Chow Down in BBQ Town

In April 2021, Feature Stories by Lauren Kruchten1 Comment

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Photography: Food Seen by Felicia Perry Trujillo

In North Carolina, barbecue is king. Pig pickins’ are an unparalleled experience for Southerners—synonymous with hot summer days, tailgates, family gatherings and all-around pure joy. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as shoveling down a loaded (or, as the industry calls it, “slutty”—yes, for real) pulled pork sandwich—topped with coleslaw and sauce, of course—in between bites of mac and cheese, collard greens, hush puppies and other comforting signature Southern sides. (Hungry yet?) Barbecue brings people from all walks of life together—regardless of race, creed, social standing, gender or political belief, we can all agree on the Q (well, until we start hashing out sauce…). Barbecue isn’t just a method of cooking meat—it’s a celebration of time and place. It’s a tradition.

2020 was supposed to be the year of barbecue in the Triangle—but pandemic. Now, we’re finally starting to see some of those slated Q spots bow, joining the ranks of such time-honored joints as Clyde Cooper’s and Ole Time Barbecue. Enter Sam Jones BBQ, a long-awaited resto from one of the most prominent pitmasters in the state; Prime Barbecue from Christopher Prieto, a champion on the competition barbecue circuit who’s pumping out a style of ’cue that’s all his own—not to mention the forthcoming The Preserve from barbecue legend Ed Mitchell, with his son and the Moshakos family (of LM Restaurants fame—ya know, Taverna Agora, Vidrio, Carolina Ale House, to name a few).

Translation: It’s going to get a lot harder to choose your go-to Q spot now (and no one is complaining). Read on to get schooled on the new joints in town—and decide if you wanna try something new or kick it old school—or ’cue-hop to try them all (our rec!). Either way, there promises to be something (potentially sloppy, definitely delish) for everyone.


1647 Cole Mill Road, Durham |

Once a lawyer, Wyatt Dickson now lays down the law of traditional barbecue at PICNIC in Durham, with executive chef Chris McLaurin by his side. Dickson’s main mission is to preserve time-honored North Carolina-style barbecue, which, to him, means oak-smoked, locally raised, whole heritage-breed hog (sourced exclusively from Green Button Farm in Durham) that’s handpicked—never chopped—and served with Pig Whistle sauce (or “the Great Carolina Compromise,” as Dickson calls it), the ideal combination of Eastern and Western style sauces. Southern sides round out a truly mouthwatering plate that we dare you to leave a crumb on.

The Pit

328 W. Davie St. |

“Every culture has its food, and in the South, it’s barbecue,” says Greg Hatem, owner of famed The Pit, where you’ll find the Eastern NC traditional style of cooking barbecue that dates back hundreds of years (whole hog over a hot charcoal pit), only in a more elevated and upscale environment—think valet parking and a bourbon menu. Additionally, Hatem takes great pride in working with local farmers to source AWA-certified hogs (no added chemicals or hormones) and vegetables for The Pit’s delectable scratch-made sides—Brunswick stew, fried okra and heirloom cabbage collard greens are fan faves.

The Preserve

512 Creekside Drive |

Preserving the art, history and love of North Carolina barbecue is the main pillar of The Preserve, a premiere barbecue smokehouse from the Moshakos and Mitchell families—Ed Mitchell is a legendary pitmaster, and Lou Moshakos is the dining and hospitality titan behind LM Restaurants. Now, Ed’s son, Ryan, and Lou’s daughter, Amber, are taking the reins and opening The Preserve in the original Carolina Ale House location off Wake Forest Road. While there’s not an official opening date yet, Ryan promises that once the doors open, The Preserve will stay true to tradition, serving up whole-hog, Carolina-style chopped barbecue prepared with no added sugar and clean-ingredient sauces.

The BBQ Lab

North Hills Main District (4120 Main Street at North Hills, Ste. 135)
The Redneck BBQ Lab: 12101 NC-210 B, Benson |

Johnston County’s The Redneck BBQ Lab will debut its first franchise model, The BBQ Lab, in North Hills (opening date TBD). The new location will serve the same competition-style barbecue (including the rubs, “sawses” and techniques) that has won The Lab many BBQ competitions and awards over the years, plus offer up alcohol and a menu that will allow it to stay open for dinner. Founder Jerry Stephenson will keep the “redneck” in JoCo, but promises the North Hills location will continue to honor The Lab’s customer service-oriented mindset and core belief that “we are spreading love to each and every person we are honored to share our food with.” Amen!

