Explore the Carolinas: In the two states to our south, you’ll find beaches, cities, and mountain towns that make for idyllic vacation spots. Before you pack the car and head down I-95 this summer, get the lowdown on some new-to-you locations in North and South Carolina — and find out what’s new this year at your old favorites.
North Carolina is a land known for its outstanding barbecue. You’ll find slow-cooked pork topped with a tangy, peppery vinegar sauce, or a flavorful red sauce, and heaping sides at no-frills barbecue joints across the state. But what exactly differentiates North Carolina’s style from that of Texas or Memphis?
“North Carolina barbecue is the closest to what the historical, traditional American barbecue style was in the 19th century, especially in the eastern part of North Carolina where they still cook whole hogs,” Robert F. Moss, contributing barbecue editor for Southern Living and the author of Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, tells me.
The 19th-century sauce would have been a basting sauce, “a simple blend of vinegar, salt, black pepper, and red pepper,” he says. This style is known simply as Eastern, but the central and western region of North Carolina have a second popular style that’s referred to as Lexington or Piedmont.
In both styles, wood-cooked pulled or chopped pork is the meat of choice. While the Eastern style favors whole hogs, Lexington likes pork shoulders, and its slightly sweet red sauce consists of some combination of ketchup, vinegar, and pepper.
“These days, Texas-style barbecue is all the rage, and that’s been the trend for the past decade or two,” says Moss, who is based in Charleston and originally from Greenville, South Carolina. “Carolina barbecue has gotten eclipsed a little bit, but I think it’s a very rich and wonderful barbecue tradition.”
For authentic Eastern style, he recommends the Skylight Inn in Ayden, which has been in operation since 1947; B’s Barbecue in Greenville; and Grady’s Barbecue in Dudley. Hush puppies and white coleslaw with mayonnaise are popular sides at Eastern barbecue joints, but there are many contemporary spots with larger menus of sides. I’m a fan of Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville, which has chicken bog, savory corn pudding, collard greens, and hash and rice (a South Carolina specialty) as sides, along with plates of pulled pork, smoked chicken, and more.
At a standard Piedmont spot, you order a plate or tray of chopped pork but can request it to be sliced or coarsely chopped (which means cut in big chunks), Moss says. The sides are typically hush puppies and red slaw, or french fries, if you get a tray.
Lexington Barbecue in Lexington is a legendary stop that’s been run by the same family since 1962. Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro is a classic, an old-school spot that sticks with a tried-and-true pitmaster process that takes 8 to 10 hours a day. Your first time in North Carolina? Aim to find your barbecue preference. Go hog-wild on the sauces, pouring every one offered on your meat. You can often order sides of meat to try more than one; Asheville’s 12 Bones Smokehouse has 3-ounce “Just a Taste” portions for that purpose. Typically, at least four sauces will be available at a restaurant, with mustard sauce (a South Carolina staple) often in the mix. In some places, you’ll even see the mayonnaise-based white sauce commonly associated with Alabama. If that’s your favorite, just zip your lips.
Feature image by Johnny Autry, visitnc.com
This story originally ran in our May issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.