I’m not a native North Carolinian, though I have lived here much longer than anywhere else and consider it my home. I grew up in Michigan where “a barbecue” meant having some people over to cook hamburgers on a grill. It didn’t take long to learn that there is no “a” before barbecue and that barbecue refers to meat – and around here, pig specifically.
When we moved to Chapel Hill in 1981, my first taste of North Carolina barbecue was right up the road at Allen and Son’s, and it was there that I quickly discovered a love for North Carolina ‘cue. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Keith Allen serves up something in between eastern and Lexington style – so I’ve never taken a strong side in the eastern vs. Lexington debate that those who grew up in each half of the state have such passionate opinions. I also didn’t realize that Allen and Sons is consistently rated as one of the best barbecue joints in the state – one of the few that still cooks over wood – which is probably why I got hooked.
Sometime in the 90s, Bob Garner did a great TV show on the local public TV station WUNC about North Carolina barbecue . Bob would take the viewers to historic barbecue joints around the state – none of these modern places that serve unsweet tea. He’d talk a little history about the joint and sample the ‘cue, which would invariably end with a “mmmm-mmmm” that you have to see to appreciate.
In 2002, Bob wrote “Guide to North Carolina Barbecue” – reviews of about 100 of these joints. After reading the book I began a quest to eat at all of the places in the book. Fortunately, both of my kids played travel sports which provided many opportunities to visit these places as we traveled around the state to baseball fields and volleyball tournaments.
By the end of 2015 I have been to 55 of the approximately 100 joints in the book. To make it easier to find them as I traveled, I created this map and hope you find it useful as well.