January 16, 2017

THE Perfect Plate of Barbecue

by Elijah Gaddis

Somewhere high on my list of favorite conversations is the one about a favorite plate of barbecue. It’s kind of like picking a fantasy team, I imagine. You dream up some alternative world where somehow your favorite meat, fried corn product, slaw, and those all too rare sides could somehow coexist on a single plate. I guess that’d be heaven for the person whose altar is a barbecue pit.  And on matters of barbecue religion, I tend to be pretty heretical, especially for someone who grew up going to the old stalwart Gary’s in China Grove with occasional pilgrimages to Lexington #1 (and who currently lives within smelling distance of Stamey’s in Greensboro.) So while I have a deep and abiding love for Lexington #1 in particular (they have a skin sandwich for God’s sake!) I am a true convert to the Eastern way of doing things and consequently that’s where all my favorites come from.

Top: L to R: Gary's Bar-B-Q (China Grove, NC), Blackbeard's B-B-Q (Coneto, NC). Center: Bridges Barbecue Lodge (Shelby, NC) Bottom L to R: Wilber's (Goldsboro, NC), Stamey's (Greensboro, NC)

Top: L to R: Gary’s Bar-B-Q (China Grove, NC), Blackbeard’s B-B-Q (Coneto, NC).
Center: Bridges Barbecue Lodge (Shelby, NC)
Bottom L to R: Wilber’s (Goldsboro, NC), Stamey’s (Greensboro, NC)

Sides: I’m sympathetic to the purist’s argument about sides, I really am. I still think it’s bullshit though. I love vegetables (especially as broadly defined in the Southern restaurant lexicon) and they offer a particularly good excuse to eat barbecue more often by pretending that it’s not that unhealthy. Blackbeard’s in Conetoe has wonderful sides but I haven’t eaten there enough to say they’re the best. That title belongs to Grady’s in Wayne County.  The greens I’ve had there have all been good, but the best thing are their beans. The black eyed peas, for instance, are just slightly sweeter than you’d ever make them at home and taste beanier somehow.

Slaw: There’s an even clearer winner for me here. Lots of slaw can charitably be described as forgettable. Not so at Allen and Son in Chapel Hill. Theirs is peppery and kind of acidic and just generally amazing. I’m eating some tomorrow and I can’t wait. Also, they probably have the best desserts of any barbecue place, but I don’t care much for sweets. Sorry.

Fried corn product: This is another easy choice for me, though I have to say that the fried cornstick prevalent in certain places (Parker’s and Bill’s in Wilson, the Abram’s chain, among others,) a method of cooking unfamiliar to me until a few years ago, is now something that I love. However, the famously lard-laden cornbread at the Skylight Inn in Ayden is without peer. Anything that manages to be that crunchy, creamy, toothsome and still redolent of pure corn deserves the same kind of praise we heap on barbecued meat itself.

Top: L to R: Gary's Bar-B-Q (China Grove, NC), Blackbeard's B-B-Q (Coneto, NC). Center: Bridges Barbecue Lodge (Shelby, NC) Bottom L to R: Wilber's (Goldsboro, NC), Stamey's (Greensboro, NC)

Top: L to R: Short Sugar’s (Reidsville), Allen & Son (Chapel Hill)
Center: Lexington Barbecue (Lexington, NC)
Bottom L to R: Skylight Inn (Ayden, NC), Parker’s Barbecue (Wilson, NC)

Meat: It’s pork, of course, and preferably whole hog. The first isn’t even a question; the second has been settled adequately to my way of thinking. And so with apologies both for repetition and to the many fine places that I left off—Wilber’s (which I eat at embarrassingly often for someone who lives 125 miles away,) Skylight Inn, Allen and Son, all of the Lexington places, Blackbeard’s—my favorite is Grady’s. Like everything there, the barbecue is kind of sweet, which only heightens the potent smokiness. And there’s lot of chewy skin, almost certainly a byproduct of the meat sitting a little longer unserved than it does at Skylight Inn. I’m probably in the minority, but I prefer that ever so slightly to the wonderfully crispy bits of skin you get at Skylight.

Editors Note:  In honor of National Barbecue Month and his recent nuptials, we let Elijah go a little hog wild and live his dream of serving up one of his favorite conversations – the one about a favorite plate of barbecue. So stay tuned as others weigh in the rest of May with their version of THE perfect barbecue plate!


Allen & Son Barbeque
6203 Millhouse Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516-8101
(919) 942-7576

Bill’s Barbecue
3007 Downing St SW
Wilson, NC 27893
(252) 237-4372

5232 U.S. 64 Alt
Tarboro, NC  27886
(252) 641-0103

Gary’s Bar-B-Q
620 Hwy 29 N
China Grove, NC 28023
(704) 857-8314

Grady’s Barbecue
3096 Arrington Bridge Rd, Dudley, NC 28333
(919) 735-7243

Lexington #1 Barbecue
100 Smokehouse Lane
Lexington, NC 27295
(336) 249-9814

Original Parker’s Barbecue
2514 U.S. 301
Wilson, NC 27893
(252) 237-0972

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
2000 E. Dixon Blvd.
Shelby, NC 28150
(704) 482-8567

Short Sugar’s Pit Bar-B-Q
1328 S Scales St
Reidsville, NC 27320
(336) 342-7487

Skylight Inn
4618 South Lee Street
Ayden, NC 28513
(252) 746-4113

Elijah GaddisA folklorist and graduate student in American Studies at the University of North Carolina, Elijah Gaddis lives in Greensboro, NC.


  1. Joe S. Cline says:

    Sorry, but I can’t agree about eastern-style — the meat is uneven tasting (which is a result of their “whole-hog” nonsense), unlike the Piedmont shoulders-only cooking. Also, I much prefer red slaw to that yellow stuff found east of Asheboro; I also like hushpuppies much more than corn bread or sticks.

    My votes: Lexington #1, the best barbecue, slaw, ‘pups and tea in the state; Alston Bridges in Shelby; Kyle Fletchers in Lowell/Gastonia. Sentimental favorite: BBQ King in Charlotte.

    • Deborah Miller says:

      Hi Joe,
      We really appreciate your thoughts and suggestions from our BBQ post.

      If you don’t mind, I’d like to use your comment in the upcoming BBQ Roundtable post (5/30/14).

      NC Food editor.

  2. Joe S. Cline says:

    Oh, yes: So few places in the east cook REAL BBQ — everyone has gone to gas or electric cookers. Wood coals is still the only legitimate way of cooking ‘cue!

  3. Stephanie says:

    I admit to a lacking objectivity– my BBQ teeth were cut in the East– but B’s Barbecue is, hands down, the best pulled pork in NC.

    They have a road named after them for pork’s sake. It’s not just the food, either, the entire atmosphere is one of old-time good eatin’. You should definitely try it; but get there early– 10 ish- because when the pig is gone they close up shop.

    • Deborah Miller says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      Thank you so much for joining the pig chat! Where is B’s Barbecue so we can go check it out? If you don’t mind, I’d like to use your comment in the upcoming BBQ Roundtable post (5/30/14). NC Food editor.

  4. charlotte fitz says:

    B’s Barbecue in Greenville is wonderful and it is truly a pig pickin. They cook a pig and when it is gone B’s closes its doors. Also- Boss Hogs in Little Washington, NC is pretty durn good!

    • Deborah Miller says:

      Thank you so much, Charlotte, for participating in our NC Food BBQ discussion.

      If you don’t mind, we’d like to use your comment in the upcoming BBQ Roundtable post (5/30/14).

      NC Food editor.

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