In North Carolina, we love our traditions and take them seriously. While some of these things may seem quirky to outsiders, North Carolinians hold these things near and dear to their hearts, and that’s what makes them quintessential North Carolina things.
1. Heated BBQ debates
The BBQ debate in North Carolina is passionate and often heated. For years, there has been a longtime duel in the state between Eastern style and the Western Lexington style. Eastern style (as in east of the Triangle) uses a vinegar-based sauce made with apple cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, a bit of brown sugar, and other spices. West of the Piedmont, you’ll find a sauce that’s still heavy in vinegar but also has a sweetness and red hue from added ketchup. The meat is always pulled pork, usually served with slaw, hush puppies and beans. Backyard pig pickin’s are a huge thing. Don’t turn down the opportunity to go to a pig pickin’ if you get an invitation. Take a side, make yourself a plate, sit back, and enjoy the debate!
2. Basketball rivalries sworn in blood
It’s pretty much required that you pick a basketball team in North Carolina. State rivalries run deep, and fans take their basketball very seriously. Many see the North Carolina-Duke rivalry as the greatest rivalry in all college basketball. Their rivalry dates back 100 years, to their first meeting on Jan. 24, 1920. What’s more, these two schools are located less than 10 miles apart from each other (UNC in Chapel Hill and Duke in Durham). The Triangle area is also home to the NC State Wolfpack, but UNC players and fans insist that there’s no true rivalry with the Wolfpack because of the Tar Heels’ dominance. They say (and repeat) that the only true rivalry is the UNC-Duke rivalry.
The Tar Heels have won seven men’s basketball NCAA championships. The Blue Devils have won five, and the Wolfpack have won two. There are also a host of other smaller division college basketball teams to be a fan of in NC. It’s definitely a favorite past time to watch college football here, whoever your team may be.
3. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway
Everyone should experience a drive on NC’s beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. The parkway runs 469 miles, from Virginia to Cherokee, NC and has amazing overlooks, vistas and romantic tunnels throughout. The speed limit on the parkway remains a slow, steady 45 miles per hour, and the road doesn’t allow large trucks. Thanks to these provisions, the drive really allows you to take your time and bask the beauty.
Exits all along the parkway can take you off to quaint Appalachian towns, where you can get out and experience the areas’s best art, culture, music, and crafts. There are also great hiking trails along the way, which vary in level of difficulty. Fall is a very popular time to go, but it is worth the drive any time of year. Remember, however, that parts of the parkway close at various times in the winter depending on weather, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
4. The world’s largest collection of native carnivorous plants
You may not know that venus flytraps are only native to a small area of the coastal plain in North and South Carolina, though they’re cultivated around the world. North Carolina designated the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) as the official state carnivorous plant in 2005. Population numbers have declined, primarily because of drastic habitat changes from fire suppression, conversion to agriculture, silviculture, and residential and commercial development. Poaching also poses a major threat to the population, and it is now a felony punished with up to 25 months in prison to snap up a flytrap. If you see one of these rare beauties out in nature, respect and admire it, but please leave it be.
5. The “mystery” of the Lost Colony
(It’s been mostly solved, but we still treat it like a mystery.)
Settlers arrived to Roanoke Island in 1587 but disappeared in 1590, leaving behind only two clues: the words “Croatoan” carved into a fort’s gatepost and “Cro” etched into a tree. Theories about the disappearance have ranged from an annihilating disease to a violent rampage by local Native Americans. Teams of archaeologists, historians and other experts conducted digs on small plots in Buxton and Frisco for 11 years. Archaeologists found thousands of artifacts four to six feet below the ground that show a mix of English and Indian life. This evidence shows they thrived, ate well and had generations of families together.
It turns out the mystery is over, and the colonists likely went to live with the Croatoans of Hatteras. They were never “lost,” after all.
6. Oyster Roasts
The Carolina oyster roast is a rich, traditional ritual celebrated every year. If you’re invited to one, don’t waste your chance to go. This tradition usually happens around Thanksgiving or News Year’s, but any crisp fall or winter day is a perfect time for a roast. Oysters are often steamed or roasted on a grate over an open hardwood fire. NC is home some of the best oysters you can find anywhere, with their sweet, succulent flavor. Sides are simply saltine crackers, lemon, cocktail sauce, or hot sauce, and oysters are typically served on a long table. This is an outdoor affair and a great excuse to stand around a fire with drinks, laughter and good music. What can be better than that?
7. Weird, niche festivals
There are a lot of reasons to celebrate our great state. Whether it celebrates woolly worms, pickles or whirligigs, North Carolina is full of downright unusual festivals you can’t find anywhere else. Here are a few festivals to check out:
- Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, NC — race your woolly worm to help predict the winter forecast according to the worm’s stripes!
- North Carolina Whirligig Festival in Wilson, NC — an arts festival that showcases regional art including NC Folk Art and Whirligigs.
- Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, NC — a festival based on the Andy Griffith Show, dedicated to a time of simpler lives. This festival is full of tons of music, activities and events.
- Oddville: A Festival of the Awesomely Strange in Durham, NC — a truly eclectic art show that explores strange and unique art designed to bring together a community of weirdos.
- NC Pickle Fest in Mount Olive, NC — an event that celebrates the love of pickles. This festival has live entertainment, an antique car show, carnival rides, petting zoo, games, food, vendors, and a vintage farm equipment display. It includes a 75-mile Tour de Pickle bicycle ride and a 5K Glow Run.
- North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest in Oxford, NC — sample and purchase barbecue, hot sauces and locally-crafted products. This festival also has food trucks, breweries, wineries, and live music, not to name a pepper-eating contest and classic car show.
Note: most of these events have been rescheduled for 2021 due to COVID-19, but be sure to check them out next year.
Each state is home to its own unique quirks and traditions, but nothing really beats quintessential North Carolina, where everything is finer. Though some of these traditions seem odd, we will proudly defend them.
Anything else you want to know about quintessential North Carolina things? Make sure you read through our NC-specific lifestyle insights!