Tag Archives: Pork

Review: Bill Spoon’s Barbecue — Charlotte, NC

For a city the size of Charlotte, there’s not much there in the way of outstanding barbecue. There are several adequate places, and there are even a couple that are good. But in the years that I’ve lived here, the only place that I have tried that I would call excellent is Mac’s Speed Shop.  However, I kept hearing about Bill Spoon’s Barbecue, so I decided to give it a shot one day for lunch.

Bill Spoon's Barbecue

Bill Spoon's Barbecue

Bill Spoon’s Barbecue is located on South Blvd. in Charlotte, NC.  They pride themselves on serving Eastern Carolina style barbecue by cooking the whole hog.  For those of you unfamiliar with the barbecue culture in North Carolina, Eastern Carolina style barbecue consists of cooking the entire hog, finely chopping the meat from the various parts of the pig, and serving it all together. The sauce is generally a very thin vinegar-based sauce.

I walk in and get seated and immediately feel at home.  The atmosphere was a very down-home comfortable atmosphere.  The tables all had yellow checkered tablecloths, and the wood paneling made me feel a bit nostalgic.

Covert shot of dining room

Covert shot of dining room

Bill Spoon’s prides itself on serving the whole hog, so I decided to order the small barbecue plate with beans as my side.  The waitress was extremely friendly.  Less than five minutes later, out comes my plate of food!

Small barbecue plate with beans

Small barbecue plate with beans

The star of this plate is the pork.  It was chopped very fine, but the texture was not mushy at all.  I could see that some sort of sauce was applied to it, but the pork was not drowned in the sauce.  It had a very nice flavor.  I added some of the Eastern Carolina style sauce to the pork, and it added a nice bite with some kick.

Pork closeup

Pork closeup -- sorry about the fuzzy picture

I forgot to mention the hush puppies…  with every barbecue dinner, they have bottomless hush puppies!  WOOHOO!!  The hush puppies were extremely fresh — nice and crunchy on the outside, and very moist on the inside.  The only drawback was that they were just a little bit on the salty side.

Hush Puppies

Hush Puppies

The slaw was something different that I had not experienced since starting my barbecue adventures — it was a mustard-based slaw.  I would normally not eat a mustard-based slaw, but it complemented the barbecue quite well.  Thus, it did exactly what it was supposed to do.  The beans, quite frankly, were bland and mostly forgettable.  But I was hungry, and I ate them anyway.

Happy barbecue plate

Happy barbecue plate

I also read somewhere that they had excellent banana pudding, so I just had to try it out when I saw it available on today’s menu.  When it came out, it was a little smaller portion than I had expected.  However, the taste of the banana pudding was very nice.  There were layers upon layers upon layers of wafers in the pudding, giving the pudding that nice crunch in addition to the pudding taste.  The pudding component was very fresh, although I kept wondering if I tasted just a faint hint of lemon in the pudding.

Banana pudding

Banana pudding

All in all, I enjoyed eating at Bill Spoon’s.  I’m not sure it quite surpasses Mac’s Speed Shop in the excellence factor, I have no qualms whatsoever in putting it in a solid 2nd place when it comes to the best barbecue in Charlotte.

Bill Spoon's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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Willie’s Hog Dust and Pork Butt: A Beautiful Pair

With the beautiful weather that arrived here in the Carolinas last week, how could I not say no to firing up the smoker?  There was a pork butt in the freezer calling my name.  This was the perfect opportunity to try out Willie’s Hog Dust.  Willie was gracious enough to send me bottles of his original, spicy, and sweet blend rubs.  I decided to go with the original blend this time around.

Willie's Hog Dust -- Original Blend

Willie's Hog Dust -- Original Blend

Willie’s Hog Dust is made using no MSG, gluten, or preservatives.  Only all-natural ingredients are used, and the rubs are low in sodium (for all of you health-conscious people).  The rubs are all-purpose and can be used on pork, chicken, beef… even popcorn!

