By Laurie Paolicelli
North Carolina barbecue benefits from a wide variety of influences, from Native Americans, to European settlers, to African Americans, and to modern influences, such as newer equipment and methods to cook the meat.
The official “Barbecue Belt,” stretches from the Carolinas to Kansas and Maryland. For as much as barbecue brings people together at picnic tables across the country, there are also some historical influences and regional distinctions that inspire a bit of friendly (and delicious) competition between the masters of ‘cue, which for the rest of us, results in a tasty variety of flavors and styles to sink our teeth into.
Restaurants throughout Orange County, North Carolina offer two distinct styles of cue: The Eastern North Carolina style includes smoking the whole hog and then chopping it up into an unidentifiable mixture of light and dark meat served with a pepper and vinegar sauce.
Western/Lexington cue is also available in Orange County, which gives more focus to the pork shoulder, and tomatoes and brown sugar are added to the vinegar sauce and served on the side as “dip” used for dunking. Many chefs caramelize the skin, creating a crispy layer that surrounds the juicy meat.
The sides vary from restaurant to restaurant as you see in the list below. At some restaurants the slaw is lightly dressed with mayo, vinegar, and pepper, and at others, the slaw is finely minced with no mayo in sight, dressed in vinegar with a bit of tomato ketchup for a tangy zip. This slaw can sometimes be found tucked within a pulled pork sandwich.
October is an ideal month to try local BBQ. Maybe that’s what prompted many BBQ industry members to designate October 12 as National Pulled Pork Day. So no matter what your sauce preferences may be — tomato-based, mustard-based, vinegar-based, etc. — just be sure to slather it on and offer a toast to our delicious North Carolina BBQ.
Here’s a rundown of Where to Get BBQ in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough:
- Hillsborough BBQ Company: Eastern Style BBQ served with red, white or yellow slaw, your choice of side and hushpuppies. Their Brisket stays on the coals for about 15 hours and is served sliced with Texas toast (available Wednesday-Sunday, post-cooking weight). Run, don’t walk. https://hillsboroughbbq.com. Open Tuesday-Thursday: 11:30 am – 9:00 pm, Friday-Saturday: 11:30 am – 9:00 pm, Sunday: 11:30 am – 8:00 pm, Monday: CLOSED
- The Pig: Eastern Style BBQ with slaw, pickles and hushpuppies. Vegetarian option includes BBQ Tempeh tossed with sweet and sour BBQ sauce. Venture behind The Pig (if you dare) and you’ll find PiggyBack, their neighborhood bar. https://thepigrestaurant.com. Open Monday – Saturday: 11 am – 7 pm
- Big Belly Que: Big Belly Que is dedicated to smoking over wood, and wood only. They smoke butts, turkey breasts, chickens, and homemade sausages every day, from local animals. Plates are served with choice of BBQ beans, house made pickles, creamy slaw, bacon braised greens, mac n’ cheese, or vinegar slaw. https://www.bigbellyque.com. Located inside Blue Dogwood Public Market. Open Wednesday – Saturday.
- Mama Dip’s Kitchen: Fried chicken, pork, and both eastern and western NC sauces. Greens are cook’s choice and can include: String Beans, Black Eye Peas, Yams, Corn, Okra & Tomatoes, Lima Beans, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Macaroni & Cheese, Fried Okra, Potato Salad, Cole Slaw, Pinto Beans, and Rice & Gravy, https://mamadips.com. Open Wednesday – Sunday: 11 am – 7 pm.
- Blues on Franklin: A house favorite is BBQ pulled pork sandwich or plate. How is it served? “Not even getting in this argument,” says the owner. “Eastern North Carolina Style BBQ served on a toasted bun with choice of two sides. Comes with NC vinegar BBQ sauce (we only put tomatoes in salads!) & vinegar based slaw (no mayo). A heavenly concoction passed down for generations.” We believe them. https://bluesonfranklin.com. Open Tuesday – Sunday, Closed Monday.
Signature Local Restaurants Serving BBQ
A sampling of local restaurants that feature BBQ on their menus and are known for delicious BBQ entrees and sandwiches:
- 401 Main Street, Carrboro: https://401main.com
- Acme Food & Beverage Co.: Try the Forever Roasted Pig: overnight smoked local pork, housemade BBQ sauce, Acme macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and a fried green tomato. Damn good food. https://acmecarrboro.com. Open Wednesday – Sunday.
- Big Bob’s City Grill: https://m.facebook.com/pages/Big-Bobs-City-Grill/120738204604586. Open Monday – Saturday.
- Breadmen’s: Lazy Bill’s Barbecue plate features Eastern based vinegar pork, served with two sides (Okra, banana pudding, coleslaw) plus cornbread or biscuit. http://breadmens.com. Open 7 am – 9 pm Daily.
- Carolina Brewery: In addition to making and selling their own barbecue sauce, the restaurant features BBQ Bowl with House Pork, Black Beans, Coleslaw, Hush Puppies, Hand-Cut Fries. Choose Carolina Brewery or Carolina Gold BBQ Sauce. https://www.carolinabrewery.com. Open daily, 11 am – 11 pm.
- Heavenly Buffaloes: Honey barbecue, spicy barbecue, regular barbecue, chipotle barbecue and the beat goes on. http://www.heavenlybuffaloes.com/chapel-hilly Wings
- Linda’s Bar & Grill: Q-Plate includes house roasted eastern Carolina-style BBQ served with hush puppies, coleslaw, and house BBQ sauce, and your choice of 2 additional sides, including loaded sweet potato tots. https://www.lindas-bar.com. Open Tuesday – Saturday, Sunday Brunch.
- Mel’s Commissary and Catering: Cheerwine BBQ sauce? You’ll love the Sloppy Joe, with pork and turkey ground meat, American cheese Cheerwine BBQ Sauce on Toasted Bun. Mel’s can host up to 50 people indoors and another 40 people outdoors on their patio. Their onsite kitchen will provide all the food and they can serve beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. Event space only. https://www.melscarrboro.com
- Spotted Dog: Veggie BBQ Platter with house-made veggie barbecue, beer-battered fries, coleslaw or vegan coleslaw, & hushpuppies. Veggie BBQ with slow-cooked shredded NC soy chicken in house-made, vinegar-based, eastern style NC barbecue sauce with slaw or vegan slaw. https://thespotteddogrestaurant.com. Open Sunday – Saturday: 11:30 am – 9 pm.
- Sutton’s Drug Store: BBQ Sandwich, BBQ plate. https://www.suttonsdrugstore.com. Open Daily.
- Time Out Restaurant: Pulled pork barbecue, grits, mac ‘n cheese, biscuits. http://timeout247.com. Open 24/7. Oh, and don’t forget to leave room for that banana pudding!
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.