by Evan Hatch
One Wednesday, after a North Carolina Folklife Institute Board of Directors meeting, a great hunger announced its presence. I wanted barbecue. When asked of a good local spot, President André Nabors replied, “Smokey’s.”
Mr. Nabors was only working under assumption – he’d not yet had Smokey’s BBQ. But when I asked its location, his answer convinced me to try it.
“It’s on the right down Chapel Hill Road. Line out the door to the parking lot.”
For those familiar with the area, this section of Chapel Hill road is pretty sparsely populated country. But this particular Morrisville location hits the geographic sweet spot, equidistant to Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill – and a stone’s throw to most of Research Triangle Park. And when I stopped for lunch, Smokey’s was probably one of the most ethnically and class-diverse restaurants in North Carolina.
RTP’s tech-based boom draws the greatest minds in programming and technology from around the world, and at that moment, in that shack, the world was represented. This squat, long building with plate glass windows, and a simple two-chamber, cinderblock smokehouse out back, serves a lot of
barbecue. Sure enough, folks from every continent and representing every colored collar waited in a parking lot-length line for pulled pork. Or pork ribs.
Or smoked chicken, or beef brisket. Smokey’s appears equally proud of all of its barbecue. This is not the storied and humble North Carolina BBQ joint of old. Smokey’s BBQ does it all, and does it big.
Attitude abounds at Smokey’s. Neon signs are popular. BBQ signs and sayings cover most of the walls, and pig-centered merchandise is all over the place. In contrast to traditional North Carolina barbecue, dry rubs are applied to the meats before smoking to add an extra layer of flavor. Both
Lexington-style and eastern sauces are available on the tables. And above all, smoke is the secret ingredient.
Southern food has changed a lot over two decades. Attitude is king. Bold and big is now sitting at the table with slow and low. When Emeril added “Bam” to southern cuisine two decades ago, he put it on the culinary map.
Smokey’s BBQ Shack continues this same tradition. This is big barbecue.
And it is what the people want.