In Charlotte, as with other parts of the state, there is a debate raging among barbecue lovers. There are North Carolinians who will always assert that Lexington barbecue—aka Western- or Piedmont-style—is the best, while others scoff at the thought that anything other than Eastern-style barbecue could be the real deal.
Whether it's the addition of ketchup to the vinegar-based sauce and use of just the pork shoulder (which marks the Western-style—or going whole hog—literally—Eastern-style), these Charlotte spots are sure to keep barbecue lovers happy.
Head to Neutral Corners
Queen City Q doesn't take sides in the fight: both North Carolina styles are put to the test, in addition to a South Carolina influence. Choose from a tantalizing array of meat, including the hickory-smoked, hand-pulled pork platter or the smoked Carolina brisket slathered in the house Ribz sauce. Add a kick to the meal with a specialty drink like "Larkens Patio Punch"—with two kinds of rum—and finish the day with deep fried bread pudding.
A classic Charlotte institution since 1959, Bar-B-Q King invites you to drive up, park and dive into offerings including its succulent Southern fried chicken with a side of coleslaw and the tempting barbecue platter. Even if you don't top it off with a fresh strawberry pie, you're sure to head home happy.
Think diversity when considering The Improper Pig. It combines classic barbecue—St. Louis ribs—with new influences like Korean barbecue salmon and a multitude of sauces (try them all). Taco Tuesdays are no different with selections such as pulled pork/chicken, wok-seared Ahi tuna and roasted sweet potato. The variety of desserts include the cobbler of the month and an ice cream sandwich with ever-changing flavors.
Whether you plan to stay a while or take it to go, Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q has more than enough to quench a barbecue craving. Head to Western Carolina with a pork shoulder or order up finely chopped pork with Eastern Carolina-style vinegar-pepper sauce. Start younger ones off with a classic spare ribs plate and one of its housemade "trimmings." Need more? Take home a pound of any of its stellar meats for less than $20.
Meat smoked in-house over pecan wood is just the beginning of the process at McKoy's Smokehouse & Saloon. Its smokehouse wings are smoked then grilled over an open flame and hit with one of eight signature sauces before hitting your table. Pulled chicken and pork are found across in the menu in sandwiches, wraps, starters and platters. The LTD (Living the Dream) entrée is a (hungry) barbecue lover's dream with succulent ribs, barbecue pork, pit smoked pot roast and smoked barbecue chicken.
It would be only fitting to drive a Hog to Mac's Speed Shop which states "Part biker bar, part barbecue joint, and all yours to enjoy."
Using traditional cooking methods, Mac's has been on the cutting edge of "Mexicue" with selections like chicken quesadillas with fresh spinach, applewood smoked bacon, shredded jack and cheddar cheese or pulled pork tacos with Carolina slaw, mustard sauce, pickled onions and chipotle aioli. Wash down Carolina beef brisket with one of 300 beers and bring the family for Kids Eat Free Tuesdays.
And at Midwood Smokehouse, classics like Carolina pork in Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce and Texas-style shredded brisket tacos are never far away. Four area locations means there's always one nearby.
Sauceman's owner Adam Rappaport was introduced to Lexington-style barbecue by his business partner and there was no discussion about which way they were going to go.
"The process and the history that goes with it is what we wanted to emulate, we wanted to do authentic Lexington-style barbecue," Rappaport said.
There isn't a refrigerator at Sauceman's, what gets brought to your table is the freshest of meat enveloped in hickory and oak. Everything including signature sauces and traditional Southern sides are homemade. There is one cut that Rappaport says brings in the crowds.
"Our brisket is the best, hands-down," he said.
East Isn't Least
Some things have changed at Bill Spoon's Barbecue since 1963, but not the family's commitment to Eastern-style barbecue.
"We still do things like my grandfather taught us," said owner Steve Spoon Jr., who added that using the whole pig produces better flavors, especially after he low-slow cooks it with hickory smoke for 12 hours. "To hear people come in and say 'the barbecue is still the same' like my grandfather did it is the biggest compliment."
The homemade vinegar-based sauce adds the right touch to the barbecue, which is Spoon's recommended dish. Sides such as mac and cheese, coleslaw and hush puppies are made from scratch.
Go whole hog with Bubba’s Barbecue, who serves meats up Eastern-style after almost a day and a half on its pit. Taste the hickory smoked flavor while delving into spare ribs or a juicy, barbecued half chicken, paired with just the right amount of sugar in the sweet tea.
"Good Food, Good Friends, Good Fun," is the motto of Bobbee O's BBQ which changed locations in 2016 to a larger space to accommodate the visitors coming through. Nosh on a St. Louis rib sandwich or go right for the gusto with the pulled pork plate or beef brisket and ribs.