The Bar-B-Q Center, Lexington, North Carolina

Continuing Day 2 of my the Ride through Hell. Recovery Tour, after lunch #2 at the Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham, I headed to Lexington. That’s the beating heart of North Carolina Piedmont Barbecue, one of the great styles of barbecue in the world, and home of the Barbecue Center.

I’ve posted about the Barbecue Center twice before, here and here. It’s a Lexington institution, the oldest barbecue place in Lexington that still cooks over a pit, and it has a huge following. The Barbecue Bros put it in the first rank among the many barbecue places in Lexington, right behind the magnificent Lexington Barbecue #1.

I got to the Barbecue Center a bit after 3:00 pm, the doldrums for restaurants in general and barbecue places in particular. And I’d already had that sandwich at Backyard and an earlier lunch at Longleaf Swine, and another barbecue place to hit after the Barbecue Center. I ordered a small barbecue tray ($7.95) with hushpuppies rather than a roll.

Let’s close in on those hushpuppies.

The hushpuppies were terrific. I’d been all day without a hushpuppy, and these were close to the Platonic ideal of hushpuppies, hot and crisp with a light cornmeal center. And the red slaw was superb, fresh, crunchy, and with that red slaw tang. The slaw perfectly balanced the heartiness of the hushpuppies and the pork.

The pork. Not so good. As you can see above it was a fine chop, and as often happens in the doldrums, it was, well, not quite as moist as I would like. That’s a mere venial sin, specially at that time of day. I mixed slaw with the meat to moisten the pork, and that certainly helped. I also tried sauce, or “dip” as it’s called in the Piedmont, to the meat. Aha!

Now, in the Piedmont, barbecue sauce typically includes some ketchup in addition to the vinegar and pepper that marks Eastern North Carolina barbecue. The vinegar balances the richness of the pork, and the pepper brightens it. See here. The ketchup softens this effect to a greater or lesser extent without removing it.

The Barbecue Center dip was heavy on the ketchup to the extent that ketchup was the dominant flavor.  That is what underlies my lack of enthusiasm for the Barbecue Center.

That said, the Barbecue Center certainly offers a lot to love. In addition to the superb slaw and hushpuppies, the Barbecue Center always has provided wonderful service. Various servers kept coming by and asking if everything was okay, if I wanted more Dr. Pepper, if I wanted more slaw (just a bit), more sauce, some dessert. That could have been annoying but for the sweetness of everyone there. When not trying to please the smattering of customers, they talked among themselves and about friends who were ill or had been injured on the job, and how they would help the families.

It bears reminding readers that many consider my tastes idiosyncratic. Most people like ketchup (I don’t use it except in horseradish-rich cocktail sauce) and sweet barbecue sauces. I’m a bit of a crank about both. I’ll probably go back to the Barbecue Center and get some chicken or a cheeseburger or a pimiento cheese sandwich –with some slaw and hushpuppies. You should give them some trade, too. You’ll love the prices and have a good meal with some fine people.


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9 thoughts on “The Bar-B-Q Center, Lexington, North Carolina

  1. If you haven’t had their banana split, you should. (Bring a friend: it’s huge.)
    One thing I like about the place is their attitude about their sauce. At Lexington Barbecue it’s treated as an “I’d have to kill you” kind of thing — a secret recipe known only to Wayne Monk and one other person, etc., etc. Sonny Conrad at the Barbecue Center was happy to share his recipe. You were welcome to try to make barbecue as good as his because he was confident you couldn’t.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. John, if you had dined here at 11:30, as your review implies, chances are good that you would indeed have found the meat to be more moist, and a better bite all around. While pork is more forgiving than brisket, early on in our own BBQ odyssey we decided that we would make a real effort to get to a ‘cue joint not more than 2 hours after the opening. It’s not always possible, of course, but we concluded that after the two hour mark what we were really judging was the warmer, not the finished product. We encourage every ‘cue fanatic we encounter to make BBQ a lunch rather than a dinner experience for this reason. Happily, we usually find that we are preaching to the choir!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s fair, although they keep it fresh — keep chopping it — all day at other NC top places — Red Bridges, Lexington #1, Bum’s, Skylight, to name a few — and you’ll see that in some coming reviews. Mainly, though, I think their sauce is too sweet for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is still hard to beat Lexington #1. Wade Monk has run a great place for as long as I can remember. I’m originally from Charlotte, now an Atlantan, and a Tar Heel. We never missed Wade’s place when going to games or even coming home. When I was coming home from School, I was charged to get some Q and slaw. I ate the hushpuppies as they don’t keep long anyway. I’m with you about Ketchup. A little is OK in the sauce. Ketchup on a hot dog is just sacrilege. My mother’s family was from Eastern NC and we ate at Parker’s a lot. Had family in Bethel. The cornsticks were to die for. I’ve been trying to make them for years and cannot even get close. GA has some OK BBQ, but nothing like Lexington. I make my own mostly now unless I’m looking for Brisket. I’ve only had bad BBQ once in my life. It was on US 441 near the FL border. It was a trap for tourists going to FL, of which I was one at the time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love your comment. It’s hard indeed to beat Lexington #1. It’s just wonderful.
      And you’re right about the corn sticks at Parker’s. Best anywhere, and much as I love hushpuppies, they can’t hold a candle to Parker’s. Bum’s in Ayden has good ones, too. I also love Parkers fried chicken.
      There are other great places. I’ve posted a Best in Eastern NC, and this last trip tees up a z best in the Piedmont And I’ll update the Best in the East in a month or so. Stay tuned!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I did a multi-state pork and people tour last April. On my first day I had barbecue twice (once at a forgettable place in Petersburg and once at the Pit in Raleigh). And my plan for the second day was to eat lunch Red Bridges Barbecue in Shelby and a takeout dinner from Heirloom Barbecue in Atlanta. So I was planning to skip breakfast to conserve stomach space.

    But as it happened, logistically the best place to spend the night turned out to the be the Holiday Inn in Lexington and I managed to sleep pretty late, and a small tray at the Barbecue Center called out to me for a late 11 a.m. breakfast.

    Although it wasn’t quite as good as Lexington #1, it was very good and certainly wasn’t dry. The hush puppies were superb.

    Liked by 1 person

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