Barbecue is about as important as it gets to the culinary identity of North Carolina. Slow cooking pork is a time-honored tradition in the Tar Heel state and there are countless restaurants devoted to preserving the two distinct styles of NC BBQ.
Here are 10 North Carolina BBQ joints so good they’ve achieved legendary status.
Eastern Style BBQ
Eastern style North Carolina BBQ refers to whole hogs smoked, chopped and sauced with a thin, spicy vinegar and pepper sauce.
Wilber’s Barbecue – Goldsboro
True to tradition, Wilber’s Barbecue still cooks their whole hogs over oak embers in an open pit. And because their menu is relatively small, you can bet that their nearly four decades of experience makes for some delectable ‘cue.
4172 US-70, Goldsboro, NC 27534.
Grady’s BBQ – Dudley
Operated by the husband and wife team of Steve and Gerri Grady since 1986, Grady’s BBQ cooks hogs over both hickory and oak embers, giving the meat a rich, woodsy flavor. Add an order of their light, crispy hushpuppies to complete your experience at this essential Eastern NC pit stop.
3096 Arrington Bridge Rd, Dudley, NC 28333
Skylight Inn BBQ – Ayden
A true legend of North Carolina barbecue, Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden revels in smoke. Using the same methods and recipes since 1947, their smokey vinegar and pepper sauce perfectly complements the hickory-smoked pork. The trays come with your choice of their three sides offerings and a slab of cornbread, so the hardest decision you’ll have to make is which size to order. Leave your credit cards at home, however, as Skylight Inn only takes cash.
4618 Lee St., Ayden, NC, 28513
Morris Barbecue – Hookerton
Established in 1956, Morris Barbecue takes a slightly different approach to whole hog ‘cue. By removing the gristle, fat and skin, Morris offers a less greasy, but still very traditional, version of classic Eastern NC bbq. They’re only open on Saturdays, but will ship their signature sauce and legendary barbecue anywhere in the lower 48.
891 Morris BBQ Road, Hookerton, NC 28538.
Bullock’s Bar-B-Q – Durham
Though Bullock’s no longer uses the traditional hickory pits to smoke its pigs, their barbecue has remained steadfastly delicious since 1952. While the menu offers more than just chopped pork, their vinegar sauce firmly places them in the Eastern NC tradition.
3330 Quebec Dr., Durham, NC 27705.
Lexington Style BBQ
Most common in the Piedmont and western areas of North Carolina, Lexington (also called Western) style only uses the pork shoulder rather than the whole hog. The bbq is generally sliced rather than chopped and sauced with a “dip” made of vinegar, tomatoes, peppers and other spices.
Lexington BBQ – Lexington
True to its namesake, Lexington BBQ is the definitive outpost for Western-style NC bbq. Roasted over hickory coals for about a day and a half, the sliced or chopped bbq gets laced with a sweet, dark dip for a perfectly tangy taste.
100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington, NC 27295.
Speedy’s Barbecue, Inc. – Lexington
Another staple of Lexington style bbq, Speedy’s Barbecue, Inc. offers enormous portions of their zesty, tomato-based barbecue.
1317 Winston Road, Lexington, NC 27295.
Stamey’s – Greensboro
Established almost 90 years ago and boasting two locations, this Greensboro bbq institution roasts their pork shoulders over hardwood hickory coals in a true Lexington-style pit. Stamey’s tangy-sweet dip, known as the “secret sauce” truly elevates this Piedmont mainstay to legendary status.
2812 Battleground Ave, Greensboro, NC 27408 and
2206 West Gate City Boulevard, Greensboro, NC 27403.
Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge – Shelby
Serving up minced, chopped and sliced Lexington style barbecue since 1946, Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge has become a mainstay for those looking for authentic Western NC bbq. Their tart and sweet red sauce is the perfect complement to the smokey, nutty flavor of their tender hickory and oak-smoked pork shoulder ‘cue.
2000 East Dixon Boulevard, Shelby, NC 28152.
Switzerland Café and General Store – Little Switzerland
The Switzerland Café and General Store is one of the most unique barbecue pits in North Carolina. Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, this bbq haven smokes their pork shoulders over hickory in the traditional style, but combines the tart sharpness of the vinegar-based Eastern style sauce with the sweeter Lexington style dip. The result is pure bbq bliss.
9440 Hwy 226A, Little Switzerland, NC 28749