Country BBQ (High Point, NC)

Country BBQ opened their third location in North High Point less than a year ago. Like the other BBQ joints in High Point, Country BBQ roasts their meats in large rotisserie ovens. While I still have a difficult time understanding how these places call their food BBQ, I admit that their roasted pork is usually pretty tasty.

Country BBQ's menu is quite typical for a Lexington style joint. As is my practice anytime I visit a Carolina style joint for the first time, I ordered a chopped plate (pictured). While most joints in the area allow the choice of two sides with a plate, Country BBQ's plate comes with slaw and fries.

The pork was moist and tender. It had be tossed in a tangy finishing sauce for added flavor. Katie's coarse chopped pork, on the other hand, was quite bland. There was no evidence of any sauce being added.

While the food was decent, I would have a hard time recommending Country BBQ with so many other BBQ options in town. The prices are slightly more than Carter Brothers and Joes. While the portion sizes and quality of side items don't quite compare either.

Lexington BBQ Festival

The quaint rural town of Lexington is at the heart of North Carolina's BBQ trail. Every October Lexington attracts over 100,000 visitors for their annual BBQ Festival. The beautiful weather brought an enormous crowd to the downtown streets this year. Several blocks of Lexington's Main Street were lined with carnival rides,  food, craft vendors, and live entertainment. We spent the afternoon taking in the sights while attempting not to get lost in the mass of humanity.

Lexington's festival is strictly a celebration...not a competition. Several of the local joints actually join forces to produce chopped pork sandwiches and plates for the hungry patrons. There are three large BBQ tents along the main drag. Each tent features dozens of volunteer feverishly scooping and plating chopped cue and slaw.

The festival offers a wide range of food options. Along with the usual carnival fare of fries, sausages, and bloomin onions, there were also vendors serving up unique specialties like cheese cake, gyros, and crab cake sandwiches. Despite all these enticing options, I simply couldn't allow myself to eat anything other than BBQ. I enjoyed two chopped sandwiches (with slaw). For some reason, the sandwiches at the festival always seem to taste better than the ones I get from restaurants. It's difficult to fathom a reason. It may just be in my head. Regardless, I always look forward to Lexington's chopped pork each October. 

The festival is something that Katie and I look forward to every year. It's provides a great oppurtunity to sample great food and browse local craft merchants. Adults can enjoy the live music, classic cars, and wine tasting. Children can see live animals, experience the thrills of carnival rides, and taste a variety of sweets. Most of all, it's a great place for people watching. Needless to say, a festival of this size attracts all kinds...

Checkered Pig (Danville, Va)

It's nearly midnight as I sit watching a late college football game. The final lingering moments of a wonderful Saturday are spent doing what I truly enjoy. As I reflect on the day, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to be able to fill my weekends with selfish pursuits. Most importantly, I'm blessed with a wife who indulges and supports my very narrow interests. How many wives would spend the early afternoon watching a football game and follow that up with a trip to another state just to try some BBQ....and still tell their husband at the end of the day how much she enjoys their time together? Did I mention she's 6 months pregnant? In summary, she's a saint.

I enjoy all my Saturdays, but this one was particularly special. Katie and I watched my beloved Wolverines move to 3-0 with a somewhat nerve racking 42-37 win over UMass. It was closer than it should have been, but I've learned over the last few years to simply be thankful for the win. The additional stress caused by a late Umass rally helped us both work up an appetite. 

We'd discussed a BBQ roadtrip for the weekend. After some online research, I chose Checkered Pig BBQ in Danville, Va. At about an hour and twenty minutes, the drive was manageable. I was in the mood for ribs and their website promised to deliver some of the best ribs around. 

Checkered Pig is the sister restaurant of Pigs R Us in Martinsville, Va. The ownership also has a nationally recognized competition team that has had very impressive showings at some of the country's top BBQ competitions. They are multiple time grand champions. They've also won many prizes for their ribs, pulled pork, and beef brisket. 

Checkered Pig has the ultra casual feel of a sports bar / fast food chain hybrid. We ordered at the counter and the food was brought to our table promptly. Having recently become a brisket aficianado, Katie ordered the beef brisket dinner with green beans and potato salad. I ordered a full rack of ribs with baked beans and slaw. All dinners also included fries and hush puppies.

Katie was very happy with her brisket and I had to agree with her. Though she eventually decided that she preferred Bibs (Winston Salem, NC), I think it was the best brisket I'd ever tasted. In regard to both portion size and quality, all the side items were pretty average.

