1. Allen & Son Barbecue, Chapel Hill
I wrote about this in a previous post, and Allen & Son Barbecue in Chapel Hill is still my gold standard when it comes to NC Barbecue. They pack in the perfect combination of texture (tender, juicy, but firm enough so it's not mush) and flavor (smoky, vinegary goodness) in their pulled pork. I have yet to taste barbecue that I enjoyed more. Their hushpuppies are also one-of-a-kind - crunchy exterior with a light yet sweet and starchy inside - incredibly tasty. Their cole slaw is standard - nothing too special there. But the quality of barbecue easily puts Allen & Son at the top of my list.
2. The Barbecue Center, Inc., Lexington
Lexington is the self-proclaimed barbecue capital of the world. The Bar-B-Q Center definitely helps legitimize that statement. To give a little background, Tina and I went to Lexington Barbecue first, and was rather disappointed with what we got (see below). But I decided to give the town of Lexington another shot, and the Bar-B-Q Center did not disappoint. While I'm used to eastern-style barbecue, I really enjoyed the flavors of this barbecue. It still had vinegar in it, but had more of a tomato base with some peppery-ness. Very tasty. The texture was near perfect as well - nice mix of tender juicy meat and occasional "crust" (what I like to call it). I think I prefer the red cole slaw served in the western part of the state - it's a red slaw with vinegar, some ketchup, and black pepper, so it's a lot less creamy and a bit tangier than the white slaw, which I like. Bar-B-Q Center served solid slaw. Their hush puppies were also pretty good. Even though I had just eaten a meal from Lexington Barbecue, the meal I had at Bar-B-Q Center was still delicious. Just imagine what it would have tasted like if I were starving (because you know that things taste so much better when you're super hungry).
3. Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Shelby
On my way to Charlotte from Asheville, I decided to stop by Shelby to check out Bridge's Barbecue Lodge. It was a pretty good meal. The barbecue was not bad - tomato-based, but still with a little bit of vinegar in it. I enjoyed the extra sauce they provided with the meat - otherwise, the meat would have been a bit dry. The highlight for me was the slaw. Similar to Bar-B-Q Center, Bridge's served red slaw, and it was especially peppery - the tangy-ness it had went really well with the meat. It's probably some of the best slaw I've ever had. The hush puppies were standard, as were the baked beans. Overall, a good place to have a quality barbecue meal.
4. Stamey's Barbecue, Greensboro
Tina took me to Stamey's because it was the place to go for barbecue in Greensboro. The barbecue was alright - a little too mushy for my liking. The flavoring was not bad, but I couldn't get over the texture, which is why Stamey's got bumped down on the list. The hush puppies were pretty good, but the slaw wasn't that memorable. I'd like to think there's a better place for barbecue in the Greensboro area, but it's still on the Barbecue Trail, which counts for something in my book.
5. Lexington Barbecue, Lexington
Tina and I both believe that Lexington Barbecue has caught what we call the "Food Network Syndrome." We've found that when places become super famous, either through Food Network or other media, they either raise their prices and become overpriced, or the quality of the food decreases significantly, or both. Prime examples - Mama Dip's in Chapel Hill and The Pit in Raleigh. Lexington Barbecue is supposed to be the place to eat barbecue in North Carolina, if not the country - it's featured in near all the articles I've read about NC Barbecue. So naturally, I had very high expectations. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. I'd like to say it's because of my high expectations, but honestly, it would not have been good barbecue even if I had low expectations. The meat was dry and tough. There was hardly any sauce or juices in the actual meat. And the sauce they provided was more like liquid ground black pepper in a bottle - it only made the meat taste more peppery, which was not too pleasant. Their slaw was underwhelming, and their hush puppies were not impressive. There was very little redeeming value in this meal. Plus, it was the most expensive of all the meals on this list. Maybe I just don't get it. But I won't be coming back to Lexington Barbecue. If I'm in Lexington and want some barbecue, I'll be going to Bar-B-Q Center without hesitation.