Tuesday, September 4, 2012

To Tomato or Not to Tomato? That is the Question in Carolina






Tarheel Q
6835 West Old US Hwy. 64
Lexington, NC






Barbeque can get down right complicated in the Tar Heel State.

The next time you hear someone tell you they serve “Carolina-style” barbeque, don’t let them off the hook.

Your next question should be, “Which Carolina style?”

As in, Eastern Carolina Barbeque or Western Carolina Barbeque?

Wars have been fought over less weighty disputes.

Eastern Carolina barbeque dates to Colonial times when the early settlers believed that tomatoes were poisonous. The only trace of red you’ll find in Eastern ‘que are flecks of pepper.

“Down East” around Wilson, Ayden and Rocky Mount, they smoke the whole hog, snout to tail, then drench the chopped up pig meat in a sauce of nothing more than peppery vinegar. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, especially if you are used to the ketchupy BBQ sauces of Memphis, Kansas City and Dallas.

Me? I guess I’m kind of a barbeque tramp. I like ‘em all.

Sure some barbeque is better than others, but there is no such thing as BAD smoked pig.

Here in Western North Carolina, the pit masters are much less tomatophobic.

Only the shoulder of the hog is smoked, and it is drenched in a vinegar sauce sweetened with a touch of tomato and sugar.

This Western Carolina barbeque style originated right here in Lexington, North Carolina about 100 years ago when Jesse Swicegood and Sid Weaver set up a barbeque pit in front of the Davidson County Court House on the days when the farmers from the surrounding fields would come to town.

Today, Lexington, a town of about 20,000 hungry souls, boasts nearly two dozen barbeque joints – the most per capita in America.

Welcome to the barbeque capital of the world!

I’ve always been partial to Western Carolina – or Lexington style – barbeque. I like a balance between the pucker of vinegar and the sweet of the tomato.

And that’s what you get here at Tarheel Q.

Of course Tarheel Q isn’t exactly in Lexington. It’s about ten miles west of town out over the hills and through the tobacco fields, hard against the Yadkin River.

You know it’s got to be good when your barbeque joint is out in the sticks.

The smoke billowing from the chimney and the wood pile of chopped hickory out back serve as further reminder that this is the real deal.

In fact, the only flaw I could find in Tarheel Q’s authentic barbeque credentials was that the place seemed a bit too clean – and new.

Well, it turns out, there’s a good reason for that.

Tarheel Q burned to the ground about a year or two ago and was recently rebuilt.

Call it an occupational hazard for an enterprise built around burning hickory 18 hours per day. Every day.

In my book, that makes Tarheel Q the Steve Earle of Western Carolina barbeque joints.

You know how you can’t be truly considered a critically-acclaimed legitimate outlaw country songwriter until you’ve served a prison sentence for heroin addiction? Somehow, that makes you deep.

Same thing with barbeque joints. You officially earn your street cred after you’ve been burnt down and rebuilt at least once or twice.

But Tarheel Q earns its cred in Suit757’s book with its outstanding barbeque.

Strictly segregated by gender, the ladies serve the customers in the front of the house while the men tend to the fire, smoke and danger in the back.

Just as it should be.

As I sat at the counter, I watched them wielding their knives, chop, chop, chopping my fresh-from-the-smoker pork into tender bites.

A giant mound of chopped pork squooshed between two woefully inadequate Marita "Southern Bread" hamburger buns came out rapped in wax paper. The sandwich was topped with cole slaw (a Carolina tradition) and just a touch of Tarheel Q’s famous sauce.

The sauce was much sweeter than I expected for a barbeque sandwich within the state of North Carolina.

But it was delicious.

In fact, on request, my waitress brought me a mini jar of heated sauce to further soak my pig meat.

The thin sauce just melted right into the meat, further contributing to my Merita bun disintegration. Eventually, I gave up and just started using my fork.

But the thin, sweet sauce was a delicious accompaniment to the tender smoky pork. A top notch variation on Western Carolina que.

The boat of warm hush puppies on the side was top notch too – sweet like cake with a crunchy bite. No way could I finish them all.

Those good ol’ boys Down East might frown upon Tarheel Q’s brand of barbeque, but it earns five stars in my book.

After all, it’s not worth going to war over.

But then again, all’s fair in love and barbeque.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.



Tar Heel Q on Urbanspoon

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