How important is barbecue in North Carolina? When Texas Monthly named Daniel Vaughn its barbecue editor last year, one of his first acts was to schedule a trip to the Carolinas. Even a Texas editor knows you can’t approach the subject of barbecue without knowing how it’s done here.
Of course, how it’s supposed to be done here – either pork shoulders (Lexington-style) or whole hogs (Eastern-style) cooked low and slow over coals burned down from hickory wood – isn’t always the way it is done here these days.
Here are the 10 places we’d go on a barbecue tour, in order from east to west to avoid the debate over which is best:
Greenville: B’s Barbecue, 751 B’s Barbecue Road. A tiny place with a huge following, and still cooks over wood. There’s no phone, and they stop serving when they run out. Lunch only, Tuesday-Saturday.
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Ayden: Skylight Inn, 4618 Lee St. Handed down to a new generation after the death of founder Pete Jones, it’s still true to its roots in the Eastern N.C. style. Look for the replica of the U.S. Capitol on the roof. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Goldsboro: Wilber’s Barbecue, 4172 U.S. 70. A classic, run by Wilber Shirley and his family since 1962. 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Chapel Hill: Allen & Son, 6203 Millhouse Road (at N.C. 86). Keith Allen is still cooking pork shoulders over wood, the way he always has. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday.
Lexington: Lexington Barbecue No 1, 100 Smokehouse Lane (off I-85 Business and U.S. 70). Wayne Monk and his family are barbecue royalty. When people talk about “Lexington-style barbecue,” this is what they mean. 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Lexington: Cook’s Barbecue, 366 Valiant Drive. Run by Brandon Cook who took over the restaurant built by his father in 1969, and still cooks over wood. Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday.
Lexington: The Barbecue Center, 900 N. Main St. With the claim that this one town has the highest number of barbecue restaurants per capita in the world, there’s a lot to choose from in Lexington. This is one of the classics. 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Lowell: Kyle Fletcher’s, 4507 Wilkinson Blvd. (near Gastonia). A simple place with a great sandwich. Step around back to see the cookers where they make it all. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Shelby: Alston Bridges, 620 E. Grover St. The “other” Bridges barbecue – no relation to the bigger place on U.S. 74 – has good barbecue, too. 10:45 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Shelby: Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, 2000 E. Dixon Boulevard (U.S. 74), Shelby. Along with Lexington, Bridges is a classic in the Lexington style. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Kathleen Purvis