In North Carolina, barbecue means chopped pigs. No fatty ribs or spice-rubbed brisket—just the whole hog or the shoulder (depending on the region) slowly smoked overnight using hickory or pecan wood.
The meat is then pulled off the bones and chopped up into finer shreds and chunks. To enjoy the pork hash in its purest, smokiest form, the condiments are sparse. In the West, a bit of chili pepper, vinegar, and sugary tomato sauce might accompany the pork. In the East, it's customary to add vinegar or a thin mustard-based sauces.
During a recent trip down South, I spent a few extra days in North Carolina eating my way through the barbecue joints, including Wilber's, Lexington, and Allen and Son. While chopped-up hog will never be my favorite style of barbecue, over time I came to appreciate the nuances of the dish: the chewy nubs of exterior pig with just a bit of browned crust; the tender, juicy sections of interior hog that soak up the majority of the dressing; the modest bits of crispy pork skin mixed or added in; and every little sliver of meat in between.
For your viewing pleasure, here's a look at some classic North Carolina barbecue joints spanning the western and eastern divide.
10 Hwy 29-70 South, Lexington NC 27295 (map)
Allen and Son
6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill NC 27516 (map)