Might I first say that me and the boys had an absolutely wonderful time with Wayne Monk. I want to give a special thank you to Mr. Monk, founder of Lexington #1 BBQ and his son Rick Monk for making our visit to “Honey Monk” so extremely special. We are grateful and honored to have been given the better part of a morning a few days ago at #1 as we continued our road study of Carolina BBQ – on our way to opening our own true, artisan wood-fired BBQ joint in the Queen City in the near future.
Lexington #1 BBQ, also know as Honey Monk’s, was the site of our latest Pig Pen Trail, though I have been many times prior to this visit. Growing up in High Point, besides Kepley’s BBQ, Lexington #1 was the place we visited most. As I have previously mentioned on this blog, my Dad was a great fan of Carolina BBQ and particularly western pork shoulder BBQ. According to Dad, the pork shoulder BBQ of western NC has less fat and gristle and was leaner and therefore cleaner. Of course this is really up to the pit master and how well the meat is chopped and separated. Obviously the pit master has the ability to make the Q as lean as he chooses. Either way, Lexington #1 is legendary in western styled Carolina BBQ, and I believe the best BBQ I have had in the west.
Wayne Monk opened Lexington BBQ in 1962 as “Honey Monk’s” and as he said it was more of a family styled restaurant than BBQ, even though he had worked in BBQ joints in Lexington since he was about 16. After it became a handout for young kids and he was having to stay open and work until late at night, he changed it to a true BBQ restaurant. We all should be glad he did. He says the secret to his success is to focus on really one thing: pork shoulder BBQ. Monk mentioned that he has tried a lot of things over the years, like BBQ chicken and ice cream, but realized that focusing on BBQ was his best route.
Lexington BBQ slow cooks their pork shoulders over hickory and oak coals for a period of 10-12 hours. Their pitmaster has faithfully been with the Monk family for years and he keeps the BBQ excellent – moist and consistent. This is my favorite Q in western NC styled BBQ.
Wayne took us all on a tour through the kitchen and to the pits. Wayne has built, expanded and relocated the pits at least three times. We walked past the older pits as we headed to the current pits in the rear of the restaurant. Here BBQ is done the artisanal, old fashioned, painstaking way. A firebox is where the wood is burned into coals. Then the hot coals are shoveled under the pits where the porks shoulders are cooking, maintaining a constant 200-225 degree temperature in the pit. The shoulders are accessed in the pits through doors right over the coals in the lower chamber which has its own door. Pork shoulders are started skin side up and turned over skin side down to finish. The shoulder gets a dark smokey mahogany color as it is completed and slow cooked.
After the tour we all had to sit down for an early lunch; by this time it was about 11:20. We ordered some skins – this is the real deal. Your cardiologist would not want you to order them, but I think that about once a year should be okay. Man, we all sure enjoyed them and left nothing on the plate. (Please don’t tell Karen). Then we ordered and enjoyed the “coarse, brown” tray. I love coarse chopped Q best of all, chopped BBQ oxidizes rapidly and loses its great meaty, smokey flavor. This is, so far the best Q I have had in NC. We enjoyed the hushpuppies and dipping sauce as well, but I didn’t really watch the guys eating very much, I was too busy.
Wayne also offered to help us design our BBQ pits were are planning for our BBQ joint here in Charlotte by putting us in contact with his mason.
Wayne, you are a living legend with a gracious humble spirit. We appreciate you and we also are grateful for the great BBQ you have served over the last nearly 50 years. You are a champion and are truly thankful for the time you spent with us last month. If I become as good a chef as you are a pitmaster, I will be a happy man!