Starting in Ayden with famed Skylight Inn and finishing in Murphy with Herb’s Pit BBQ, the North Carolina Trail, N.C. Barbecue Society Historic Barbecue Trail spotlights 23 stops that specialize in roasting pig the old-fashioned way – slowly, over pits of wood or charcoal. Both distinct styles of barbecue, Eastern and Lexington, are represented on the trail and continue to cause heated debates along the way over which tastes better.
The trail is a central piece of a plan by the North Carolina Barbecue Society (NCBS) to continue to elevate the state’s profile as the best place on earth to find this delicacy. On its website, you can view the trail, learn more about ‘cue culture, become a member of the NCBS and much more. NCBS also hosts very popular BBQ Boot Camps and Certified BBQ Judge Classes.
NCBS board members chose stops on the trail to reflect the distinctive methods and styles that have made North Carolina the ‘cue capital of the world. Criteria for selection include that establishments: cook their meat product on pits fueled by wood or charcoal; make their own sauce; have operated continuously for 15 or more years; enjoy the high esteem of their communities, the barbecue industry, and barbecue aficionados; and provide a final product that is a high-quality representation of North Carolina barbecue. The board also limited the number of pits on the trail to a maximum of two for any town.
The style of North Carolina barbecue can generally be divided into two styles: Eastern and Western. Eastern-style ‘cue tends to be vinegar-based, while Western-style is generally more ketchup-based. The state’s specifically popular “Lexington-style” barbecue is generally Western-style. And, yes, you’ll also see it spelled two ways: barbecue and barbecue…or often just ‘cue or Q. Whatever the style or spelling, you’ll find it still tastes great in the Tar Heel State at these select Trail members.
The North Carolina Barbecue Society Historic Barbecue Trail currently includes 23 destinations:
Ayden — Founded in 1947, this small destination sells pork sandwiches with slaw and corn bread, plus sodas and iced tea. Just look for the replica of the Washington, D.C. capitol building on top of the Skylight Inn.
Greenville — The McLawhorn family owns and operates this class ‘cue joint. They close for the day when they run out.
Farmville — Only open a few days a week, Jack Cobb & Son was started by the late Jack Cobb in the late 1940s. The Eastern barbecue tradition is now carried on by Jack’s son, Rudy.
Goldsboro — Praised by presidents, North Carolina governors, and many other elected officials who have become fans, Wilber’s features famed “spicy hot” sauce and a full menu that enhances the pit-cooked barbecue pork.
Dudley — Steve and Gerri Grady opened the restaurant July 4, 1986. Their classic ‘cue and sauce have kept patrons quite patriotic about it ever since.
Willow — Stephenson’s was founded by hog farmer Paul Stephenson back in 1958. His chopped barbecue and sauce have been popular ever since.
Chapel Hill — Situated just outside Chapel Hill proper, Allen & Son simply looks like a barbecue joint. Keith Allen and company don’t disappoint, thanks to their classic wood-smoked ‘cue sauced right in the smokehouse.
Burlington — The Hursey family has been cooking whole hogs for many decades and started selling to the public in 1960. Cooked in open pits over hickory and oak, Hursey’s barbecued pork is renowned for being perfectly moist and sauced.
Greensboro — C. Warner Stamey started this Triad family tradition and grandson Chip carries it on at two locations. The smiling service, cole slaw, hushpuppies, sweet tea, and homemade cobbler are equally famous.
Reidsville — A Reidsville tradition since 1949, Short Sugar’s features famous combination plates and much more. There’s classic drive-in and counter service.
Madison — Fuzzy’s features Western-style barbecue seven days a week, except Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Trays, plates, sandwiches and other ‘cue specialties are all on the menu.
Winston-Salem — Joe Allen Hill, a Lexington native, started Hill’s Lexington BBQ in 1951, along with his wife, Edna. Look for Winston-Salem’s own Texas Pete Hot Sauce on the tables.
Winston-Salem — Richard Berrier now has two popular Winston-Salem locations, including the original and classic Country Club Road location and a more modern outpost on Gumtree Road. BBQ sandwiches, trays and plates all come with Richard’s tangy secret sauce.
Lexington — Speedy Lohr’s is located between Lexington and Winston-Salem and features classic Lexington-style barbecue. It’s named in honor of owner Roger Lohr’s father, Paul “Speedy” Lohr.
Lexington — With a variety of names and owners over the years, Smiley’s has been a Lexington landmark for more than six decades. Current owner Steve Yount has continued the tradition with a classic Lexington-style ‘cue experience.
Lexington — Known as Lexington’s oldest barbecue joint still cooking on pits, the ‘cue at the Bar-B-Q Center is custom-ordered, depending on the customer’s preference for browned bit, fat and more. There’s also curb service.
Salisbury — Originally T&F Bar-B-Q, which opened way back in 1935, Richard’s Bar-B-Q is actually known for serving tasty Eastern-style ‘cue. It remains a North Main Street classic for barbecue.
Salisbury — Originally named for “Wink” Wansler, Wink’s is another favorite Salisbury ‘cue destination. Just look for the sign that says “The King of Barbecue.”
Granite Quarry — Founded by Myron and Kathy Thomas in 1990, M&K features classic ‘cue and other country-style fare. Myron was once a long-distance truck driver and knows good ‘cue and country cooking.
Mocksville — Facing Mocksville’s Church Street, long-time barbecue aficionado Dean Allen took over Buck’s Barbecue Restaurant in 1975, re-naming it Deano’s. He’d started there as a curb boy in back in 1961 and it remains a favorite Mocksville destination.
Statesville — Served chopped or sliced, the barbecue at Carolina Bar-B-Q is known for being lean and when famed North Carolina native Charles Kuralt visited, he said the ‘cue was too refined and needed some fat and gristle. They said they’d save him some of both for his next visit.
Shelby — A family-owned operation since 1946, this is a Shelby institution. The pork is cooked on cedar overnight and the ‘Barbecue Sause’ is popular in-house and at home.
Murphy — Open since 1982, Herb’s is known as the only barbecue restaurant west of Asheville using open pit cooking. The pork is known for being smoky and the sauce sweet.
— Southern Foodways Alliance & North Carolina Tourism