A Brief Exploration of Carolina Barbecue
In my previous post, I described Mama Jean’s Home Cooking, which features Paapa’s Hickory Smoked Barbecue. Paapa’s is a typical Carolina barbecue – pork shoulder, smoked in a hickory-rich environment, the temperature low enough to take a long time to cook the meat. The final product is pulled from the bone, mixed with a vinegar, tomato, and pepper-based marinade (which is also the basting sauce used in the smoking process), and chopped. The resulting barbecue may be doused with more sauce, eaten as-is, or piled on a sandwich and covered in coleslaw for consumption. It is delectable, tender, juicy, smoky, and just plain good. But it’s not the only barbecue to be found in the Carolinas.
There’s also a barbecue referred to as East Carolina barbecue, available either pulled, sliced or chopped. This is also a smoked pork shoulder, but it is not typically marinated or basted with a vinegar-based mop sauce. It is often rubbed with a dry mixture of spices, usually secret in nature, smoked slowly at a temperature of 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit, then removed from the smoker and prepared for plating as above, either by pulling the meat from the bone, chopping it coarsely, or slicing as desired. The big difference is in the sauce, which is sweeter than the vinegar-based sauces, and very smoky in its own right, usually containing liquid smoke, molasses, tomato sauce, and a significant dash of chili pepper, either cayenne, chipotle, or similar.
Either of the two barbecues described above is equally applied to pork. However, the East Carolina version is often applied to beef brisket as well as pork, and the sauce is often applied to smoked chicken also.
I had the opportunity to experience East Carolina barbecue at its best on the way out of North Carolina at the aptly named Carolina Barbecue, in Statesville, NC. This restaurant was visited by Charles Kurault a few years back, and he was, to say the least, impressed with their product. A very unassuming little place, Carolina Barbecue has an attentive staff and a well-deserved pride in their primary offering. I should mention that we decided to get take-out and enjoy our meals at the hotel. I decided to try the brisket, while Sally opted for the chopped pork. The side dishes included coleslaw, baked beans, and hushpuppies. I opted for the barbecue slaw, another exclusive of the Carolina region – the slaw dressing contains a significant amount of barbecue sauce, providing a nice segue to the main course. The baked beans were spicy and smoky at the same time, and the hushpuppies were classic in nature – no added corn, jalapenos, or other inclusions, just straight fried cornmeal batter with a delectable brown outer crust giving way to a tender center.
Sally gave the pork five stars – it was tender, sweet, juicy, and very flavorful. As to the brisket, I must say this is the best barbecued brisket I’ve ever had outside of Texas, quite a compliment, given that Carolina cuisine really focuses on pork. Carolina Barbecue is famous for their cobbler, offering apple, cherry, blackberry, and other flavors as well. Several in our party enjoyed the cobbler and rated it very highly. I, however, had little choice but to follow the brisket plate with pecan pie, and I was not disappointed here, either. All in all, a better meal is not to be found in the neighborhood of Statesville, NC, and I recommend that if you are anywhere nearby, you should definitely make a side trip to Carolina Barbecue. Enjoy!
Carolina Barbecue is located at 213 Salisbury Road, Statesville, NC 28677