My rib plate looked promising upon delivery. The portion was substantial. When you order a full rack at Checkered Pig, you absolutely get a full rack of meaty spare ribs. It only took one bite to realize they were worth the drive. The ribs were incredibly tender, but not mushy. The flavor was excellent as well. Checkered pig uses apple wood (my preferred wood) for a sweet, subtle smoke flavor that doesn't over power the meat. The ribs were finished with just a bit of Checkered Pigs' signature grilling sauce. There were additional bottles of the sauce at our table. The sauce was pretty good, but the ribs were great on their own. I didn't feel the need to add any additional sauce.

Our BBQ field trip to Danville, VA turned out as good as we could have hoped. The BBQ was excellent. I hope to see the Checkered Pig group on the competition circuit next season. If your life's travels ever take you to Southern Virginia, I highly suggest a pit stop at the Checkered Pig. If I'm really nice to Katie, maybe  I'll get to make a return trip someday too.


Speedy's BBQ (Lexington, NC)

In a town known throughout the South East for great BBQ, Speedy's has become a local favorite. Opened in 1963 as a drive-in, Speedy's evolved into a BBQ Joint in 1970 and has been serving hickory smoked pork shoulder ever since.

For those in a hurry, Speedy's still offers curb side service. Their website explains their dedication to the "3 Qs" - Quality, Quantity, and Quick Service. Their committment to all three were evident during our visit.

The aroma in and around Speedy's is everything that you would expect from an authentic BBQ joint.  The decor within the restaurant is an odd mix of movie regalia and country art. The service was very prompt and friendly. From the time we entered, to the time we left, we were attended to with a smile.

The menu is quite simple. The BBQ offerings are limited strictly to smoked pork shoulder. Customers can choose between traditional chopped, sliced, or coarse chopped plates and sandwiches. The meat, though obviously pit cooked, wasn't nearly as smokey as I would have expected. Overall, it was good, but unremarkable. Other than the hush puppies, I found the sides to be sub standard. The beans were just canned pork n' beans and the slaw was the red, vinegar variety that I really don't care for.

The overall experience at Speedy's was positive. The food is pretty standard fare for the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The decor and friendly, small town service make it a pleasent place to gather and dine. For those looking for traditional Lexington style "Q", you could do worse than Speedy's.

Memphis: Part 2

With the stress of wedding prep in the past, the family was able to gather on Sunday for a much needed time of relaxation. We spent the afternoon at a cookout celebrating Carrie Clark's birthday. Despite the smothering heat and humidity, it was a fine afternoon. The grill masters deserve a special mention. The grilled chicken was very good and I heard the Salmon was even better. Those are two meats that are quite easy to overcook, but those guys did an outstanding job.

The entire clan ventured out to Beale Street Sunday evening. For those into bars and blues, it was a really cool scene. We decided to check out one of Beale's signature establishments, BB King's Blues Club, for dinner. BB King's had a great bar atmosphere. The band was awesome and there was a great deal of energy in the club. The problem, however, is that we were looking for a place for a good family dinner. The music was far too loud to allow any type of conversation and frankly, the food and service wasn't all that good.

The menu is typical bar and grill fare. They advertise BBQ, but in reality, it's steamed pork ribs and sandwiches. The pulled pork was moist and tender, but it had obviously never been kissed by real smoke. The sauce was thick, dark, and sweet. It was really similar to the Jack Daniels glaze at TGI Fridays. The folks at BB Kings can call it what they want, but it simply wasn't BBQ.

Most of the family headed out of town Monday morning leaving Katie and me the day to explore Memphis. We'd planned to visit several of the top BBQ joints in town for a small sampling of what each had to offer. However, our first stop threw a most welcome wrench into the works. Tom's BarBQ and Deli has been featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. This little known dive off the beaten path serves up a unique Greek inspired style of Memphis BBQ. Because of their appearance on "Triple D", I'd already had Tom's on my list. However, just a couple of days before leaving for Memphis, Tom's made another appearance on the Food Network. This time, the show was call "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." Triple D's host, Guy Fieri, named Tom's rib tips the best grilled item he'd ever eaten. It was that endorsement from our favorite Food Network personality that made Tom's the #1 place to go on our list.

Located in an industrial park not far from the airport, Tom's is the epitome of a dive joint. The interior featured a small deli counter where you order and pick up your food. Evidence of their Food Network appearance can be seen plastered all over nearly every surface, including the chest of the owner, Adam. He was wearing a shirt with a picture of him and Guy Fieri.  The service is incredibly fast and friendly. We ordered a rib tip plate with corn, onion rings, and mixed (sweet & spicy) sauce to share. As we were paying, Katie mentioned to the owner that we'd seen him on TV and came all the way from North Carolina to try his rib tips. He gave us a free drink and promised us something "special."

