Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: North Carolina II - It's All About the Lexingtons

As mentioned in the last post, North Carolinians get very defensive of their own barbecue varieties - against Yankees, against other Southerners, and especially against each other.  However, I have seen more than a fair amount of writeups where barbecue lovers have simply said "You know what?  It's all good!"  Even from North Carolinians: "I'm from North Carolina and even though I love my own regional variety and know it's the best, the other's not that bad."  And so, not being from the Tar Heel State myself, I have tried to familiarize myself with both styles.  The last State post was about the Eastern style.  This time it's the Western part of the state representin', Lexington-style.

Official Name: State of North Carolina
State Nicknames: The Tar Heel State, The Old North State
Admission to the US: November 21, 1789 (#12)
Capital: Raleigh (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Charlotte (largest), Greensboro (3rd largest), Winston-Salem (4th largest)
 South, Southeast, Upper South; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT NationsCrabcakeChestnut
Bordered by: Virginia (north); Tennessee (west); Georgia (southwest); South Carolina (south); Atlantic Ocean (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: blueberry & strawberry (berries), milk (beverage), channel bass (fish), Southern Appalachian brook trout (freshwater trout), Scuppernong grape (fruit), honey bee (insect - again, for the honey), gray squirrel (mammal), sweet potato (vegetable)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: two - count 'em: two famous styles of BBQ (Eastern and Western or "Lexington-style"); other standard Southern foods, including (typically eaten with said BBQ's) cole slaw, hush puppies, sweet tea; pimiento cheese (the nation's leading producer); also the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola

As noted last time, a few things separate east and west when it comes to North Carolina BBQ (east is listed first): vinegar-based vs ketchup-and-vinegar-based sauce, whole hog vs pork shoulder, and (as I have recently discovered through intense investigation) no rub at all vs some sort of minimal dry rub (sometimes none, other times just salt and pepper, once in a while something more elaborate that's both salty and sweet - but never anything as froufrou as fresh garlic).

If you remember the last post, cue fans, I have no smoker, but found a way to smoke my BBQ in the slow cooker (again, thanks to Stephanie O'Dea).  This time, I found an actual recipe at for Lexington-style BBQ for the slow cooker!  I gathered up all the ingredients, even took my photos of the ingredients - this version had a particularly elaborate dry rub, though again no fresh garlic - and let it sit overnight in the fridge.

The next day I click on the link to continue the process, and come up with this:
Sorry ' meats lexington barbecue recipe slow cooker style ' does not exist or is not available. [my dumb luck, 2012]
Either I've gone insane or somebody at doesn't have an active domain anymore.  Hmmm...

Perturbed, I looked around for similar recipes, and came up with very little.  I found a lot of great recipes for Lexington-style sauce/dip, and more than a few for Lexington-style BBQ featuring a rub of just salt and pepper, but only even similar to the elaborate brown sugar, paprika, salt and celery seed rub I found before, from  So please bear with me, barbecue fans.  I've never actually had to change a recipe midstream.  You don't usually expect it to just vanish from the internet after all (and I guess there's something to be said for the printed word, huh?)

The Recipe: Western (Lexington-Style) North Carolina Style BBQ

Please note: as with the Eastern BBQ recipe from the last post, I did not need to bust out my bottle of liquid smoke.

For the barbecue itself you will need:

* pork shoulder (not whole hog, which wouldn't fit anyway - again, this is the other 4.5 lb half of the 9 lb bone-in shoulder that the nice woman at Wegman's sawed in half for me)
* hickory chips and parchment paper (yes, for our "slow cooker as smoker" method)
* apple juice (the original recipe suggested I pour this into the slow cooker halfway through the recipe.  I later found this was unnecessary)

As with the rub recipe, I lost the sauce recipe when the EasySouthernCooking website vanished.  No worries: do you realize just how many recipes there are out there for Lexington-style BBQ sauce.  No, not all are created equal, but I figured this one from the NC Barbecue Society was a safe bet for a good sauce.  This is the ingredient list for their Piedmont Lexington-Style Dip, and it was pretty much the same stuff with one or two things missing from the photo:

* vinegar (distilled white or apple cider; I used the latter)
* ketchup (again, the thing that separates Eastern and Western styles from each other.  This is probably not what you'll eat in Fayetteville or Durham)
* water (have it on hand)
* red pepper flakes (again, in this case I had to grind up a dried red chile pepper)
* cayenne (had it)
* sugar (brown or white; in this case I used white)
* salt (had it too)

For the rub, if anything, many recipes that I found just call for salt and maybe ground black pepper.  A few recipes have something more elaborate, like the now-gone recipe that I used.  The closest rub to this one that I could find is on's website, and the ingredient list is similar.  Next time though, I may just do a salt rub if anything.

