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The Final Four in Charlotte-area barbecue

We narrow the field in Charlotte-area barbecue joints to the Final Four in our Observer Tournament of Food

By Helen Schwab
hschwab@charlotteobserver.com

Final Four time, baby, and we’re down to the ’cue quarterfinals.

This, the sixth Observer Tournament of Food, was the first to be randomly seeded. And we mean that literally: We used a random number generator to pair our 16 competitors, which led to such shocking early-round matchups as Spoon’s vs. Mac’s, and Old Hickory House vs. Bubba’s.

Now we whittle again.

Taste (including sauce), texture and reader voting all factor into the early two rounds. (It’s not a reader vote alone – partly because our system can’t guarantee one vote per reader – but reader votes count in the decision.)

From here, a panel of judges winnows to semifinalists and the winner, which will be announced next week.

In the quarters:

Bobbee O’s shocked Old Hickory House, with vibrant and tender pork with marvelous texture and a little more heat than most narrowly getting past the slightly gooey quality of OHH’s ’cue.

Kyle Fletcher’s topped the upstart 10 Park Lanes, despite having servers wearing T-shirts that say “Get porked at Kyle’s.”

Red Bridges eked past Midwood Smokehouse with the second-closest reader vote margin so far in the tournament (closest was the first-round Bubba’s/OHH matchup), its combo of warmed sauce and pure pork flavors just edging those of Midwood.

And Spoon’s easily defeated Sauceman’s with classic Eastern N.C. flavor and superior texture.

Barbecue bracket: Meet all 16 contestants

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