I began the second day of my Piedmont Tour by driving a couple of hours south to Shelby to try Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge. I actually had scheduled the trip for the latter part of the week because Red Bridges is closed on Monday and Tuesday, and this was a place I wanted to try. Red Bridges had won the Garden and Gun barbecue bracket, defeating Scott’s, Bob Gibson’s, Joe’s Kansas City, Payne’s, and even Franklin’s of the Three Hour Wait and it’s massive publicity machine. I’m glad I took the drive. Red Bridge’s is great, absolutely great.
They’ve been in business since 1946. It looks like a barbecue place should, with a classic sign,
and a big pile of wood outside, right by that smoke-stained fire box and chimney.
All the tables were taken, so I (all too literally) bellied up to the counter and ordered a pork plate. The pork plate includes chopped pork, red slaw, baked beans, french fries, and, of course, hushpuppies. I asked that they substitute more slaw for the beans. As soon as my plate hit the counter, the server noticed that the plate had beans, and immediately brought a heaping bowl of slaw. The iced tea came with a full pitcher.
The meat was delicious. It was moist, tender, and flavorful, a wonderful blend of pork and smoke. The dip brought out the flavor and added just a touch of tang and pepper. I began to understand the Garden and Gun voters’ choice of Red Bridges as #1. The slaw was terrific — again, tangy and peppery. I ate every bite of the two servings. The hushpuppies were very large, each easily more than twice as large as the hushpuppies at my earlier stops. They managed, however, to get the center cooked through and the outside properly crisped. Excellent. I ate all five, or was it six … or seven? The french fries were fine, but the hushpuppies were real stars.
While eating, I struck up a conversation with, Mr. Joe Champion, who had taken the stool next to mine and ordered a barbecue sandwich. He’s born and bred in Shelby, and apparently a regular at Red Bridges. He’s a good man, and we had a just wonderful conversation. He ordered a second sandwich to continue it while I plowed through my plate. (That’s a whole lot of food for $10) Joe got me a cup of dip, which was good — I mainly used it for the french fries, since the meat was so good. He introduced me to everyone.
Bridges is now run by Red and Little Bridge’s daughter, Debby Webb, and her children, Chase Webb and Natalie Ramsey, who are as friendly as can be. Chase showed me a pit, now empty of the meat for lunch,
and the “resting” pit,
let’s take a closer look.
Beautiful. That’s where they keep the meat at about 175 degrees while it’s waiting to get chopped by Dante Parrot. Mr. Parrot is an artist, and a pleasure to watch as he quickly removes excess fat and prepares the meat for the customers.
The final product is wonderful. This could be the best of Western North Carolina barbecue. I need to go back and have a same-day comparison with Lexington #1.
Do not pass up an opportunity to eat the barbecue at Red Bridges. It’s only about 10 miles from I85, and only 36 miles from the Charlotte airport. It is well worth the drive. Actually, Red Bridges is well worth a 100 mile drive, or more. I’m more than thankful that I drive 460 miles each way to get there. The food is outstanding and, if you’re lucky enough to go there when Mr. Champion is there, your day will be complete.