Arguments over barbecue in North Carolina are as common as arguments about the I-77 toll lanes: Opinionated, loud and numerous.
And while the debate across the state typically fixates on Eastern or Western style ‘cue, there does seem to be a consensus that tiny Lexington, with its basic, no-frills approach, dishes up more barbecue than any other place in the state.
Fifteen thousand pounds of the famous Lexington-style barbecue is served to more than 125,000 attendees at the one-day annual Barbecue Festival alone, according to festival organizers.
True Lexington-style Barbeque has three components: Pork shoulder, salt and smoke. Lexington’s legendary “dip” (a three-syllable pronunciation: De-ye-ip), the tangy vinegar and tomato based sauce that accompanies barbecue in these parts is typically an “after” application – kissing the pig only after cooking.
Only an hour or so drive from Charlotte, Lexington is an easy road trip for some of the best ‘cue on the planet. Make an afternoon of it and hit several for a progressive feast on the beast.
As the magical alchemy behind Lexington barbeque differs from place to place, here are my five favorites for you to try next time you’re in town:
The granddaddy of Lexington barbecue joints, the pit masters here have been smoking their shoulders using hardwood – oak and hickory – for more than 60 years. Eight to 10 hours in the pits, lovingly turned every so often, is standard care for falling-off-the-bone, tender barbecue served at this spot consistently rated one of the top barbecue restaurants in the nation.
100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington.
The difference here is found in rotisserie electric smokers. These allow the natural smoke from the drippings to flavor the ‘cue. Lettuce lovers can order up a barbecue salad and get crisp, tasty fresh greens served with barbecued porky goodness right on top — hog heaven.
1317 Winston Road, Lexington.
Folks flock here for low- and slow-cooked ‘cue that’s chopped by hand and served up with some of the crispiest and tastiest hushpuppies in town. The site of a former dairy, the Center still has a special place in its heart (and your tummy) for ice-cream. Be sure to save room for the massive four-pound banana split – a perfect capper to your meal.
900 N Main St., Lexington.
Family-run and boasting one of the few female pit masters, this place offers warm hospitality, pit cooked ‘cue and plenty of locals to rub elbows with. The carrot cake is pretty darn good too.
1101 S Main St., Lexington.
The secret specialty here is the chicken. Enjoy fork tender bird Thursday through Sunday where coleslaw purists can get a mayonnaise-based slaw that’s tangy sweet and a deviation from the more commonly found red slaw.
917 Winston Road, Lexington.
Photos: Lexington Barbecue, Speedy’s Barbecue, Smiley’s Barbecue, Smokey Joe’s Barbecue, Barbeque Center and Michael J. Solender.