Lesson in NC BBQ

"Like many small towns in the area, the pride the people of Mullaby took in the slow, meticulous pit cooking of pork soon became an important part of defining who they were. It was at first a Sunday tradition, then a symbol of community, and eventually an art form, the art of old North Carolina, an art born of out work so hard it would fell a hearty man."

Chapter Eleven, The Girl Who Chased the Moon

In North Carolina, barbecue means slow-cooked pork, which is then chopped or pulled. There are two different styles of N.C. barbecue: Eastern N.C. style and Lexington (or Western N.C.) style. And arguing which is best is like arguing politics. Eastern N.C. style barbecue utilizes the whole hog, while Lexington style uses only the pork shoulder -- but the key difference is the sauce. Eastern N.C. style barbecue sauce is perhaps the truest N.C. sauce. In fact, some food historians claim this thin, tart, vinegar-based sauce is the first real American sauce and it can be traced back to N.C. colony days when the sauce was made from oyster juice. Lexington style sauce is a heartier tomato-based sauce, sweeter and richer.

As controversial as pig farming is today in terms of environmental issues, its history in shaping North Carolina is indelible. Swine farming in North Carolina became popular out of necessity and geography. Cattle refused to thrive in the early days of North Carolina, but pigs flourished because they could feed in the wild on the abundance of chestnuts from the trees that once populated this area. The popularity of pork barbecue in N.C. was born from this, a tradition based on what was once survival.

If you'd like more information on the history of North Carolina barbecue, as well as recipes and restaurant guides, some good resources are:

Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, with William McKinney

Bob Garner's Guide to North Carolina Barbecue by Bob Garner