The Great Barbecue Debate has been raging across the United States for centuries in an effort to crown the King of the American Cue. For damn near 300 years, this war of gastronomic proportions has spread smoke and fire across our great nation, and North Carolinians have been hunkered down in the pits, smack dab in the middle of it all. Steeped, like sweet tea, in tradition and slathered in pride, this war shows no signs of ending anytime soon. So why is it that we as Americans care so much about how our neighbors are serving their hog or brisket? We think it’s because good barbecue represents both the struggle and the celebration of what it means to be an American. Like the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and barbecuing was definitely born out of necessity. Before we had supermarkets on every corner, people had to use whatever was around them to feed their families, and what was around didnít always taste very good. Times were tough and barbecuing, or slow cooking came about as a way of stretching whatever kind of meat was abundant in the area and making it as palatable as possible to feed as many mouths as possible. Pig pickins and barbecues brought everyone together and all that good food was a cause for celebration. The celebration continues across the nation and the Great Old North State is considered to be a guest of honor.
From Lexington to Eastern style, Memphis to Kansas City style, and Alabama to Texas style barbecue, there are many options to choose from, all offering slightly different variations and methods. Everyone has their preferences and the debate will probably continue until the end of time on what is the best style of barbecue. But let’s be honest, have you ever had bad barbecue? Is it even possible? With that said, as we know, all barbecue is not created equal so we here at QC Exclusive have taken on the painful task (insert sarcasm here) of seeking out and identifying the absolute best barbecue joints, shacks, restaurants, and stands that the Queen City and surrounding region has to offer. This was a hell of a job considering that North Carolina is considered to be ground zero for barbecue in America but we were up for the challenge. So without further adieu, here are the best places to get your fix and fixins of the best Cue in The Queen City.
Winning BBQ contests since 1963 for their Eastern style barbecue, Bill Spoon’s is a regional favorite. This place is for you Eastern style purists out there because we are talking no frills, whole pig, pit smoked, chopped BBQ with their homemade vinegar based sauce. Even though founder, and American BBQ icon, Bill Spoon sadly passed in 2007, his grandson, Steve Spoon Jr, with the help of his cousin Matt, picked up the stoker and carries on the rich Spoon family tradition of serving whole hog, Eastern style barbecue. Together, they honor and carry on the legacy that their grandfather created over half a century ago. So much is so that Bill Spoons was recently recognized as one of the top barbecue travel destinations in America by USA Today Food Writer, Larry Olmsted. Throw in some of their scratch made hush-puppies and finish it off with some homemade nanner pudding and youíll be in hog heaven. If you are a fan of Brunswick stew they also have some of the best around.
This staple in Plaza Midwood has quickly made a name for itself with its amazing BBQ and cooked-to-perfection brisket. The smell of the ‘cue cooking envelops you as soon as you step out of your car. Customize your order with any of their four signature sauces. Thursdays are Bring Your Own Mug night (Go big – if it has a handle they will fill it!) and the Friday special, pork burnt ends covered in caramelized Cheerwine bbq sauce is some of the best in the business.
Open since 2005, Mac’s is one of Charlotte’s most popular BBQ spots. It’s flagship location on South Blvd, is not only a great place for barbecue but also a great place to grab a craft beer. Get the brisket or smoked wings and be sure to slather them in their award winning Mac’s Red- a sweet Western style sauce. Get some comfort sides like the collard greens or green bean casserole and wash it all down with one of their 300 beers to compliment whatever you’re devouring. The Kansas City Rib is off the charts with a fall-off-the-bone texture and rich, smoky flavors.
Queen City Q
Quickly becoming one of Charlotte’s favorite BBQ joints, Queen City Q is conveniently located near Uptown. Not sure what to order and hungry as hell? Get a Q Platter which is loaded with your choice of four options: hickory smoked pulled pork, brisket, St Louis style ribs, slow smoked chicken, or house smoked sausage. Their staple sides are abundant, ranging from mac ‘n cheese to collards to fried okra. If you’re catching a Knight’s game at BB&T Ballpark, stop in and grab a pulled pork sandwich at their in-stadium bbq stand. Nothing says ‘Merica like barbecue and baseball!
Bridges has been around and cookin’ BBQ for 67 years. Everything is cooked fresh daily and the pork is chopped by hand. If you like your Lexington style barbecue, then this is the place to be. Located in Shelby, it’s only a short drive to get some of the most celebrated swine in the Old North State.
Located just outside of Charlotte in Fort Mill and Tega Cay, this gem has some of the best Boston Butts around. Rubbed with their signature blend and then smoked for 14 hours, these little piggies will have you screaming soo wee! Equally as good is their 521 Specialty baby backs that have just the right amount of smoke and caramelized signature sauce to satisfy any bbq lover’s cravings. If you really want to go southern old school, order a Fried Bologna Sandwich.
South End’s Sauceman’s is quickly becoming known for its amazing Lexington Style BBQ. Their pork is slow cooked over hickory and oak to provide that flavor that everyone loves. You also get a choice of what type of slaw you want, vinegar or mayo based. If you’re really feelin’ saucy, try the Sugar Biscuits.
Located in the heart of uptown Charlotte, City Smoke is known for it’s Brisket Burgers, loaded with fried pickles, American cheese, ground beef, brisket, and their “Comeback Sauce”. With over 75 whiskeys available and local brews on tap, City Smoke will hit whatever hankering you have. Check them out on Mondays from 5pm -7pm when they celebrate local brewers with complimentary tastings.
One thing that makes Bubba’s stand out from the rest of the pack is you are getting almost 100% lean meat because they render most of the fat away during the cooking process. If you love Eastern style barbecue, you’ll appreciate the fact that they spend 18 hours cooking it to perfection. But be warned, don’t turn your back on the hush-puppies because they are killer. If you’re in the mood for some honest to goodness and Southern sweetness, try Grandma Mary Quillan Harrell’s Pecan Pie.
What’s better than a drive-in? If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic and need a quick bbq fix to get you through, head over to Wilkinson Blvd. for some of their world famous BBQ Chicken. Yes, it’s fried. And yes, it’s given a bath in bbq sauce. You know a place is good when they are featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Word to the wise: bring cash, they don’t accept plastic.
Gary’s Barbecue China Grove
If you’re looking for your good ol’ diner style BBQ joint, then you have to pay them a visit. With the vintage decor and small town feel, you’ll feel right at home chowing down on their ‘cue. The red slaw is one of their trademarks as are the sweet tea and must try banana pudding, which has been recognized as some of the best in the entire state. If you love classic cars, check out their car museum of old 1950’s and 1960’s convertibles on display.
Right when you pull up to Statesville’s Carolina Bar-B-Q you know from the wood pile stacked out front that you’re in for some good old Southern smoke. This is a great all-around BBQ joint offering all you would expect. Great ribs and chicken and some standout sides with their baked beans and hush-puppies that are huge and melt in your mouth. You like cobbler? Get in your car and drive directly to Carolina Bar-B-Q!
If you love North Carolina style BBQ and are looking for a little afternoon road trip then Wink’s in Salisbury is the place for you. For forty years Wink’s has been serving up some of the best in the state and their chopped pork is a fan favorite. Smoked to perfection with some hunks of charred bark mixed in, the pig is tender and moist! Wink’s is a very popular barbecue destination but with their quality meat combined with their signature red slaw, the wait is worth it. Fun fact – Wink’s is also listed on the North Carolina Barbecue Society’s Historic BBQ Trail.