Call it “new ’cue” or “modern barbecue.” It started around here with Mac’s Speed Shop a decade ago, and it’s picked up momentum ever since. Here’s a look at the rules, and a few places where you can go to try it out. (And here’s a look at the rules for old-school barbecue, just to keep them straight.)
The rules: New ’cue
▪ It’s served in a large restaurant. There’s either enough curated memorabilia and signs to pass for an “Antiques Road Show” set or more reclaimed barnwood and rustic lights than an HGTV makeover.
▪ The menu includes a variety of meats, especially brisket, ribs and smoked chicken. Wings and sausage are almost always present. All of those are usually better than the chopped pork. (Why do so many modern places struggle with the chopped pork?)
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▪ That menu also has a long list of appetizers (it usually includes fried pickles) and an indulgent dessert list. Expect innovations like barbecue egg rolls or nachos.
▪ The list of sides is long and often more interesting than the meat. Vegetable plates are not only possible, but sometimes recommended.
▪ There’s beer. Craft beer. On tap.
▪ The owner made his or her reputation in fine dining. The owner and partners may tell tales about their pilgrimage to Texas to visit the shrines (Franklin Barbecue, Kreuz Market and the Salt Lick).
▪ It’s cooked over wood in a large contraption, usually imported from Texas. The contraption is usually filled with brisket.
▪ The meat is locally sourced or from old-variety livestock. Farms on the menu are specified by name.
▪ It may start with one location, but will probably become a chain within two years.
▪ It’s pricey: Shiny contraptions, specially sourced wood/meat, craft beer taps and business partners don’t come cheap. Sandwiches are usually $8 and higher, trays with multiple meats are usually $18 and often higher.
5 Charlotte places for the modern take
▪ The Improper Pig. Barbecue sandwich: $7.49 (with chips only) or $9.49.
Yes, it has ribs, brisket, pulled pig and sausage, and almost a dozen kinds of sauce. It also has barbecue egg rolls, salmon, a cocktail menu and Taco Tuesdays. You figure it out. 110 S. Sharon Amity Road in Cotswold Mall.
▪ Mac’s Speed Shop. Barbecue sandwich: $8, $10 or $13, depending on size.
The website calls it a biker bar, but that sounds rougher than it is: The original location on South Boulevard used to be a motorcyle repair shop and they use that theme in the decor. It has a long list of sides, but they take their barbecue seriously, with several wins at the prestigious Memphis in May competition. 2511 South Blvd. (original), plus six locations as far away as Fayetteville and Greenville, S.C.
▪ Midwood Smokehouse. Barbecue sandwich: $8.25.
Charlotte restaurant titan Frank Scibelli never misses a detail, from the Texas-style cooker to the hush puppies. The ribs have drawn celebrities like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 1401 Central Ave. (original), plus four more locations.
▪ Queen City Q. Barbecue sandwich: $9.
With a sports bar/Texas roadhouse feel, the menu is a mix, from barbecue to quesadillas and cocktails. The sides list sprawls with 18 items. 225 E. 6th St.
▪ City Smoke. Barbecue sandwich: $12.
With contemporary-meets-steampunk decor, Pierre Bader’s uptown City Smoke does things like half-and-half ribs (one end is wet with sauce, the other dry with rub), good brisket and unusual touches like charcuterie and Middle East dishes. Where else can you get a barbecue platter with grits and labneh as a side? In Founder’s Hall, 100 N. Tryon St., near Trade Street and College streets.