Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lexington-Style Barbecue

I grew up in nearby North Carolina, but have lived just over the border in South Carolina for seventeen years. Barbecue is probably my favorite guilty pleasure meal and I don't get to enjoy it too often these days without making an extended road trip back home.

South Carolina tends to favor a low-country mustard-based barbecue sauce, which ain't too bad, but when you've been weaned on the "Rolls Royce of Barbecue" ... well ... it's hard to get into any other style. Here is a quick tutorial on that nirvana of Southern meals, Lexington-style Barbecue:

Lexington, North Carolina calls itself the "Barbecue Capital of the World" and since 1984, the city has hosted the Lexington Barbecue Festival, one of the largest street festivals in the Tarheel State. The city has over twenty barbecue restaurants (an average of more than one per thousand residents).

Lexington-style barbecue is made with pork shoulder cooked slowly over a hardwood fire, usually hickory wood. It is basted in a sauce (called "dip" locally) made with vinegar, water, salt, pepper, other spices, and ketchup (a twist from other parts of the state). Actual ingredients will vary from restaurant to restaurant, with each restaurant's recipe being a closely guarded secret. While each is vinegar based, the taste varies widely from tangy to slightly sweet or spicy.

The most distinguishing feature of the "Lexington Barbecue Sandwich" is the inclusion of red slaw (or barbecue slaw). Red slaw is a combination of cabbage, vinegar, ketchup and crushed/ground black pepper. Red slaw is distinguishable from coleslaw because red slaw contains no mayonnaise. Most residents (and visitors) consider red slaw a staple for a quality barbecue experience. Red slaw is also commonly served as a side dish with barbecue, grilled poultry and other meats, and even on hot dogs as a relish. And don't forget the hush puppies, which are small cornmeal breads that are deep fried in a spherical or oblong shape. You HAVE to have the pups along with the "cue" in order to enjoy an official Lexington-style barbecue feast.

If you have never had any of the above, then you don’t know what good eating really is! And it does help if your favorite "chef" prepares the blessed feast in the proper attire, and let me add that, if such proves to be the case, dessert is definitely implied.


ET said...

I am something of a non-franchised locally owned barbecue compulsive person - I tried many times to cook decent ribs but never have. I can cook on the grill a good Boston butt though.
I think if given a choice of sauce I would take the sweet north Carolina sauce - but I like give my meat a douse of hot sauce too.
The problem around here, (Marietta, Ga), is that once a good bbq joint is discovered, it is not long until the Yuppies start coming in droves.

Joel said...

as a native Lexingtonian with the cholestrol coated arteries to prove it, I love your column. However, I only wish the cooks at the Honeymonk looked half as good as your chef.

Lucky dog!

By the way since you obviously love Epicurean treasures if you get up to Greensboro check out the World Famous Joelburger a burger with its own blog

Chuck Wells said...

Guys, during the years that I've lived in Greenville, SC, there have been at least two genuine Lexington-style barbecue restaurants in town to help satisfy my cravings (Monty's Barbecue & J & J's Smoky Mountain Barbecue) but both eventually went belly up after terribly short runs. On the plus side, there is a pretty good Lexington-style joint in nearby Chesnee, SC that I've only recently discovered, called Southern Barbecue.

There are plenty of barbecue restaurants in the upstate area, but even though several of them have decent pork bbq, they don't really offer anything to go with it AND anyone who prefers traditional mayonnaise-based slaw with their "cue" suffers from an ongoing brain fart.

At least now I don't have to burn too much gas to dull my hunger pangs.