Blog » Best Of: Barbecue
Courtney Youngblood is writing a series of "Best Of" posts for the SavorNC blog. You can read (and comment on!) her first post, "Best Of: Burgers in the Triangle" here.
My first day in California I drove past a restaurant with a sign out front that read “BBQ Today!” Excited, I pulled in only to find they had the outdoor grills going. I angrily yelled, “Grilling does not equal barbecue!” as I peeled out of their driveway, and knew leaving North Carolina was going to be a huge adjustment for me. Barbecue is not just grilling — as a native North Carolinian, barbecue to me means smoke. Spice. PORK. As a self-named barbecue fiend, I have tasted barbecue everywhere I go. And while I have had some great ribs in Tennessee and some unforgettable brisket in Texas, when it comes to pulled (or chopped) pork barbecue, North Carolina is king. Lucky as we are to be in this great state, barbecue joints are a dime a dozen. Some of my favorites include:
1. Spoon’s Barbecue (5524 South Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28217)
2. Mac’s Speed Shop (2511 South Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28203)
3. Allen and Son Bar-B-Q (6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27516)
4. Hog Heaven Bar-B-Q (2419 Guess Road, Durham, NC 27705)
5. Lexington Barbecue (10 US Highway 29 70 S, Lexington, NC 27292)
6. Woodlands BBQ (8304 Valley Boulevard, Blowing Rock, NC 28605)
After many trials, I have finally determined my favorite method for doing barbecue at home. As Southerners, cookouts are in our blood and what's more impressive than having some friends over for great ribs or pork butt that you did yourself? Follow a few simple-but-important instructions and you'll find that mastering that smoky, spicy, melt-in-your-mouth Southern barbecue seems way less daunting. Without further ado, here is my best method for at home barbecue:
Step 1 - BRINE
I like to brine my butts to make sure they stay extra juicy and seasoned throughout. A basic brine is just sugar, salt, and water, but I add plenty of aromatics because the better the brine the better the end result! I brine my butts overnight, but being in brine for 24 hours would not hurt.
To make the brine: Combine a chopped onion, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, a few smashed garlic cloves, 4 black peppercorns (or a few shakes of ground black pepper), a couple sprigs of thyme, a teaspoon of red chili flakes, ½ cup kosher salt, ½ c brown sugar, and 2 quarts of water in a medium saucepot. Bring to a rolling boil and then reduce to a simmer for 5-10 minutes. Allow brine to cool COMPLETELY before using.
Step 2 - RUB
Once you brine the butt, the next step is to rub it and get a good pellicle. A pellicle is a thin film that will form on the outside of your meat after you have completely dried it and allowed it to air out. It is slightly sticky and is crucial for smoked goods because it allows the smoke to better adhere. Remove the butt from the brine, dry it completely with paper towels, and generously apply rub. Don’t be afraid to massage your meat and really work the rub into it! Then, place the butt on a rack in the fridge UNCOVERED. Some juices will come out and having it on the rack uncovered assures it won't be sitting in liquid and can completely dry so you get that nice pellicle. I leave it like this for at least a day.
To make the rub: Combine ¼ c kosher salt, 3 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon cayenne. Store in an airtight container.
Step 3 - SMOKE
It’s finally time to smoke it! If you don’t have a smoker, you can slow roast it in the oven. First take the butt out of the fridge to let it come up to temperature for at least half an hour. During this time you can get your oven preheated or your smoker ready. Cook for 4-6 hours (depending on the size of the butt) at 225 degrees, or until “fork tender” (the meat easily pulls apart at the gentle touch of a fork). If using a smoker it is very important to monitor the temperature - cooking any higher or lower than 225 can dry your meat out. Once it is fork tender, take your meat out and let it rest / cool for ten minutes before pulling.
Pull it, sauce it, crack open a cold beer, have some friends over, and you have the perfect Southern night.
I’d love to hear from you! What’s your favorite Carolina barbecue joint? Try my barbecue and let me know how it comes out!