At any rate, when visiting any state in the barbecue belt, it’s best not to challenge anyone’s allegiance to the local style of barbecue. (Although some of the huffing and puffing is put on, why take the chance that you’re dealing with a true believer?)
In North Carolina, it’s not as simple as knowing what state you’re in – you also have to know which side of the state you are on. The Eastern style is to use the meat of the whole hog, and a very little bit of vinegar pepper sauce – so little that it’s commonly described as a “wetting agent”. The Western style, also known as Lexington style, is to use pork shoulder, and pork shoulder only, and a sweeter sauce that’s got vinegar, ketchup and some kick to it. Both are served chopped, both are served with cole slaw, and sometimes with hush puppies.
But the differences that lie on either side of the "gnat line”“, an invisible line that divides the state’s coastal region from the Piedmont, are not to be taken lightly. "People who would put ketchup in the sauce they feed to innocent children are capable of most anything," is an oft-quoted Eastern Style sentiment, originally written by Dennis Rogers in the Raleigh News & Observer
Why take any chances? The best approach is to sample both. The North Carolina Barbecue Society Historic Barbecue Trail highlights twenty-three barbecue pits, from Murphy to Greenville.
Alert readers might notice that there are no stops on the barbecue trail in North Carolina’s most populous city, Charlotte. This is not an oversight, Charlotte is generally thought to lack decent barbecue. A relatively new restaurant, Midwood Smokehouse, has a following, but it’s heavily influenced by Texas barbecue style, make of that what you will.
On the western side of things it makes sense to point yourself towards Lexington, North Carolina, which has seventeen barbecue establishments. (And, an annual barbecue festival.) Of these, the best known is Lexington Barbecue, often called Lexington Barbecue #1, or “Honey Monk’s”, named after the chef, Wayne Monk. It can be a significant challenge to find the place, as, for some reason, its location confounds many a GPS. If you end up near a Biscuit King, just go to the nearby gas station and ask for direction. They’re used to lost barbecue fans wandering in, and you’re nowhere close to your goal. The restaurant is basically off a service road near I-85, although the official address is 100 Smokehouse Lane, you may have more luck with 10 US Highway 29 70 S. The phone number is (336) 249-9814, and the restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Two other places of note are Speedy’s Barbecue, at 1317 NC Highway 8 North, in Lexington, opened under a different name in the 1930s, and Speedy Lohr’s BBQ, 800 N. Highway 150 and Enterprise Road in Arcadia. Read about all of these, and Lexington’s other barbecue restaurants, here.