* brown sugar (I used about a cup and a half; this recipe calls for a tablespoon)
* paprika (had it)
* salt and black pepper
* cayenne pepper
* garlic powder

The Saveur recipe also calls for dry mustard powder and white pepper, which I did not use.

If using a rub, depending on how complicated it is, mix it up in a bowl.

Next, pat it all over your pork shoulder.

All patted.  Let it sit overnight in the fridge, or for an hour on your counter.

When ready to smoke it in the slow cooker, again take wood chips that have soaked in water for at least half an hour, drain and wrap inside parchment paper, making a packet that will sit at the bottom of your slow cooker.

Set your pork shoulder on top of the wood chip packet, and set your slow cooker for 8 hours on LOW.

The original recipe that I was going to use suggested adding some apple juice and apple cider vinegar about halfway through.  I just added the apple juice.

Now for the barbecue sauce/dip: mix it all together in a saucepan, stir and simmer until the sugar is melted.  There, easy.

When the barbecue is done, chop it up.

Douse the meat with some of the barbecue sauce.

Typically, you will eat slaw with this version as well.  This slaw recipe is even easier, according to's website: just make some Lexington style dip and pour it over chopped up cabbage.  Again, easy.

What to make of this barbecue that I had to change recipes on midstream?  Well first the obvious: it's a mighty fine barbecue: I do like the tomato ketchup based vinegar sauce. In the end, this particular rub seemed not to add too much to this recipe, which is probably why so many recipes I've found for Western NC-style BBQ featured salt and not much else.  I don't think this recipe needs such an elaborate rub: the sauce and the wood chips are what add so much of the flavor to this barbecue.

Now for the $20,000 question: which do I prefer, Eastern or Western style?  I'm not saying; yes, I liked them both quite a lot.  If you didn't want to hear that, too bad!  I will say this, though: the sauces really made the difference.  Had I stuck with the $40 a Day sauce from the now defunct Barbecue Joint in the Research Triangle, I definitely would've given the Lexington-style BBQ the thumbs up over the Eastern style - no contest.  But after I whipped up a batch of the Meathead's Eastern style vinegar-only BBQ sauce, the two barbecues really are each quite good to me.  I can't choose.  I won't!  And y'all can't make me.


Barbecue Joint.  "Eastern North Carolina Barbecue".  Featured on the episode "Durham, NC" of the show $40 a Day (Rachael Ray, host).  Food Network, 2005.

Bowen, Dana.  "East Vs. West: North Carolina Pulled Pork"., Issue #139: BBQ Nation.  Published June 16, 2011.  Copyright 2011  All rights reserved.

Goldwyn, Craig "Meathead". "East Carolina Kiss & Vinegar Barbecue Sauce & Mop". Amazing Ribs website. Last revised September 12, 2011.  All

Graff, Michael, Wendy Perry, and Teresa Williford.  "The Pepsi ‘N’ Peanuts Cake".  Our State: Down Home in North Carolina. Posted February 2012.  Copyright 2012 Our State.  All rights reserved.

North Carolina BBQ Society.  "Eastern Style Slaw".  Copyright The North Carolina Barbecue Society, Inc. 2009.

North Carolina BBQ Society.  "Piedmont Lexington-Style Dip".  Copyright The North Carolina Barbecue Society, Inc. 2009.

North Carolina Travels (  "North Carolina Barbecue".  Date unknown.  Matt Barrett's Travel Guides: North Carolina.  All rights reserved.

O'Dea, Stephanie.  "You Can Use Your CrockPot as a Smoker".  A Year of Slow Cooking.  Posted August 7, 2008.

Pepsi Store (  "History of the Birthplace".  Date unknown.  Copyright and Pepsi-Cola.  All rights reserved.  "Lexington Pulled Pork"., Issue #139: BBQ Nation.  Published June/July 2011.  Copyright 2011  All rights reserved.  "Lexington-Style Red Slaw"., Issue #139: BBQ Nation.  Published June/July 2011.  Copyright 2011  All rights reserved.

Southern Foodways Alliance (Sara Roahen and John T. Edge, editors).  The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.  University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA, 2010.

Wallace, Emily.  "A brief history of pimento cheese".  Independent Weekly (  Posted June 22, 2011.  Copyright 2012 Independent Weekly.  All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "North Carolina" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "North Carolina".