Naked Observations

A Dusting of Hog Dust

A Dusting of Hog Dust

It’s hard to see in this picture (mainly because I had only a yellow plate to use), but the rub had a nice orange color to it.  The rub also had a nice mixture of dark and light bits in there from the other various spices used.  I took a small sample, and it had a very nice flavor to it.  Willie’s Hog Dust definitely fits the “low sodium” billing without sacrificing flavor.

As I mentioned earlier, pork butt was the “meat du jour”.  I took the piece of meat (which was a little over 5 1/2 lb), slathered it with canola oil, and liberally applied the dust to it.  It gave the butt the nice golden color I was looking for.

Pork butt, meet hog dust...

Pork butt, meet hog dust...

And off to the smoker it goes!  I cooked it using Kingsford competition briquettes and oak wood, keeping the temperature between 250 and 275 degrees.

Butt in the smoker

Butt in the smoker

With the temperature between 250 and 275 degrees, the butt was done in about 8 hours.  And wow, was it beautiful!

Finished butt

Finished butt

Pulled butt

Pulled butt

The pork looked beautiful, and it tasted even better!  The pork pulled with no problems at all, and there was a perfect balance of smoke, pork, and rub flavor!  I tried to get a picture of the bark, but I’m afraid it was a bit fuzzy.  I’ll post it anyway.  Willie’s Hog Dust gave my pork butt a beautiful bark that was nice and crispy and flavorful!

Pork butt bark, courtesy of Willie's Hog Dust

Pork butt bark, courtesy of Willie's Hog Dust

I would highly purchasing Willie’s Hog Dust.  If it works on other meat as well as it does on pork, it’s absolute magic!!  Willie’s Hog Dust is available for purchase at http://www.williesrubbins.com/.

Review: Bridges Barbecue Lodge — Shelby, NC

North Carolina likes to lay a claim as the birthplace of barbecue.  While cities like Kansas City may disagree, there is a lot of history when it comes to barbecue in North Carolina.  In fact, books have been written solely devoted to barbecue in NC.  Today, I had the opportunity to try one of the cornerstones of NC barbecue when I had lunch today at Bridges Barbecue Lodge.

Bridges Barbecue Lodge signage

Bridges Barbecue Lodge signage

Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Bridges Barbecue Lodge

This joint, listed on the NC Barbecue Society’s Historic Barbecue Trail, is located right off of Highway 74 in Shelby, NC.  In 1946, Red Bridges (the restaurant’s namesake) opened up his first barbecue joint.  Two years later, Red (along with his wife) opened up another barbecue restaurant in uptown Shelby called Bridges Barbecue.  Bridges Barbecue moved to its current location in 1953 and has been operating there ever since.

There was not a big crowd as I arrived at 11:30 this morning, so I knew I picked a good time to arrive.  I walk into the restaurant and I immediately feel at home!  The decor of the restaurant immediately emanates a feeling of comfort and warmth.  I immediately find a table and sit down.

Restaurant Interior from My Seat

Restaurant Interior from My Seat

After a few minutes, I decided on their large BBQ tray.  The BBQ tray consists of pork (sliced, chopped, or coarse chopped), red slaw, and all the hush puppies that you can eat.  I requested my pork to be coarsely chopped with all the “brown” (outside bark) they could stand to give me.  A few minutes after ordering, out comes my food:

Large BBQ Tray at Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Large BBQ Tray at Bridges Barbecue Lodge

The Hush Puppies

The Hush Puppies

Bridges Sauce

Bridges Sauce

The texture of the pork was more akin to pulled pork than a coarse chop, which was fine to me.  And as you can see, they were generous with the “brown”.  The tray was about the size of a 3″x5″ postcard, filled to overflowing with food.  One bite into the pork, and my mouth jumped for joy!  The outside bark was not tough to chew at all, but very crispy and full of flavor.  The inside pieces of pork were very moist.  The slaw was very tangy and peppery — a perfect complement to the pork.

