Lexington, North Carolina, the barbecue capital of the world, yes world, is home to a lot of barbecue joints. While the “of the world” designation may be disputed by other “of the world” barbecue towns, you can’t dispute they know barbecue here. Named after the Revolutionary Battle of Lexington, the town is home to over 15 barbecue restaurants, each with their own pork barbecue twist. Each year Lexington hosts a barbecue cook-off in April and a premier barbecue festival each October.
So what is Lexington barbecue? I had no idea until I got there. A quote I found on the Visit Lexington website from Bob Garner, author of North Carolina Barbecue, and a person I watch regularly on North Carolina Weekend, states: “Lexington-style barbecue is generally juicier, smokier, sweeter and milder than its counterpart in eastern North Carolina. Whereas barbecue flavored by wood smoke is only an option in the East, in Lexington it is, with a few exceptions, an unspoken but unyielding expectation. The tangy, red barbecue slaw is usually the spiciest part of a Lexington barbecue sandwich, whereas the milder, creamier coleslaw on an Eastern-style barbecue sandwich is meant to balance the relatively fiery chopped pork.”
I’m always looking for a back road trip on the weekend, where I can explore, within a few hours of the house and still get home to take care of my pretty puppy, a.k.a. the whiny Ouiser. I’m sure you remember Ouiser from Steel Magnolias? Well somehow that has become my dog Daphne’s nickname, though you can’t just say the name, you have to pretend you’re Clairee when you say it: Oui-sah. Like most pups, she can’t be left too long so I try to stay within a short drive from the house.
Lexington is only a couple hours from home and taking the scenic route made the trip that much more enjoyable! Since this was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of trip, I didn’t have a plan per se, but I knew I’d try some barbecue. The big question was, which one?
I chose the Bar-B-Q Center pit-cooked barbecue on Main Street in Lexington. There are so many barbecue choices it’s hard to choose. My faithful companion when traveling is TripAdvisor. When I’m not sure of where to stay or eat, reading reviews on TripAdvisor is a great tool for making decisions. Before I pulled up in the parking lot I had two things in mind – barbecue and a banana spilt.
The Bar-B-Q Center has been a fixture in Lexington since 1955. For over 60 years they’ve pit-cook their meat and that smoky flavor comes through in each bite. It’s not a fancy place, it’s more diner-esque, but it was comfortable and clean. The servers were friendly and quick. There are a lot of choices on the menu, but I chose the chopped barbecue plate with the 1/4 dark chicken, potato salad, and red slaw. And don’t forget about the hushpuppies! Those little lovelies were lightly crispy, savory cornmeal tidbits and they sopped up the excess sauce on the plate.
Being a Yankee I’m a mayo based coleslaw kinda girl. That’s what they call “white” down here. I never heard of “red,” which is the other type of slaw you get around these parts. I would say white slaw is the most common type of slaw served up with barbecue here in NC. Lexington serves “barbecue slaw,” which is made from vinegar and ketchup and that’s what gives it a red color. To my surprise, I liked it. It was tangy and had a little back heat that compliments the pork and chicken perfectly.
The food was outstanding. So much so I cleaned almost all of my plate. (I had to save a little room for dessert.) According to TripAdvisor, the Bar-B-Cue Center is known for it’s banana split, which happens to be one of my favorite ice cream treats. Pass it up? Not likely.
Well, perhaps I should have skipped the sweets. As I watched the server dish out the vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream and then top it with walnuts, chocolate sauce and whipped cream, I stared in amazement. I realized I was in over my head: this is not your normal sundae. This monstrosity had enough ice cream to feed a family of four and yet there it was, sitting in front of ‘lil ol’ me. This sundae was the ice cream equivalent of Mount Everest and there was no way I was going to finish. To say I didn’t even put a dent in the banana split was an understatement. This must happen frequently because the server didn’t even bat an eye when I asked for a large to-go cup!
I waddled around downtown Lexington in the sunshine, in an attempt to walk off the the food I stuffed myself with at the Bar-B-Cue Center, taking in the history and architecture of the town. It was the ideal ending to a picture-perfect day.