The rib tips were really incredible. The Greek spice rub is so unique and flavorful. The sauce had such a rich, spicy flavor. It truly was one of the best BBQ meals I've ever eaten. To top it off, a complimentary sampler of ribs, pulled pork, and BBQ bologna was delivered to our table. All of the meat was seasoned with the Greek rub and was incredibly flavorful. I've got to give a big thank you to the people at Tom's Bar B Q and Deli for giving Katie and me a truly exceptional Memphis BBQ experience.

Because of the unexpected abundance of "Q" we consumed at Tom's, we weren't able to visit all the places on our list. The final place we decided to eat at is probably the most famous BBQ name in Memphis. Corky's Ribs and Barbecue has blossomed into a BBQ empire with locations in seven different states. Maybe it's unfair, but I actually didn't want to go to Corky's because I felt that they had become too commercial. I was afraid that in the process of expanding, that they would lose sight of what was really important, the "Q".

Since it was only a couple of minutes from Katie's family, with whom we were staying, we went to the Cordova location. Cordova is an upscale suburb of Memphis packed with newly constructed subdivisions and strip malls. Corky's, in fact, was located in a strip mall. The decor looked akin to other typical neighborhood bar and grills. Though the air outside smelled promising, I had a hard time believing I was going to get authentic Memphis "Q".

I owe the good people at Corky's an apology. I couldn't have been more wrong. The rib and chicken combo was fabulous. The ribs were sweet, sticky, moist, and tender. More importantly, they had an excellent real smoke flavor. Corky's smokes their meat using both hickory wood and charcoal giving it an extra "backyard" depth of flavor that I love. It turned out to be the perfect way to conclude our Memphis BBQ tour.

Having had a day to reflect on our trip, I couldn't be happier with how it went. I learned a great deal about the diverse BBQ culture in Memphis. There is so much variety in packaging, techniques, and flavors that make up Memphis "Q". It's truly a must for BBQ lovers.

The time spent with family was much needed. We had a great time laughing and bickering like only a family can. I'm so thankful and lucky to have married into such a chaotic, mind boggling, and all together supportive family. My mother in law (Cathy) and I decided that everybody thinks their family is crazy. I hope that your family is crazy like mine and you enjoy them half as much as I do.


Memphis: Part 1

For BBQ lovers, Memphis is a Holy place. It's one of the true BBQ destinations in our great country. This weekend, Katie and I travelled to this soulful city for a family wedding and managed to sample some of the city's finest "Q" in the process.

We started out early Friday morning and made it just west of Knoxsville before the car and our stomachs were in need of fuel. Naturally, we ended up a BBQ joint in Kingston, TN called Buddy's . After a little online investigating, I discovered that Buddy's has a huge presence in TN with 16 locations throughout the state.

Buddy's looks and operates like a typical fast food joint. The one difference being the inviting aroma of hickory smoke surrounding the place. We ordered our "Q" at the counter and took it to a booth to eat. I ordered a chopped pork plate with beans, slaw, and hush puppies. The pork was smokey and flavorful, but a bit dry. The house sauce was a tangy tomato / vinegar mix that was pretty tasty, lacked the sweetness that I prefer. The meal made for a satisfying lunch, but I left with the hope that Memphis would prove to be much better.

Saturday was all about the wedding. Congrats and best wishes to David and Katie Clark. The service was beautiful and a host of friends and family deserve a lot of credit for putting everything together. Weddings don't happen without the hard work of many behind the scenes helpers. The great thing about Katie's family is how they always come together to help one another. It was a labor of love by all involved and it turned out wonderfully. 

 The early ceremony time and hor d'oeuvres only reception provided another oppurtunity to seek out BBQ for dinner. In search of good ribs for the whole family to enjoy, I chose Central BBQ on Summer Ave. because of the positive online reviews and proximity to the church. Lucky for us, they had a late cancellation and were able to accomodate a group of twenty on short notice.

Central BBQ was near the top of my "Must Try" list. They were voted "Best BBQ" in Memphis by the readers of Memphis Magazine and the Memphis Flyer so my expectations couldn't have been higher. I ordered the whole rack of ribs (half wet / half dry) while Katie ordered the pulled pork sandwhich.