The basket of hush puppies did not contain very many, but I was not concerned because the nice lady who took care of me said I could have as many hush puppies as I wanted.  They did not have a uniform shape, but that was okay by me.  The taste of them is what matters, and they were tasty!  Very crisp on the outside and not soggy at all on the inside.

The sauce reminded me of the dip that I had at Lexington BBQ #1.  However, this sauce was thicker and more tomato-ey.  It was sweet and tangy.  To be honest, it was probably my least favorite part of the meal.  However, I didn’t need very much of it.  The pork easily stood on its own.

As a nice bonus, I was able to get a sneak peek at the pits.  Bridges Barbecue Lodge actually has two different cooking areas.  Their main cooking area for the meat consists of an Old Hickory smoker (where they primarily cook chicken) and an old brick BBQ pit (where the shoulder magic happens).  Bridges cooks with hickory and oak wood, and they apply no seasonings of any sort to the shoulders prior to going on the cooker.  They also have a super-sized smokehouse for when they are cooking for upwards of 10,000 people.

Chicken Cooking in the Old Hickory Pit

Chicken Cooking in the Old Hickory Pit

Shoulders in the Warming Box

Shoulders in the Warming Box

Shoulders in the Cooker

Shoulders in the Cooker

Oh yeah… and they have a little bit of wood stockpiled as well.

The Woodpile -- That's a lot of wood!

The Woodpile -- That's a lot of wood!

After dining there, I can definitely see why Bridges Barbecue Lodge is on the NC BBQ Society’s Historical BBQ Trail.  Their reputation is well-earned as a legend in North Carolina BBQ.  Any visitors to the Charlotte area (yes, I’m talking to you, President Obama) would do well to make the 45 minute trip from Charlotte to Shelby and experience Bridges Barbecue Lodge.

Review: Sam Dog BBQ Yellow Dog Sauce

Yesterday, one of my co-workers needed my advice on BBQ places for lunch.  She told me that one of our clients would be buying lunch for the office today, and that lunch would be BBQ.  Immediately my mind starts thinking “Hey… this will be a perfect opportunity to try out some of my stash!”  After much thought, I picked the bottle of Yellow Dog Sauce made by Sam Dog BBQ.

Sam Dog BBQ Yellow Dog Sauce

Sam Dog BBQ Yellow Dog Sauce

Sam Dog BBQ is a small family-owned BBQ sauce and rub business based out of Alabama.  The Yellow Dog sauce is a mustard-based sauce influenced by BBQ flavors from the Carolinas, Kentucky, and Alabama.  It has a nice golden color that portrays its mustard roots.  As I do with all sauces, I took a naked taste.  Sure enough, I definitely taste the mustard base in the sauce.  However, the tangy flavor of the mustard is not overpowering at all and really adds a nice flavor to the sauce.

My next step?  Slather it on some pulled pork for lunch!

My lunch today

My lunch today, courtesy of Mac's Speed Shop

In one word: yum!  When applied to the pulled pork, the sauce added tremendous flavor.  The mustard flavors complemented the meat very well, and it was just overall tasty!  It was a consensus among co-workers that this was indeed good stuff.

While basking in the afterglow experienced after eating a hell of a lot of food, I had a brilliant idea: try the Yellow Dog on some chicken!  Eureka!  So after work tonight, I grilled some boneless skinless chicken breasts seasoned with Plowboys Bovine Bold.  In the last 10 minutes of grilling, on goes the Yellow Dog.

Grilled Chicken after the Yellow Dog touch

Grilled Chicken after the Yellow Dog touch

The sauce gave the chicken breasts a nice dark golden color, and the taste provided was fabulous!

Tonight's Dinner

Tonight's Dinner -- Grilled Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli, and Stuffed Mushrooms

I normally do not use a lot of mustard-based sauces in my cooking, but this one was well worth it!  It lives up to its billing as excellent to use as a glaze or dipping sauce.  Do I recommend this sauce?  Absolutely!

