If you think you’ve been hearing fiddles and banjos lately as you’re walking around downtown Raleigh, relax. It’s not in your head. It’s all those musicians tuning up for Wide Open Bluegrass Festival, with performances this week at various downtown venues.
As we all know, nothing goes better with bluegrass than barbecue. Whether it’s Texas brisket you’re craving, or Memphis ribs, or the hometown favorite North Carolina pulled pork, these Triangle area barbecue joints and food trucks have got your back, baby.
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Allen & Son
6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill
Torn between Eastern and Western NC barbecue? Check out Allen & Son, where the ‘cue is a hybrid of the two styles, and the pork is cooked the old-fashioned way, over seasoned hickory and oak. It’s a winning formula that has kept fans coming back to the little shack tucked in off a country highway a few miles north of Chapel Hill since 1970. Note that the restaurant has scaled back hours, serving only lunch Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The phone number also no longer works.
Pro tip: Don’t fill up on hushpuppies, or you won’t have room for homemade cobbler.
Don’t let food truck owner Rob Henson’s South Georgia accent fool you. The man can flat-out cook some North Carolina-style pork. He calls it “Raleigh style,” an apt reference to the city’s location on the boundary between traditional Eastern and Western styles. On the plate (or on the bun), that translates to Boston butts smoked over hickory, then fine-chopped and tossed with a twangy vinegar-based sauce with a touch of ketchup — a hybrid of the two styles that only a pigheaded purist would turn up his nose at.
Pro tip: For dessert, treat yourself to a dish of banana pudding. It’s made using Henson’s mom’s recipe.
Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque
327 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh
A couple of years ago, when this legendary downtown Raleigh joint was forced to vacate the building it had occupied since 1938 to make way for new construction, it relocated just around the corner — moving all the timeworn dining room decorations with it. Returning fans were happy to see that the fine chopped Eastern style pork hadn’t changed either.
Pro tip: Pick up a bag of house-fried pork cracklings on your way out.
Daddy Bob’s Barbeque
Food truck owner/operator Miller Howerton traces his barbecue pedigree back four generations to Mississippi, but Howerton grew up in North Carolina. His barbecue adapts the family tradition to his new home. They’re pork shoulders smoked for 12 hours over a mix of hickory, apple and pecan, and moistened with an Eastern-style sauce. Check the website for the truck’s schedule, and — well, what do you know? It’s going to be at the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival through the weekend.
Pro tip: Spice thing up with some jalapeño cheddar hushpuppies and a side of jalapeño slaw (Howerton’s father’s recipe).
Hillsborough BBQ Company
236 S. Nash St., Hillsborough
Opened in 2011, this upstart went against the gas-fired grain and revived the laborious and expensive old-fashioned method of cooking exclusively over wood. Eastern-style whole hog so juicy it hardly needs saucing is the star, but baby back ribs, Texas-style beef brisket and barbecue chicken are also on the money.
Pro tip: First-rate Brunswick stew is just one of many worthy scratch-cooked sides.
The Humble Pig
So you’re not a diehard purist? Your ecumenical taste embraces all kinds of smoky fare, even newfangled twists on the classics? This food truck’s freewheeling ride across the barbecue landscape is just what the doctor ordered with a menu that runs the gamut from smoked wings to pulled pork sandwich to brisket taco — all featuring locally raised meats cooked low and slow over hardwood. That’s a mix of mostly fruitwoods, to be precise, which imparts a gentler smoky note than the hickory that’s common in these parts.
Pro tip: The Pow Chow taco is a best-seller, and rightly so: coarsely chopped pork tossed in Alabama white sauce, topped with freshly made cucumber-onion relish and a garnishing squiggle of Sriracha, served on a rustically thick soft corn tortilla.
Maverick’s Smokehouse & Taproom
900 W. Main St., Durham
Using a gas-fired smoker with an offset firebox burning hickory and sustainable sugar maple logs (depending on what they’re cooking), this Durham newcomer offers a wide range of smoky fare, from NC chopped pork to Memphis pulled chicken to Texas dry-rubbed brisket. The smoker throws a few curveballs, too, including house-cured and smoked pastrami, and a killer jalapeño cheddar sausage.
Pro tip: On Saturdays and Sundays, Maverick’s pulls out all the stops and does a whole hog barbecue. ‘Nuf said.
1647 Cole Mill Road, Durham
Whole hog, subtly smoky and pulled into coarse shreds so juicy you’ll think twice before adding sauce, is just one attraction at this spot where the fried chicken is so good you’re almost tempted to order it instead. Almost.
Pro tip: Deviled eggs, their creamy, mustardy yolk fillings enriched with rendered bacon fat, are a worthy tribute to the restaurant’s name.
328 W. Davie St., Raleigh; 321 W. Geer St., Durham
919-890-4500 (Raleigh); 919-282-3748 (Durham)
The Pit’s urban vibe isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think “barbecue joint,” but the pork barbecue is the real whole-hog, pit-cooked deal. Don’t let the extensive selection of smoked meats — everything from beef brisket to chopped turkey — distract you from your goal: Eastern-style chopped pork.
Pro tip: Okay, if you insist, the Carolina-style ribs are another winning option.
Smokey’s BBQ Shack
10800 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville
Smokey’s is one of those rare versatile barbecue joints that turns out a wide range of smoked meats, all worthy options: pulled pork, ribs, beef brisket, even chicken. If forced to choose one, I suppose I’d go with the brisket. Happily, I don’t have to because the Sampler combo gets you all four.
Pro tip: If you’re going for lunch, get there early to avoid a line that frequently snakes out the front door.
510 Glenwood Ave., Suite 101, Raleigh
A relative newcomer to the Glenwood South scene, Southern Charred serves up an eclectic mix of traditional barbecue and modern twists on the smoked meat theme. Er, make that smoked protein theme, since the menu includes BBQ tofu (don’t laugh until you’ve tried it) in addition to a carnivore’s delight that spans the barbecue belt from NC pulled pork to Memphis ribs to Texas brisket.
Pro tip: Don’t fill up on the smoked pimento cheese dip with pork rinds. Once you’ve crammed in a three meat combo (with hushpuppies, house pickles and choice of two sides) on top of that, you’ll want to save a little bit of room for Southern Charred’s scratch-made banana pudding for dessert.
11964 NC Hwy. 50, Willow Spring
Pork shoulders, slow-cooked over hardwood coals and seasoned just right with an Eastern-style sauce, have been drawing pickup trucks like a magnet to the parking lot in front of this low-slung cinder block building since 1958. Worth a drive to find out why? You bet.
Pro tip: Don’t miss the restaurant’s first chopping block on display just inside the entrance. That deep well worn into the top is the result of nearly 30 years of chopping pork.