Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q, Willow Springs, North Carolina

After my two early lunches at the Southport Smokehouse and the Leland Smokehouse down in Brunswick County, I waddled up north to the Stephenson’s in Willow Springs. I’d been there once before during the height or depths of the pandemic, and had to settle for a carry-out plate with some pork, slaw, green beans, and hushpuppies, which I ate on the front seat of our car. Did I tell you we got new seat covers?

Despite the less than perfect conditions, the barbecue was good enough not only to put Stephenson’s on the list of the Ten Best Eastern North Carolina Barbecue Places, but also good enough for me to shift the boundary of Eastern North Carolina ten miles west of I-95. (That’s my redistricting work training kicking in.)

Stephenson’s is a big brown barn of a place.

The building isn’t what I’d call cheery, but Stephenson’s is quite attractive inside. One whole wall is open, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a pond and a small pines forest. Off to one side is a well maintained garden.

I arrived around 2:30 or so, but there were still a good number of people eating. The server materialized immediately in a cloud of good cheer to give me a menu and my choice of a pitcher of water or iced tea. I placed my order, looked up, and hushpuppies were on the table,

followed by. a plate of food while I was just starting my second hushpuppy.

I had ordered a combination plate of pork and chicken. The menu said they had collards “in season,” which had not yet arrived, so I got slaw and green beans as my sides.

The bill was all of $8.75, for which in DC I might be able to get half a hamburger.

First the pork. It was wonderful, easily the best of the trip. You can see the medium chop, and you can only, in your wildest dreams, taste the pork and smoke flavor, and the touch of a nice vinegar-pepper sauce. Wow. Just wow.

As I had at Grady’s, I expected to get fried chicken when I ordered the combination plate. Unlike Grady’s, this chicken was great, tender, moist, and smoky. David Sanders says I really need to demand fried chicken at Grady’s, and I trust him. Stephenson’s chicken reminded me of the chicken at noble B’s, than which there is no higher praise, except maybe the chicken at Archibald’s of the Heavenly Ribs. Between the pork and chicken, Stephenson’s is a legitimate contender for the top spot in the East.

The slaw was good, as always seems to be the case in North Carolina. Stephenson’s had some pickle, which I’d rather not have, but it was fresh and refreshing. The green beans, though, were flawless, good Southern green beans. Oh, I forgot the hushpuppies. Very good. The crust could have been harder, but they were just the thing to soak up the pot likker from the green beans.

What a meal! And what nice place. People at different tables were chatting, especially after a man came in and played a few notes on the piano. (Yes, there’s a stand-up piano in the dining room.). The service, the setting, the people, and the food all were great.

I dragged myself away, hopped in my car, and headed north to see my brother Jim and his wife Cantey up in Raleigh. As I was driving off I noted Stephenson’s Nursery next door, and later kicked myself that I didn’t stop and buy some deer-resistant shrubs, but I was eager to see Jim and Cantey. Jim had a detached retina while they were in Italy. It was pretty serious, as it affected his depth perception and caused him to spill some wine. Che perdita! I got up there and we all had a nice visit. They’re really good people.

What a great day. You really want to go to Stephenson’s. Really. Do. No need to thank me.


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3 thoughts on “Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q, Willow Springs, North Carolina

  1. This is another place that I have had somewhat mixed results. I’ve loved it at its best, but it hasn’t always been at its best when I’ve been there. I don’t go on every trip, unlike some of the others.


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