The website for Sam Dog BBQ can be found at http://www.samdogbbq.com.  You can also find Sam Dog BBQ on Twitter.

Review: Shane’s Rib Shack — Charlotte, NC

For lunch yesterday, I got a craving for BBQ.  I did not really feel like fighting the crowds at Mac’s Speed Shop today, no matter how good the ‘cue is.  After doing some research, I found Shane’s Rib Shack, which is fairly close to my office.

Shane’s Rib Shack is a chain BBQ restaurant, with restaurants in 14 states, primarily in the southeastern United States.  There are 2 Charlotte-area locations: near Northlake Mall and the University area.  I went to the one in the University area.  When I arrive, I find that it’s located in a “shopping center”.

Shane's Rib Shack signage

Shane's Rib Shack signage. Dark picture... well, you get the idea.

It just so happens that the lunch special was their smothered pork sandwich with a side, so that is what I ordered.  For my side, I chose Brunswick stew.  I place my order and grab a seat.  The first thing I notice is that they have multiple sauces available.  Naturally, I had to give them a shot.

The sauces (L-R): Original, Spicy, Hot

The sauces (L-R): Original, Spicy, Hot

All of the sauces were primarily tomato-based.  The original sauce (on the far left in the photo) had a bold but not overpowering flavor.  I could taste hints of mustard and chili powder in the sauce.  The hot sauce (far right in the photo) had essentially the same flavor profiles as the original, but it also had some back heat.  My favorite out of the three was the spicy sauce (middle in the photo).  It contained the bold flavors of the original sauce and the back heat of the hot sauce while adding a level of complexity through what tasted like ground peppercorns.  The sauces were not all that complicated and overwhelming, but they were solid.  And sometimes solid is just what the doctor ordered.

Less than five minutes after ordering (and literally right after finishing the sauce tasting), my meal comes out.  The first thing I notice is the size of the sandwich — it’s significantly larger than I expected.  This is a plus!  I was expecting a sandwich on a normal-sized bun.  Instead, the bun was extra large (about 25% larger than a normal sandwich bun) and piled high with plenty of pork (along with some slaw).

Smothered Pork Sandwich

Smothered Pork Sandwich

The pork on the sandwich was pulled, with the pieces varying in size.  There was a nice mixture of pork and “outside brown”.  There was not a lot of smoke flavor in the meat, which was not a surprise.  However, the pork was very moist, and I could actually taste the meat.  I went ahead and added the spicy sauce to the sandwich and ate away.  All in all, a solid sandwich.

After finishing off the sandwich, I moved to the Brunswick stew.  At first glance, this did not resemble anything stew-ish at all.  There were ample amounts of the pulled pork along with the other requisite ingredients that constitute Brunswick stew.

Brunswick Stew

Brunswick Stew (crappy picture)

All in all, I found that the taste of this was solid too.  If it was not for the portion size of the sandwich, I probably would say that the portion of the stew was a bit on the small side.

Overall, I would say that Shane’s Rib Shack (at least this particular location) is a safe choice when it comes to BBQ.  For most people who may not be as picky about their BBQ, they will absolutely love it.

Website: http://www.shanesribshack.com
You can also find them on Facebook.

Wordless Wednesday: Groundhog Day Edition

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up 2

Review: Old Hickory House Restaurant — Charlotte, NC

On my ever-going search for good BBQ in Charlotte, I stumbled across a place close to my job called the Old Hickory House Restaurant.  After reading a few reviews about it on Yelp, I decided to give it a shot.   (Today’s pictures brought to you again by my crappy cell phone camera)

Old Hickory House Restaurant Sign

Old Hickory House Restaurant Sign

Old Hickory House Restaurant

Old Hickory House Restaurant

I walk in, and I’m instantly transported back in time.  The wood paneling walls and country-style cafe seating give the place a down-home feel.

