by David Cecelski
The other day I stopped at Lenny and VC’s on old US
70 in Dover—the place, as their sign says, that is the “King of BBQ Turkey.”
It’s just a little hole in the wall with 4 or 5 tables, but the folks are
friendly, the turkey ‘cue is mouth watering, and it’s the only place to eat
anywhere near that part of Craven County.
Hanging out at Lenny and VC’s got me thinking about
turkey barbecue. I never saw the stuff when I was growing up in eastern North
Carolina. Until recently, barbecue in eastern NC meant only one thing: pork.
Whole hog, slow-cooked over hardwood coals, basted with a vinegar and red
pepper, and chopped with a cleaver— pork.
Nowadays though I’m seeing turkey barbecue
everywhere, especially at African-American ‘cue joints like Lenny and VC’s.
When I talk with the cooks, they inevitably tell me that they started making
turkey ‘cue because so many of their customers have grown concerned about high
blood pressure, diabetes, and other health problems associated with the
pork-centered, high fat diet that’s so traditional in eastern NC.
Many of those guys learned the costs of eating too
much fatty foods the hard way. For instance, Joe Rountree, a Vietnam vet
who grew up in the country between Elm City and Wilson, makes some mean turkey
‘cue at Hickory Tree BBQ on Randleman Road in Greensboro. It looks, tastes, and
smells like the whole-hog barbecue that he and I both grew up with in eastern
NC. But Mr. Rountree began to specialize in turkey barbecue after he suffered a
severe heart attack and had a heart transplant in 2001. I hear a lot of
stories like that when the subject of turkey ‘cue comes up.
A couple pit masters have also told me that they
started serving turkey ‘cue partly to serve devout Muslims and other customers
that don’t eat pork for religious reasons.
One of the most interesting turkey ‘cue chefs I’ve
met is Ben Jones in Everetts, in Martin County. A retired postmaster and local
civil rights pioneer, Mr. Jones sells take-out turkey ‘cue from a shed next to
his home. He makes his turkey barbecue using the region’s most traditional red
pepper and vinegar sauce—the same one used for hogs— and he chops the meat up
fine, just like the old pit masters that cooked pigs all night over an open
My son and I had some of Jones’ turkey ‘cue two or
three years ago when we were in Everetts. We couldn’t believe how tasty
it was. It looked and tasted like the pork barbecue we’re used to. We even had
a theory that Jones did more with the sauce—his turkey ‘cue has some really
nice heat to it—to make up for the turkey not being as naturally flavorful as
pork. Whatever he did, it worked.
If you’re in Martin County and looking for Ben
Jones’ place, just take old US 64 to the main intersection in Everetts. Turn
onto North Broad Street, cross the railroad tracks, and take an immediate left
onto West Barnhhill Street. Follow the railroad tracks to the last house on the
right and look for the sign for turkey barbecue in his front yard.
And while he doesn’t advertise it, word has it that
Mr. Jones also makes some come-to-the-altar banana pudding. He makes it from
scratch, and he sells it by the tray, ready for your family reunion or church
homecoming. When I was there, he told me that I should call ahead at least a
day or two if I wanted banana pudding, but he said he nearly always has turkey
* * *
To hear Joe Rountree from Hickory Tree BBQ in
Greensboro talk about growing up raising tobacco and making pit-cooked
barbecue, check out the videos on his restaurant’s web site at www.hickorytreebbq.com/about.
If you’re looking for turkey ‘cue or banana pudding at Ben Jones’s, I
recommend that you call or email him ahead of time. His phone number is (252) 792-2013 and his
email address is email@example.com.
To get to Lenny and VC's, take the Dover exit off US 70 east of Kinston--the
restaurant is just up the road on the right.