When it comes to barbecue, few places are as well known as my home state of North Carolina for smoked, slow-cooked meat. At the site of the annual Lexington Barbecue Festival (the professed “Barbecue Capital of the World”), people from all over come to experience barbecue in the Tar Heel state.
It would be impossible to talk about North Carolina barbecue without mentioning the long-standing feud over barbecue style, a.k.a. the sauce. The rivalry has always been: Eastern (vinegar-based) versus Western (tomato-based). Though many restaurants (including the ones on this list) offer both types of sauces, there continues to be debate as to what truly constitutes official North Carolina barbecue.
More recently, growing interest in sustainable agriculture has resulted in more and more restaurants serving meat that is sourced from local pigs raised on pastures. The following list of restaurants offer barbecue that supports a healthier, more humane system of raising animals, benefiting both the environment and ourselves.
1. The Pit, Raleigh & Durham
One of the most well known spots to find pasture-raised barbecue in North Carolina, The Pit strives to offer whole-hog barbecue that is both local and delicious. You'll find a wide variety of menu choices, including Eastern-style pulled pork and Western-style ribs.
In terms of sides (because a barbecue platter is incomplete without them), I recommend the macaroni and cheese, heirloom cabbage greens, and fried okra. They have a considerable list of savory appetizers as well, like pimento cheese balls and Southern devilled eggs.#SpoonTip: If you don’t eat meat, don’t worry. The Pit offers vegetarian sides, barbecue soy nuggets (marinated in Western-style sauce), and a black bean burger.
2. Picnic, Durham
Named one of the best spots for barbecue in North Carolina by TIME Magazine, Picnic stands out for their heritage breed, farm-to-fork meats from Green Button Farm, which is only thirteen miles away. You can order a pulled pork plate, sliced brisket, or ribs with a choice of a variety of sides.#SpoonTip: Try the pimento mac and cheese as one of your sides. It’s out of this world.
3. Buxton Hall Barbecue, Asheville
Along with Picnic, Buxton Hall also made the TIME list as one of the best spots for barbecue in the Tar Heel state. They've gained considerable attention from other publications as well, ranking on the top of restaurant lists from magazines like Southern Living to Bon Appétit.
Sticking with the Eastern-style, their vinegar-based sauce originates from an old family recipe. In addition to their award-winning barbecue, their fried chicken has also achieved acclaim.
4. CrossTies BBQ, Carrboro
Opened in 2016, CrossTies Barbecue is new to the Carrboro food scene, occupying what used to be the Carrboro Railways Station. They offer a variety of different hickory-smoked barbecue, including pulled pork, baby back ribs, and beef brisket, as well as barbecued tofu for those who don’t eat meat.
Their emphasis on the smoking process doesn’t end with the barbecue. Sides like smoked steak onions, bourbon smoked baked beans, and smoked Gouda mac and cheese pair with the meats offered. They have a nice selection of sauces to accompany their food, with both Eastern and Western sauce, white sauce, and plain molasses (which compliments the barbecue better than expected).#SpoonTip: Start off your meal with a basket of their hush puppies with honey butter. They are absolutely amazing.
5. The Blistered Pig, Apex
The Blistered Pig prides itself on serving local, all-natural meats that have been raised responsibly on pasture. Highlights of the menu include: Bourbon BBQ beef, smoked meatloaf, and a unique Cheerwine BBQ chicken platter (can’t get more North Carolinian than that). With sides like fried okra, sweet potato fries, and “Damn Good” baked beans, you can’t go wrong here.
6. Tupelo Honey Café, Asheville, Charlotte, & Raleigh
Though not primarily known for its barbecue, Tupelo Honey Café’s emphasis on high-quality, local produce reflects itself in the barbecue that they offer. They source their meat from local farms, like Hickory Nut Gap Farm and Goodnight Brothers Country Ham.
You can find these meats highlighted in their pulled pork sandwich with smoked jalapeño barbecue sauce, and the Cackalackie Pulled Pork supper plate. The sides offered at Tupelo Honey are also excellent, like goat cheese grits or crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon and herbs.#SpoonTip: At the start of your meal, be sure to try Tupelo Honey’s freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits with a drizzle of honey or a swath of house-made blackberry jam. They may just be some of the best biscuits you have ever eaten.
7. The Q Shack, Raleigh
At The Q Shack, you can order your local, pasture-raised barbecue as a sandwich or plate, or alongside a potato or cobb salad. All options come with complimentary hush puppies (which is always a plus). Their wide variety of sides, like black-eyed peas, onion rings, and BBQ beans, complete the meal.
8. Brew N Que, Apex & Cary
Brew N Que’s extensive selection of beers is as well-known as the local, pasture-raised barbecue they offer at both locations of their restaurant. Their brisket–smoked for 14 hours–is particularly well known, along with barbecue sandwiches, some of which feature their house-made pimento cheese.
By choosing to eat pasture-raised meat, you support business owners and family farmers in North Carolina, circulating money within the local community. It also means you’re supporting a more sustainable form of agriculture—one that values your personal health, the welfare of animals, and the well being of the earth. So go on and eat your BBQ local.