Interior of Restaurant

Interior of Restaurant

Interior of Restaurant 2

Interior of Restaurant 2

Immediately after I sit down, the sweetest little old lady came by to take my order.  After browsing the menu, I decided on the pork and beef plate with hush puppies and BBQ beans.  I requested the pork chopped and the beef sliced.  Apparently you can ask for the sauce on the side.  However, I forgot to do so.  Five minutes after ordering, my food was delivered.

Beef and Pork Plate, with BBQ Beans and Hush Puppies

Beef and Pork Plate, with BBQ Beans and Hush Puppies

In one word: unremarkable.  There were three slices of beef between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.  It reminded me more of roast beef than beef brisket.  The pork wasn’t terribly dry.  None of the meats had any smoke taste or flavor.  The beans were pretty bland.  There were bits and pieces of the pork dispersed throughout the beans.  The best part of the meal was probably the hush puppies.  With the exception of one hush puppy (which was probably from an older batch fried up), they were very crisp and not greasy at all.

The service was very friendly, warm, and down-home.  If only the food matched that… thus my search for great BBQ continues.  This wasn’t it.

NC BBQ Tweet-Up at Lexington #1

Lexington BBQ #1

Lexington BBQ #1

As I mentioned in my previous post, today I got to meet up with several great people this afternoon.  I traveled about an hour northeast on I-85 to meet up with Cyndi (and her son), John (and his son), and Fred (who won a Masterbuilt smoker giveaway on Cyndi’s blog).  Our destination: Lexington BBQ #1.  I think this section of the blog entry can be best said in pictures rather than words:

The gang (from left to right): Fred, Cyndi, John, me

The gang (from left to right): Fred, Cyndi, John, me

John and his son chowing down

John and his son chowing down

Cyndi cheesing it up

Cyndi cheesing it up

Fred enjoying some chopped pork

Fred enjoying some chopped pork

John about to "anoint" Fred with Carolina Treet

John about to "anoint" Fred with Carolina Treet BBQ Sauce.

BBQ ABUSE!

BBQ ABUSE!

After John and his son left, the rest of us were treated to a nice surprise.  While making conversation with an employee, he told us that we could ask for a tour of the smokehouse.  We got to talk with the Ricks, who were the pitmasters manning the fire that afternoon.  Below are some pictures of that tour.

Sweet sweet smoke

Sweet sweet smoke

The smokehouse

The smokehouse

The wood pile

The wood pile

Tending the coals inside the smokehouse

Tending the coals inside the smokehouse

FIRE!

FIRE!

Tending to the meat

Tending to the meat

All in all, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.  I got to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a few months, and I got to meet a fellow Twitterer face to face.  In my opinion, it’s definitely worth a repeat performance!

Review: Lexington BBQ #1 — Lexington, NC

Today I had the opportunity to meet up with some really great people today at Lexington BBQ #1 in Lexington, NC.  I will talk about that in a different blog post.

The first thing I observed about Lexington #1 is that YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE!  Google Maps Navigation failed me on the address that I found on Yelp, instead trying to put me at a different restaurant.  I wondered if it was some kind of conspiracy.  However, the next address I found for it was correct.  I arrive to an extremely full parking lot and a mad dash in an attempt to find an open spot.  Clearly people love this place.

Lexington BBQ #1 Signage

Lexington BBQ #1 Signage

Once we all get seated, our waitress comes around to take our orders.  While there were burgers and other items on the menu, we came there for one reason: pork!  At Lexington BBQ #1, they serve BBQ three different ways: chopped, coarsely chopped, and sliced.  I ordered the large coarsely chopped BBQ tray with hush puppies and asked for extra “brown” (which is the outer bark from the pork shoulder).  Shortly after ordering, out comes the food:

Lexington BBQ #1 Coarsely Chopped BBQ

Lexington BBQ #1 Coarsely Chopped BBQ

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up 2

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up 2

The pork was presented in a tray that was about the size of a 3×5 note card, and about 3/4 – 1 inch deep.  I was immediately pleased at the amount of “brown” that was in my tray, because this gave promise to lots of flavor.  As I took bite after bite, I was not disappointed.  The pork was very flavorful and moist — not dry in the least bit whatsoever.  The only thing that was somewhat disappointing was that the pieces of brown were a little tough to chew.  The flavor it brought out, however, more than made up for it.

