Friday, February 14, 2014

FOOD ROAD TRIP: NORTH CAROLINA BBQ THE PULLED PORK EDITION

BBQ, barbecue, bar-b-que--it has almost as many spellings as it does variations across the country. From smoking to saucing to types of meat, depending on where you are will determine what kind you get. Arguments about which is better are also fervently argued across state lines and blogs a plenty. I'm not planning on arguing the merits of one over the other. I've pretty much had them all and they each offer different flavors and styles that can be appreciated on their own merits.

I'll say upfront I prefer the vinegary North Carolina version and if given a choice I'll go with that over others first. If there is no choice I take what's offered and if the food is good, then great, I'll enjoy it. While on a recent visit back home I had the chance to indulge in the pulled pork vinegar version and took the opportunity to check out 3 different places in Durham, NC. And even though they are in the same town and doing basically the same thing, there were still slight differences to ones I had. Thus, the same style can even have variations and it's own fans and detractors. Which is why, like many food things, it really is a matter of taste and you just need to try stuff and see what might like. Anyway, here are the 3 plates I had and my thoughts on what I got.



Top: Hog Heaven. Top Right: Bullock's. Bottom Right: Ole' NC Bar-B-Que

Each is a large pulled pork plate and as usual in the South, ya' get plenty. Plus, a meat and 2 sides will run you about $6-$7. (cheaper than a sandwich with no sides in San Francisco--just sayin') The pork I liked the best was from Hog Heaven. It was cooked tender and not over seasoned--not too much red pepper flake or vinegar or mustard seed and not too dry--which can happen. Like all of these, it isn't so much smoked as slow roasted so it doesn't have that smoky/wood flavor you sometimes get. That's fine with me on pulled pork, it's nice on heartier meats but on pork I prefer to taste the pork and spices mixed in instead. The Bullock's one was fine for the most part, but it was wetter, like it had some sauce or extra water in it, which was a change from what I've had there in the past. I prefer the dry as the wet can be mushy and unappealing, particularly when you pair it with cole slaw. Bullocks also has the best cole slaw to me. The carrots and cabbage are diced small and it's a mix of a vinegar, just a touch of mayo and a spoonful of sugar. And it's that bit of sweetness that pairs well with the tangy vinegar of the bbq, which is why you don't really need the wet bbq. Kind of a bummer, this used to be our go to place, but not anymore. Ole NC Bar-B-Que gets back to the dry though theirs has a bit more red pepper kick in it than the other ones so if you like spice you'll like this. Their slaw is pretty close to Bullock's in style and flavor and comes a close second. Plus the pork has just a tad more smoke flavor than the others. So again, it comes down to personal choice whether that flavor is appealing to you or not. For me while the other 2 places were decent, Hog Heaven had the best consistency of flavor in it's pork. I just wish they had better cole slaw--it's not real good and why I didn't get any there. They all do a pretty good fried okra but the greens at Ole NC were the best of the ones I had. 

On a special note I wanted to talk about hush puppies--those addictive deep fried blobs of cornmeal. 


In the South they put baskets of these on the table and when it's empty they fill it back up--free. All you can eat, and sadly they are addictive, especially when they are hot out of the fryer. Plus you get this little round things of butter to dip them in which makes them both better and really bad for you all in one. In the Bay Area there are a handful of restaurants that try and re-create this little things and then serve them as like appetizers where you get maybe 4 of them for like $5, as if they are some delicacies. Problem is, pretty much every version I've had here isn't good. For whatever reason folks just haven't been able to make them they way you can get them at all bbq restaurants in North Carolina. Though you do have to eat in to get the unlimited supply, otherwise you only get a handful, which in the grand scheme of things is probably for the best for my waistline and arteries.  

These are just 3 places all in one town, there are tons of these kind of bbq eating joints scattered throughout North Carolina and all do the same basic pulled pork and sides, some just do it better than others. Thing here is, bbq joints are like diners in the Northeast, they are all along the roads and while they may look a little sketchy, they are churning out some really tasty food because more than likely someones mother is in the kitchen whipping up a mess 'o Southern specialties to quell your hunger pains--that's a good thing. 




Bullock's BBQ on Urbanspoon Hog Heaven Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon Ole NC Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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