Barbecue is something that I remember from my earliest years. When I was a youngster growing up in Lewisville, NC in the fifties and sixties, I remember a family friend from Kernersville bringing us homemade barbecue each year. I vaguely remember that it came from a contest at a local fair.
I can't remember the name of the barbecue place in Winston-Salem that we used to frequent when I was a teenager, but I do remember that the barbecue is similar to that served today by Stamey's of Greensboro.
It is easy to observe that growing up near Winston-Salem, NC is akin to growing up close to the cradle of barbecue, which many would argue is Lexington, NC. Even today, there are fifteen barbecue restaurants listed in the Winston-Salem area.
There aren't many states that have a barbecue trail, but North Carolina does. I will admit to eating at a number of the spots on the trail including Carolina Barbecue in Lexington and Allen & Sons near Chapel Hill.
However, I have my own favorites. Perhaps the barbecue that I enjoy the most comes from Moore's of New Bern. However, like many great barbecues, they are stubbornly local.
A few years ago while traveling the Interstates of Eastern North Carolina, we discovered Smithfield's Chicken 'N Bar-B-Q®. It has become one of the spots that we enjoy occasionally.
I say "occasionally" because we know that we cannot eat there often. I am reasonably certain that there isn't a healthy food item on their menu, but sometimes you just have to enjoy some barbecue. It is part of our culture in North Carolina.
While there are no salads on the menu, the Smithfields restaurants are amazingly fast, exceptionally clean, and friendly. The food is consistently tasty. The barbecue even varies just enough to keep you guessing just how spicy the first bite might be. The fried chicken and Brunswick stew are also tasty. The Brunswick stew is so meaty that it is a meal in itself. I like that slaw comes standard on the barbecue sandwiches. It is near heresy to have a barbecue sandwich without slaw.
We hit the Smithfield's in Morehead City for lunch the other day just about noon, and it was packed. We placed our order and hardly got seated at the table before someone was bringing us our meal. They have a senior discount every day, and our hearty lunch for two of barbecue, fried chicken, Brunswick stew, and hushpuppies only cost us a few cents over $10. We drink their tea mixed with two thirds unsweetened tea since the sweet tea is very sweet. I am not surprised that I have yet to be in a Smithfield's where the service was anything but exceptional.
Besides Morehead City, some of our favorite Smithfield's locations are in Jacksonville, Newton Grove, and Siler City which might be the westernmost of the chain. The barbecue at Smithfields is eastern NC style vinegar-based barbecue so that might explain the lack of penetration into the red-sauce territory of western North Carolina.
We lived for years in Roanoke, Virginia, but it seems harder for authenic barbecue to keep a foothold up in the mountains. I don't even want to talk about the poor excuse for barbecue that I once tasted near Rocky Mount, Virginia. However, I am happy to hear that Bastian's Barbecue is opening back up in Roanoke. It is a worthy mountain-bred barbecue with a taste of its own.
In fact it you want to read one of my first pieces of on-line writing, you can check out my eloquent argument for barbecue being the great American meal and consequently the perfect Fourth of July food. I extol the virtues of Bastian's barbecue in the article and define exactly what needs to be served with a great Fourth of July meal.
Fortunately we don't have to wait until July 4 to celebrate great barbecue. Emerald Isle's 21st Annual St. Patrick's Day Festival is only seven weeks away. One of the few things that I will stand in line for is some of Bobby Petrea's barbecue, and his booth is always one of the most popular at the festival. It is also one of the few places you can get his barbecue without hiring him to cater an event. Bobby is a local barbecue legend.
Then it won't be long until the annual Newport pig cooking contest. I have pictures on-line of the 2007 event. As the weather warms, I might just have to have visit Tryon Palace this spring to check out the flowers (and Moore's Barbecue).
Barbecue makes me proud to be a North Carolinian.