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North Carolina Barbecue (Lexington vs. Eastern vs. Contemporary, and 35+ Restaurants to Visit!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on April 18, 2024.

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North Carolina barbecue ranks just as high as politics on the list of things you don’t want to bring up at the dinner table or among strangers.

Slow-cooking meat and its four elements (smoke, acid, salt, and spice) aren’t unique to our state, but our version is certainly famous.

However, NC BBQ stands out because our pitmasters tend to their creation before and after smoking it. Lexington-style, Eastern-style, and many others have gotten us to today’s ‘cue.

In this guide, we’ll cover the differences, talk about the big names, and share our favorite North Carolina barbecue restaurants you need to visit and support.

And since there’s a lot to unpack in this post, this is how we’ve organized our approach to covering barbecue in North Carolina.

  • Fun NC BBQ Facts
  • The History of North Carolina Barbecue
  • Western/Lexington-Style Defined
    • Lexington-Style NC Barbecue Restaurants
  • Eastern-Style NC Barbecue Defined
    • Eastern North Carolina Barbecue Restaurants
  • Non-Traditional NC Barbecue Defined (Contemporary)
    • Contemporary Barbecue Restaurants

Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List

North Carolina Barbecue Facts

Note: A lot of the background information we’ll share was sourced from Holy Smoke. This essential read by John Shelton Reed goes into even greater detail about North Carolina barbecue’s roots, styles, restaurants, and much more.

Lexington barbecue pits image
  • In the late 1800s, there were two hogs for every human in the Southern states.
  • Even today, North Carolina has more hogs than people, only second to Iowa.
  • However, Smithfield Incorporated opened the world’s largest meat processing plant in Bladen County, North Carolina, in 1992. It processes over eight million hogs a year.

Read More: Interesting Facts about North Carolina

The History of North Carolina Barbecue

Read More: Awesome Things to Do in Wilmington

  • The state’s first sit-down barbecue restaurant was established in 1924. Bob Melton’s Barbecue in Rocky Mount wood-fired hogs until 2003 when their relocation after Hurricane Floyd proved unsuccessful.
  • But before Bob Melton, there was Reverend Adam Scott from Goldsboro. He started selling cue out of his back door in 1917. Scott’s BBQ is no longer operating but you can still get his famous sauce!
  • Can you imagine renovating a building only to come across the strong sweet smell of burnt hickory? In 2005, that’s exactly what happened at Lexington City Hall. Demolition crews uncovered pits from one of the city’s first brick-and-mortar restaurants, Beck’s Barbecue.
  • Learning under Sid Weaver, Alton Beck opened Beck’s on West Center Street in 1938 and remained open for 31 years. Now, a piece of NC BBQ history remains in uptown Lexington.

Lexington NC Barbecue vs. Eastern NC Barbecue

Lexington NC things to do image

There’s long been tension between East versus West when talking about North Carolina Barbecue.

  • It peaked in 1995 when the annual North Carolina Championship Pork Cook-Out (Eastern-style) occurred in conjunction with the Lexington Barbecue Festival.
  • In 2005, fourth graders from Lexington’s Friedburg Elementary School proposed the Lexington Barbecue Festival to become the official State Barbecue Festival. Backed by Davidson County Representatives, the bill sparked outrage and quickly died.
  • It was reintroduced in 2007 with a slight change and passed, making the Lexington Barbecue Festival the official “State Food Festival.” Even still, Senators across the state were not happy. Later revisions changed its moniker to the “Food Festival of the Triad.”

And that brings us to a breakdown of East versus West, with some barbecue restaurants you should visit in each region of North Carolina.

What is Western/Lexington-Style NC Barbecue?

Lexington-style barbecue history reads like a family tree, starting with Sid Weaver. In 1919 he started selling barbecue out of a tent in the middle of town.

Soon after, Jesse Swicegood joined him, and now Lexington is a hotspot for NC barbecue restaurants. These men trained other chefs, including Warner Stamey and even today pitmasters in Lexington, to use Weaver and Swicegood’s methods with only a slight variation.

Lexington-style uses only the pork shoulder smoked long and slow over hickory until it is fall-apart tender. Basted with a “dip” of tomato, vinegar, and perhaps some spice, the smoked meat is traditionally served with a slaw containing tomato, making it red.

Read More: 20+ Wonderful Things to Do in Lexington

Lexington-Style North Carolina Barbecue Restaurants

If you’re partial to Lexington-Style, then these places are where you’ll find the best barbecue in North Carolina.