Sam Jones BBQ

502 W. Lenoir St. |

Sam Jones has known barbecue his entire life. He grew up working at his grandfather’s iconic barbecue restaurant, Skylight Inn, before opening his own barbecue restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ, in Winterville in 2015. The integrity of true Eastern North Carolina barbecue that Jones and his family hold so near to their hearts is further preserved at Jones’ new Raleigh location, which officially opened in March. Jones’ signature style of chopped barbecue integrates crispy skins, which adds a nice, textured bite to a sandwich or tray of ’cue—and don’t forget the Skylight Inn-style cornbread. “That’s the way [barbecue’s] always been done in my family—and the way I’ll always do it,” says Jones.

Prime Barbecue

403 Knightdale Station Run, Knightdale |

When it comes to barbecue, owner and pitmaster Christopher Prieto is all about breaking the rules—and making his own. A former professional competition barbecue cook, Prieto traveled the country studying different techniques and barbecue-cooking methods until eventually creating his own fusion style consisting of sweet notes of Kansas City competition-style ’cue, what he calls “Texas pepper simplicity,” North Carolina vinegar and a light touch of his Puerto Rican heritage. His meats, sides and desserts are completely his own—a one-of-a-kind barbecue experience that’ll keep you driving back to Knightdale for more. “Our food is steeped in tradition but given new life,” Prieto adds. “No matter what you grew up with, good barbecue speaks for itself.”

Ole Time Barbecue

6309 Hillsborough St. |

According to co-owner Ben Hart, Ole Time Barbecue has been doing barbecue “since before it got cool.” It was always his dad and great-grandfather’s dream to open a BBQ joint—and though Hart’s great-grandfather passed away in the ’70s before he could see that dream realized, Hart’s father was able to take over Ole Time from its previous owner in 1993. The bright yellow restaurant is nothing fancy, but the barbecue is dependable and the tight-knit community vibe makes everyone who enters feel right at home. “We’re a little roadside barbecue joint, and that’s all we claim to be—and that’s all we’ll ever be,” says Hart. “We believe in giving the best product for a fair price and treating everybody with kindness.”

Longleaf Swine BBQ

300 E. Edenton St. |

Although Marc Russell and Adam Cunningham aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel when it comes to barbecue, their forthcoming restaurant is sure to keep things fresh and interesting. “We like to say if the traditional NC BBQ plate is Hank Williams, we try to be a little more Johnny Cash,” says Cunningham. Russell, Longleaf Swine’s pitmaster, delivers a Texas-meets-Carolina-style ’cue that’s influenced by his Puerto Rican background. Longleaf 2.0 (the original location was slated for Transfer Co. Food Hall) is a place not just for food, but experiences. Grab a pulled pork sando and stick around afterward for drinks with friends.

Lawrence Barbecue

900 Park Office Drive, Ste. 120, Boxyard RTP

Jake Wood’s almost-famous barbecue is rooted in his family’s tradition and recipes—served with the laid-back escapist vibe that has become his signature. At Lawrence Barbecue, he offers simple ’cue that anyone and everyone can enjoy, no matter the occasion. A sweet selection of sandos runs the gamut from pulled pork doused in equal parts Lawrence Leisure Sauce (tomato-based) and OG vinegar sauce to Texas-style brisket to fried chicken. Served with a side of Wood’s to-die-for mac and cheese, deviled egg potato salad or ’cue beans and an alcoholic icee from Lagoon Bar (which is housed upstairs from Lawrence Barbecue in Boxyard RTP), the entire experience is like something out of (pitmaster) paradise.

Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue

327 S. Wilmington St. |

Cooper’s is one of the longest-standing barbecue joints in Raleigh. Clyde Cooper opened the spot in 1938, and his original recipes have been passed down to his two successors—with some occasional updates. Current owner Debbie Holt moved Cooper’s to a new location around the corner from the premiere spot in 2014 but managed to take everything she could to retain the restaurant’s iconic vintage-looking feel, from the wooden booths to the green awning that now sits over the service counter. Today, the famed Q house’s chopped pork, traditional sides, decadent banana pudding and addicting sweet tea have stood the test of time for more than 80 years. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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