Sunday, February 12, 2012

Eastern Carolina Barbeque Refuses to Fade Away

Allen & Son Barbeque
6203 Millhouse Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC

Like flip phones, fax machines and virgins on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, it’s getting harder and harder to find authentic Eastern Carolina barbeque.

That’s because it’s a pain in the butt (no pun intended).

Who the heck has time to chop up hickory logs, tend to a smoldering fire around the clock and smoke a whole hog slowly over the embers for the better part of a day?

And then carefully pick the meat off the animal by hand and concoct your own vinegar sauce?

Forget it.

That’s why God invented gas smokers. Once legendary barbeque shacks all over Eastern North Carolina have shifted to this much more efficient means of ‘que making.

It’s better for the environment too.

As soon as Obama gets done forcing us all to buy electric cars from Government Motors, I’m pretty sure he’s moving to ban authentic barbeque next.

Call it the “BBQ individual mandate.” As a condition of eating in this country, every citizen must cook their meat over a gas smoker.

There’s just one problem. If you are a true barbeque connoisseur, you know that ain’t real barbeque.

But I’m happy to report there is one place tucked up here in the woods north of Chapel Hill where you can still enjoy the real deal.

Keith Allen, the “son” in Allen & Son still delivers North Carolina hickory logs to his restaurant and then saws, splits and chops it himself before burning it in a pit he fires up every 30 minutes. Just like his dad used to do going back to 1968.

There are no short cuts here. And you can taste the authenticity in every bite of the smoke-infused meat.

A textural kaleidoscope of pig parts from various orifices of the swine, Allen & Son’s barbeque offers you a different experience in every bite.

Soft pillowy white pork mixed together with darker strands of meat produces an orgy of smoky flavors and textures in your mouth.

Even a few “burnt” scraps of bark from the fire-charred outside of the pig can be found now and then, adding an intense yet satisfying bitter bite to the meat.

There is comfort in the evidence splayed before you on your hard plastic plate that you are eating pure unadulterated classic Eastern Carolina barbeque.

As per tradition here in the eastern half of North Carolina, the sauce isn’t really a sauce. It’s nothing more than a jar of salty, peppery vinegar.

When you squirt some on your meat, it immediately disappears, escaping into the nooks and crannies of the chopped up pig parts.

You might not be able to see it, but there is no doubt you can taste it.

Eastern Carolina “sauce” adds a bitter tangy zip that enhances the smoky flavor of the pig.

Legend holds that the colonial settlers in these parts, who invented this form of barbeque, were convinced that tomatoes were poisonous and thus obsessively shunned the sweet vegetables.

Personally, I enjoy tomato based sauces, but when in Rome, you don’t argue with the Romans.

If you really need your tomato fix, get a side of Brunswick Stew, as I did. Here at Allen & Son it is a delicious concoction of vegetables and shredded pork in a thin tomato-based sauce.

Other staples of authentic Eastern Carolina barbeque feats are cole slaw, hush puppies and sweet tea.

No one leaves Allen & Son hungry.

The hush puppies arrived at the table in an overflowing basket. Over a dozen of the best puppies you’ll ever taste!

Crispy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside, these sweet doughy spheres were addictive. I had to physically tie my hand to the plastic checkerboard tablecloth to keep from eating the entire basket.

By the time I pushed my wooden chair back from the table, I felt relieved. And stuffed.

Stuffed because I just consumed the better part of a hog and a month’s worth of deep fried carbs.

But relieved just know that a place like Allen & Son still exists. We live in a society where speed, efficiency and parsimony too often crowd out quality.

As Texas songwriter Pat Green once wistfully sang, “All the good things fade away.”

Many of the legends of this centuries-old American tradition that is Eastern Carolina barbeque may be switching from hickory wood to gas. But folks still flock to this wooded intersection of country roads in Orange County to enjoy the real thing.

No need to worry.

Unlike the weathered sign above the front door, Allen & Son won’t be fading away any time soon.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!

Allen & Son on Urbanspoon

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