, and fast. After doing a bit more research, I found out about Palmetto Pig, a great cafeteria-style BBQ place right in downtown Columbia. For $9, you get all you can eat Pulled Pork, Fried Chicken, sides, and Iced Tea. I don’t think there is a better deal anywhere in the entire city.
Palmetto Pig restaurant on Devine Street.
Again, the limited hours. Don’t go on a Monday or try to eat there after lunch on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
Palmetto has community-style seating. Everyone gets a pitcher of Iced Tea at the table. You can get sweetened or unsweetened ice tea.
Everything is serve yourself. Grab a disposable plate and get right to it.
As if the place wasn’t cheap enough, on Thursdays and Fridays, college students can eat for $7. Wow. Who needs a meal plan?
Pork Cracklins. Mmmmmmmmm. Crunchy porky good.
Pickles, Tater Salad, Cole Slaw.
Green Beans (overcooked, but hey, its the South) and fresh fried chicken, which is constantly being refilled. There’s also “Hash” which I have been unable to determine the exact composition, but my understanding its pork and potatoes and … stuff.
Plate #1. I admit, I had a few helpings, and at this place, its hard not to. Unlike Maurice’s, the pork is juicy, in big pieces rather than completely shredded, and has the sauce ON THE SIDE. Palmetto offers a somewhat less sweet Mustard BBQ as well as a “Spicy” BBQ sauce. I like to mix the two.
Big T’s BBQ
North Columbia, SC
Another trusted local source sent me over to Big T’s, which has two locations, the original on Garner’s Ferry Road, and also a satellite location in North Columbia on Congaree Road. My co-workers and I ended up at the North Columbia location, which doesn’t actually do smoking on premises, but the food is still pretty good.
The staff at Big T’s is friendly and eager to help.
The North Columbia location is in a strip mall… not much in terms of ambiance, but this is not why you’re here.
Big T’s has got everything you’d expect from a BBQ restaurant, and then some. In fact I’d say it has a full blown Soul Food menu.
Big T’s hash, which is served over rice.
The BBQ pork, which is already lightly sauced.
My BBQ plate of Pork, Greens, Hash and Rice.
As you can see they also have ribs, which I didn’t try, a co-worker ordered them and said they were good. Big T’s has both Collard Greens AND Mustard Greens, so I ordered both. I actually preferred the more bitter taste of the Mustard greens, but both were excellent, and I drank the pot likker.