According to USA Today readers, the best barbecue in North Carolina is to be found at Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Cleveland, North Carolina.
Now, North Carolina is blessed with two separate and distinct barbecue styles, Eastern whole hog with vinegar and pepper sauce, and Western pork shoulders with vinegar, pepper, and ketchup sauce. Each can be very, very good, and I personally avoid comparing barbecue places that have different styles — places that are trying to accomplish different things. That said, Red Bridges is, at minimum, one of the two best Western North Carolina barbecue places. The meat there is moist, tender, and smoky, beautifully balanced by the tang and bite of their “dip”; and their slaw and hush puppies are works of art. Chase Webb and Natalie Ramsey are lovely people who really know what they are doing when it comes to barbecue, and they are doing it beautifully. It is a joy to eat there.
And this is not the first win for Red Bridges. They won the 2015 Garden and Gun barbecue bracket contest for best barbecue the South back in 2015, defeating SAW’s, the favorite of Eric Lee, in the final after edging out both Lexington #1 and the Skylight Inn. They also were proclaimed the best barbecue in the US by the hipster readers of Thrillist, of all people.
Y’all know what I think of “best” lists — not much — and the readers of USA Today n this case are particularly eccentric in their choices. Look at the rest of the USA Today top 10. Ridiculous. Of course, USA Today is read exclusively by people staying in motels, so their choices are not necessarily locally well-informed. And the pairings in the Thrillist brackets ask for comparisons of radically different barbecue styles — apples and orangutans, really. The Garden and Gun readers’ choices make much more sense, but again they offer a lot of choices between different barbecue styles. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Red Bridges is really, really good. Try it, even if it means flying into Charlotte, renting a car and driving 30 or so miles. You’ll thank me.
Remember, however, that North Carolina has those two different barbecue styles. You may prefer one or the other, just a you may prefer one type of apple over another. Which is better is not a productive argument. For the very best Eastern North Carolina, head straight to Ayden and Bum’s Restaurant. You’ll love the oak-smoked meat with a nicely calibrated chop, tender and flavorful with an excellent Eastern North Carolina sauce. Oh, and their collards, corn sticks, and banana pudding go beyond good. They are treasures. Whatever style of barbecue you like, put Bum’s near the top of your culinary bucket list, right next to Red Bridges.