One of my former co-workers recommended to me one time that if I ever went to a BBQ restaurant in Lexington, ask for an extra cup of dip.  In Lexington, dip is a thin mopping sauce that contains very small amounts of ketchup and sugar to go along with the vinegar and other spices.  I’m very glad that I did.  Adding a small amount of the dip to my BBQ really enhanced the flavors of the pork.

Lexington BBQ #1 Hush Puppies

Lexington BBQ #1 Hush Puppies

The hush puppies were delicious!  They were very crunchy, flavorful, and (best of all) not greasy.  I could have made myself completely full just on the hush puppies alone (which I nearly did).

Lexington BBQ #1 Slaw

Lexington BBQ #1 Slaw

Normally I am not a fan of red slaw.  I usually find it a bit too tangy.  However, this slaw complemented the rest of the meal well.  It was very crunchy with just enough tang to act as a perfect side to the slaw.

Lexington BBQ #1 Peach Cobbler

Lexington BBQ #1 Peach Cobbler

I even left enough room for peach cobbler.  The peach cobbler was good, but nothing really outstanding.  It just didn’t have that “wow” factor, in my opinion.  Plus, I’m still trying to figure out where in the world they were able to find a rectangular ice cream scoop.

All in all, the food at Lexington BBQ #1 was worth the drive up from Charlotte.  The fact that I got to partake of the BBQ with a great group of people made it even better!

I Have Tasted Heaven, and It Tastes Like Pig Candy

About a month or so back, I came across a blog post by DivaQ regarding pig candy.  You can find her post here.  As I finally arrived home and began to prepare dinner (burgers on the grill… tasty tasty!), the lure of bacon bacon bacon lingered in the back of my mind.  I said to myself, “Self, I should do some smoked pig candy tonight.”

Now for those of you who are wondering what in the world pig candy is, pig candy is candied bacon.  To go with tonight’s burgers, I fried up some bacon to function as a condiment.  In addition, I set aside a few slices of bacon to do an experimental batch of pig bacon on the grill.    Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the final product, so you will just have to use your imagination.

The bacon I used was thick-sliced bacon.  This is a must.  For this test run, I took four half-slices of bacon and seasoned them liberally with Plowboys Yardbird Rub.  After the rub, I liberally applied brown sugar on top of the BBQ rub.  The bacon slices then went onto a grill sheet on the grill over slightly indirect heat using Kingsford Competition Briquettes and a few small apple wood chunks (the burgers were cooking over direct heat).  After about 30 minutes, I pulled the bacon slices off and let them rest.  I probably could have let them rest longer, but why would I want to do something like that?  😛

I took my first bite, and it was like an orgasm of flavors just went off in my mouth!  I’m officially hooked.  There are three main elements that make this great:

  1. It’s sweet.
  2. It’s salty.
  3. It’s BACON!!!

The sweetness from the brown sugar, the saltiness from the bacon and the rub, and the smoke all combine together to form a wonderful chorus of flavors in your mouth.  I varied from the recipe that DivaQ posted in a couple of ways:

  • My bacon was on the grill for about 30 minutes as opposed to 2 hours.  This was due to the bacon being a little closer to the heat source as well as my lack of patience.
  • I let my pig candy rest for about 5 minutes or so.  It probably could have stood to rest a little bit longer to completely firm up.

All in all, I’ve found a winner!  The next time that I whip up a batch of pig candy, I will definitely devote more time to letting the bacon smoke and letting the bacon rest to firm up.  Plus, there will be pictures!

Until next time…