  • Alston Bridges Barbecue (Shelby)
  • Bar-B-Q Center (Lexington)
  • Hursey’s Barbecue (Burlington, Graham, and Mebane)
  • Lexington BBQ
  • Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge (Shelby)
  • Smiley’s Lexington BBQ
  • Speedy’s Barbecue (Lexington)
  • Stamey’s Barbecue (Greensboro)

Alston Bridges Barbecue

Address: 620 E Grover St, Shelby, NC

Best North Carolina BBQ Restaurants Alston Bridges Shelby NC Image

You can’t talk about Cleveland County without Red and Alston Bridges. While it is often assumed that Red and Alston were related, they were not. Both men trained under Warner Stamey and continued his legacy of Lexington-style barbecue in Cleveland County.

Today, Reid Bridges continues his grandfather’s tradition of smoking delicious meat. Using the same distributor for his short shank shoulders that Alston did, this barbecue joint is packed from open to close.

With no fancy sides and just a couple of varieties on how you want your meat, Alston Bridges is where you go for juicy legacy barbecue.

Read More: The Best Things to Do in Shelby

Bar-B-Q Center

Address: 900 N Main St, Lexington, NC

You’d never know that this always-packed restaurant with the bright neon sign was once an ice cream store. One winter, when less ice cream was going out the window, a pork shoulder went in the pit and Bar-B-Q Center was born.

Many pork lovers come for the smoked meat, but smart ones leave enough room for their famous banana split! 

The 3.5 pound banana split is akin to an Olympic sport, where many have attempted to finish it but few actually do!

Read More: 15 Fantastic Restaurants in Lexington (Barbecue & More!)

Hursey’s Barbecue

South Church Street Address: 1834 S Church St, Burlington, NC
Corner of Westbrook & South Church St. Address: 2142 N Church St, Burlington, NC
Graham Address: 1234 S Main St, Graham, NC
Mebane Address: 428 Compass Dr, Mebane, NC

Searching for North Carolina barbecue near Raleigh and Greensboro? Try Hursey's!

Four generations have hickory-smoked pork shoulder for the people of Alamance County at Hursey’s.

Said to have started over some drinks and friends in their backyard, the Hursey family’s barbecue expanded into three locations.

And interestingly, you’ll find traditional white slaw instead of red at them all. Hursey’s smokes over 1,200 shoulders per week (75/25 percent hickory and oak), but their hickory-smoked ham is also well-loved!

Read More: Great Things to Do in Hickory

Lexington BBQ

Address: 100 Smokehouse Ln, Lexington, NC

NC Barbecue image

Carolina barbecue isn’t often considered refined, like what you’ll find at Lexington BBQ.

But in 2003, the James Beard Foundation awarded Wayne Monk an America’s Classic Award.

Wayne has been smoking meat since 1962, when he accidentally took a job at a local barbecue stand as a curb hop. When the restaurant was originally opened, it was called Honey Monk’s, a combination of Monk and his partner’s name.

They didn’t just serve barbecue, but after his partner left the business, Monk started focusing only on the barbecue and in 1980, changed the name.

Using mostly oak because too much hickory produces hot coals and can burn the hogs, Monk smokes his meat sans-marinade and sauces it on the plate. You’ll want a cold sweet tea while chowing down. Make sure to order some of Monk’s daughter’s peach cobbler!                  

Read More: Lexington NC Map of 20+ Attractions (+ 7 Surrounding Counties!)

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Address: 2000 E Dixon Blvd, Shelby, NC

NC Barbecue Restaurant Red Bridges Barbecue Shelby NC Image

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge has been smoking meat over hickory all night and day for 72 years. While Warner Stamey was in Shelby, he taught his technique of smoking pork shoulders over hickory coals to Alston Bridges and Red Bridges (again, no relation).

After Red’s passing, his wife Lyttle took over the business. She still makes an appearance occasionally, but their daughter runs the restaurant.

In true Western NC BBQ fashion, the pork at Bridges is served chopped or sliced and comes with a thick tomato sauce and tangy red coleslaw. If you want some extra veggies, ask for their famous barbecue saladlettuce, tomato-sauced barbecue, and house dressing.

Oh, and don’t forget to leave room for that banana pudding!