The ribs were tender and smokey, but a bit dry. We ate around 7:30 so there is no telling how long that slab had been waiting to be eaten. Because of the time required, BBQ simply can't be cooked to order. Had we come for lunch, the ribs may have been perfect. As it was, they were just ok.

The same could be said for the pulled pork. It too had good flavor, but was pretty dry on its own. The sauce was traditional dark molassas / tomato base that is typical of Memphis. It was awfully good on the pulled pork sandwhich. The general thought on Central BBQ was that the "Q" was pretty good, but underwhelming. The best part about the experience was that they were able to seat our large group together giving everyone a chance to converse.

Check back later for Part 2 of our Memphis BBQ excursion.

Twin City Rib Fest

Katie and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary in style at the Twin City Ribfest in Winston-Salem, NC. We attended the event last year and really enjoyed ourselves. It's definitely the premier rib competition in the area.

This year's festival offered seven different BBQ competitors and about a dozen other food vendors who were serving up typical carnival fare. Our focus, of course, was on the "Q". Last year we attempted to sample ribs from every competitor, but that turned out to be quite expensive. Each competitor offered 3 bone rib samplers for $6.

With a budget in mind, we each decided to pick up a pulled pork sandwich platter. Each competitor offered a sandwich with 2 sides (usually beans and slaw) for $8. I chose to get my platter from Camp 31 (Castleberry, Al) because they were one of the few competitors that we didn't sample last year. Katie opted for Two Fat Guys BBQ (Massillon, Oh)who was new to the competition this year.

I have a few gripes about the "Pulled" pork sandwich from Camp 31. First, the meat was chopped, not pulled. I know this is a little gripe, but when you advertise pulled pork, it ought to be pulled. Second, the meat was kept heated while drenched in sauce. It was more like something you'd get from a diner that had been sitting in a slow cooker. Finally, I found some pretty tough chunks of pork.

On the positive side, the sweet sauce was actually pretty good. The baked beans were even better. In fact, they were some of the best beans I've tasted. They had a surprisingly complex flavor. They featured a multi bean blend and balanced sweet with an earthy spice. I can only give the "pulled" pork from Camp 31 2 stars out of five, but the beans are worthy of 4.5 stars.

It didn't take long for me see that Katie's sandwich looked a bit more appetizing than mine. Luckily, she's a kind woman and suggested that we split our sandwiches and share them. On appearance alone, the meat from Two Fat Guys met the expectation that I had for a pulled pork sandwich. There was a good mixture of crispy dark bark and tender smoked meat. The sauce at Two Fat Guys is served on the side. I could devote an entire blog entry to the sauce and still not adequately convey my admiration. Two Fat Guys featured three different sweet sauces with varying degrees of spice. All three have tremendous flavor, but I found the medium sauce to have just the right amount of heat. If you like sweet and spicy (like I do) you'll be hard pressed to find a better BBQ sauce. The pulled pork at Two Fat Guys was a solid 4 stars on its own. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't enough stars to quantify that sauce, so we'll just say 5.

After finishing our lunches, we strolled the grounds and visited some lovable new friends from a local bassett hound rescue. We eventually found some seats in the shade and took in some live music while enjoying a hand squeezed lemonade.

Those that know me know that there is absolutely no way I could go to a rib festival and not actually get ribs. I used our time of relaxation to decide which competitor's ribs I would sample. With a stomach nearly full and a wallet nearly empty, I figured I'd only get one shot a picking a winner. I considered each competitor carefully, but I couldn't stop thinking about the sauce from Two Fat Guys. In the end, it was an easy decision. I picked up a 3 bone sampler and applied a generous squirt of the medium sauce.

I can say, without hesitation, that I made the right choice. The ribs from Two Fat Guys were eye opening. The ribs are smoked using apple and cherry wood for a sweeter, more subtle BBQ flavor. They were finished on the grill and brushed with a bit of sauce. When you get the ribs, there is only hint of sauce visible. The rub forms a flavorful crust when they are grilled.

Before this weekend, I had always thought that ribs should be served covered in a thick tomato sauce. The Two Fat Guys have changed my philosophy on ribs. Falling somewhere between Memphis and Kansas City, Two Fat Guys BBQ has created a rib recipe that is tailor made for my tastebuds. I'm not ashamed to admit that I made a return trip for a second sampler before leaving the festival. I give their ribs 5 well earned stars.

The Twin City Ribfest has become a must attend event for us. The festival provides a great time and the food never disappoints. Be sure to check it out next summer. Also, I highly recommend checking out Two Fat Guys BBQ. You can view their competition schedule and order sauce on their website

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