Deep in the throes of the Piedmont Region in North Carolina (a large plateau that lies in the middle of the state in between the coastal plains to the east and the Smoky Mountains to the west) lies a town many people consider to have the best BBQ in the world. Lexington NC BBQ is steeped in a rich, cultural history where Pork is the coveted meat for smoking in pits over hot coals.
In Lexington, pork and more specifically, pork shoulder is the only meat worth mentioning as the true medium to display authentic barbecue technique. Learn the beginnings of how this cuisine erupted in the region and established foot holds all over the South.
It’s easy to claim pork as the rightful meat of choice for North Carolina BBQ and be done with it, but in Lexington, you’ll have to be more specific than that. Whereas its Eastern counterparts don’t mind using most parts of the pig, or even the whole hog as part of their offerings, Lexington specifically calls for the shoulder and only the shoulder.
And while we’re at it, don’t bother pulling apart the meat either. Lexington NC BBQ cooks the shoulder, bone in, low and slow over smoke produced from the embers of hot coals laying in large pits.
It is declared done once the meat is fall off the bone tender.
Then the meat is chopped up with butcher knives and served with a ketchup-based sauce mixed with vinegar and spices. The red sauce is even used as a base for coleslaw.
Barbecue first took off in Lexington way back in 1919 when Sid Weaver set up a tent in the middle town. Weaver was inspired to smoke pork shoulder over hot, hickory coals by tobacco farmers who were using the technique to cure their tobacco leaves.
The Father of Lexington Barbecue, as he is often called, originally fed the pork to farm hands and friends . Soon after, Weaver started appearing at a family orchard where he would cater to crowds gathered at special occasions that were thrown there.
As demand grew, Sid opened his first stand where it was a huge hit which drew large crowds that would gather when the local court was in session (this ensured there were large crowds in the area).
Soon after, a local farmer, Jesse Swicegood opened another tent serving smoked pork shoulder across from Sid Weaver’s. The two, in fact, would store wood in the same area. He later moved across the street into a building where his son, Jimmy, had a furniture store.
It wasn’t long until more and more barbecue establishments followed suit, cementing Lexington as a staple in the region.
From the beginning, barbecue in North Carolina has always been about the pig. The reason can be summed up as 1-part tradition, 1-part availability.
Since the 1500’s when conquesting Spaniards first introduced the animal to North America , the pig has always flourished in the state. Cattle, for whatever reason, has not. So, when the cooking method was first introduced by slaves who passed through the West Indies where it originated, the pig was the main ingredient.
It’s been that way ever since, even as cattle and other meats are no longer restricted to regional availability due to modern trade.
Simply put, in the Carolinas, BBQ = Pork.View Pit Boss Pork Recipes
While most of the region agrees that BBQ = Pork (there are some who will allow chicken), Lexington takes things a step further, typically serving only the shoulder.
Why is this you ask?
It can be argued that the meat in the pork shoulder absorbs the smoke’s flavor more than another other part of the pig and that flavor is what makes for truly authentic BBQ.
True BBQ patrons and enthusiasts in North Carolina believe that BBQ isn’t just something you do, it is also something you cook. And that something is a pig cooked low and slow over hickory coals whose result is a tender meat with strong, smoky flavors.
Because of this, Lexington BBQ pit masters prefer the shoulder since it is the one cut that can absorb the most of that true hardwood smoke flavor.
Everything else is a waste of time and wood.
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