Barbecue Month

barbecue cooked on a grill
Fay Mitchell

There was barbecue in North Carolina before there was a state of North Carolina, and residents have been in love with it ever since. Given that May is Barbecue Month, let’s review this long-running romance.

It all started in 1709 when explorer John Lawson wrote that he was served “barbakued” venison, fish and peaches by American Indians. Even before then, Spanish explorers found meat being cooked over fires on a framework of wooden sticks in the 1500s in the Caribbean.

What may be the earliest known barbecue site is in Turkey, where lots of bones were found at Goebleki Tepe, believed to be the world’s oldest temple site. Barbecuing still may be practiced worldwide. 

In past times “barbecue” referenced the style of cooking and not just for pork. This and a plethora of facts are found in the traveling exhibit “The Story of Barbecue in North Carolina,” created by the N.C. Office of Archives and History. The exhibit demonstrates that barbecue has long been an integral part of community, family and political life in the state.

In North Carolina, folks swear allegiance to the state’s eastern or western style barbecue. Eastern style uses the whole hog and a sauce primarily of vinegar and pepper. Western-style uses only the pork shoulder and a sauce that includes ketchup with vinegar and spices. Allegiances can run pretty deep, and opinions vary widely. 

For example, a USA Today poll found that of the top 10, the state’s best barbecue can be found at Red Bridge’s Barbecue Lodge in Shelby, and the list included a majority of sites in Piedmont or mountain locations. A Trip Advisor Top 10 for North Carolina barbecue had High Cotton NC BBQ in Kitty Hawk in the number one spot, and a majority of sites in eastern North Carolina.

Of course, there is a North Carolina Barbecue Society and its Barbecue Trail lists 21 restaurants of note, eastern and western, starting with the Skylight Inn in Ayden, and reaching Herb’s Pit BBQ in Murphy.

This list is shared by VisitNC and even offers directions. In honor of Barbecue Month, I’d bet there are enough restaurants listed here for you dine in at least one every day in May.

Let’s don’t even consider the mustard sauced barbecue popular in South Carolina, despite the assault of North Carolina ’cue by Stephen Colbert, who is from Charleston.

What about your waistline? My Fitness Pal reports one cup of pulled pork barbecue has 262 calories, five grams of fat, 13.6 grams of carbohydrates and 37.2 grams of protein. There are many fast food burgers that are far worse. But the cole slaw, potato salad, and hushpuppies may be your downfall.

So whether it’s cooked over wood, coal or gas, with ketchup or without, with sides or not, barbecue is still top hog in North Carolina. Enjoy some this month.