I guess what I like most of all about “Q School” is the history, lore and legends found in this business – BBQ business that is. What a history! What a background! BBQ is something that most “Tarheels” have a deep passion and opinion about (and by tarheels I mean North Carolinians, not just UNC fans – I am a graduate of State College so I am a little sensitive here). Now let me tell you, since I have been on the Pig Pen Trails, I have not had a hard time getting great inside info on Carolina BBQ. Whenever I finally open a BBQ place, and if I could offer everything on the menu that I have been told to, it would take most folk 2-3 days to read the menu. It’s not hard to find opinions and strong feelings about BBQ in Carolina and that is a healthy thing. Concerning NC/SC BBQ, there are some vague boundaries when it comes to BBQ but these differences are more defined in peoples minds. East and West BBQ are different, they cook different parts of the pig, but they are not as far apart as most folks think. The biggest difference is the pork they cook, whole hog in the east and shoulders in the west – and the west begins somewhere around Raleigh. The sauces do differ, but not as dramatically as some folks would argue. I know, east has no ketchup and west does, but they are not that far apart, compared to BBQ sauces found in other parts of the country. Take a look sometime at the BBQ sauces on the grocery store shelves. Finding something from NC is a blessing.
My next leg on the Pig Pen Trails took me to Cook’s BBQ outside of Lexington. This was a great stop. You know, my in-laws took my wife Karen and I here over 20 years ago. If I had only known that one day I would return today wanting to know more about Carolina BBQ I would have paid more attention. Besides, I was some upscale French chef. Recently my buddies Bubba and Dan Pritchett have been trying to get me back to Cook’s for about 2 years. Well I finally made it back and was I glad!
Cook’s still smoke their BBQ shoulders with hickory and oak. I ordered a brown coarse chopped BBQ tray, hush puppies, a chopped BBQ sandwich and skins. They thought I was crazy with what I ordered. Let me tell you, the skins were really good and so was all the BBQ I ordered. The hushpuppies were small, marble sized and very delicious. Cook’s BBQ along with Lexington #1 are my favorites in the west (along with the Q Joe & Ben are pulling of the spit at Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen in Charlotte). I enjoyed every part of my meal and headed to the car. When I looked back at the building, I saw the smoke trailing up from the chimneys and went back inside to ask for a pit tour. I couldn’t have been treated any nicer. The founder’s son and pitmaster, Brandon Cook took me on a tour of the kitchen and the pits. He had a rack of shoulders on the pit and was glad that they would come off in time to catch the Thursday night Carolina Panthers game. Go Panthers! And you know, we really ain’t all that far apart, Charlotte and Lexington that is – in passion and in distance. I truly appreciate the time Brandon Cook gave to me.