Read More: Restaurants in Shelby

Smiley’s Lexington BBQ

Address: 917 Winston Rd, Lexington, NC

NC BBQ Restaurants Smiley's Lexington BBQ Image

Smiley’s has smoked pork shoulder since the 1950s and remains a Western BBQ institution. Pitmaster Steve Yountz smokes his meat low and slow (10 to 12 hours) to maintain moisture, and you can taste his careful attention and patience.

Served with an authentic Lexington-style “dip,” Smiley’s is worth writing home to momma about!

Important note: Smiley’s is open on Sunday! Not only are they open, but they only serve their famous banana pudding and homemade Mac-n-cheese on Sundays!

Read More: 6 Unique Wineries in Lexington for Your Bucket List!

Speedy’s Barbecue

Address: 408 Piedmont Dr, Lexington, NC

Speedys barbecue lexington nc image

Toot! Toot! Speedy’s is one of the few barbecue establishments left in Lexington that does curbside service. With ‘cue and beyond flying out the window six days a week, it’s clear that Speedy’s is a popular choice among the locals.

Family-owned since 1970, Speedy’s is not only known for its fast service but also, its ginormous portions. Convince me otherwise, but a plate of barbecue from Speedy’s could arguably be breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

Read More: 50 of the Best Day Trips from Raleigh (Fun Getaways!)

Stamey’s Barbecue

Address: 2206 W Gate City Blvd, Greensboro, NC

Stamey’s is another great example of family connections within the NC BBQ community.

Lexington-style barbecue godfathers Jess Swicegood and Sid Weaver taught their style to Warner Stamey, who then shared secrets with his brother-in-law Alston Bridges and Red Bridges while in Shelby.

The pit building at Stamey’s in Greensboro is one of the largest and best equipped in the state, consisting of ten brick fireplaces lining a rectangular building. Stamey’s is still a family business (since 1930), with Warner’s grandson Chip Stamey running the pits.

Smoked over hot coals, shoulders typically take six hours. Stamey’s chopped barbecue and sweet tangy slaw are finger-licking good.  

Read More: 25+ Best Restaurants in Greensboro, North Carolina

What is Eastern-Style North Carolina Barbecue?

Eastern-style was a product of entrepreneurial spirit. Many restaurants were started as a way for pig farmers to generate more income.

While most of the establishments in Eastern North Carolina were white-owned, many of the cooks were African-American. The love for smoke, vinegar, and pepper transcended color in this part of the state, and everyone came together to love good ‘cue.

Eastern-style barbecue is whole hog, chopped, and served with traditional mayonnaise-based coleslaw.

Eastern-Style NC Barbecue Restaurants

If you’re on the side of Eastern NC, then these restaurants serve the best barbecue in North Carolina.

  • B’s Barbecue (Greenville)
  • Bum’s Restaurant and Catering (Ayden)
  • Gardner’s Barbecue (Rocky Mount)
  • Grady’s (Dudley)
  • Marty’s (Wilson)
  • Parker’s (Wilson)
  • Skylight Inn (Ayden)
  • Stephenson’s Barbecue (Willow Springs)
  • White Swan Bar-B-Q (Smithfield)
  • Wilber’s Barbecue (Goldsboro)

B’s Barbecue

Address: 751 State Rd 1204, Greenville, NC

Eastern North Carolina Bs Barbecue Greenville
B’s.

In a simple-looking corner building on B’s Barbecue Road in Greenville, there is magic happening inside. At B’s Barbecue, you either line up outside for to-go orders or step inside for a seat.

Regardless of what time you show up, there will be a line. Open from 9:30 am to whenever they run out, you’ll know if they’re open when cars overflow the parking lot out into the road.

Alongside the melt-in-your-mouth whole hog, you can find their vinegar sauce peppered in Crown Whiskey bottles throughout the building. Another unique detail at B’s is their crunchy, crispy, and oh-so-delicious cornbread sticks!

Read More: Restaurants in Greenville

Bum’s Restaurant and Catering

Address: 566 3rd St, Ayden, NC

North Carolina BBQ Restaurants Bums Ayden NC Image

Bum’s Restaurant in Ayden is family-owned and more than wood-smoked North Carolina barbecue. It’s been open since 1963 when “Bum” Dennis wanted to serve more than just barbecue and cooked-up country-style food for everyone to enjoy.

It is one of the only barbecue stops in Eastern North Carolina that has a stocked buffet table of freshly prepared sides, including black-eyed peas, boiled potatoes, and garden-fresh collards.

In addition to incredibly juicy, delicious barbecue, Bum’s also fries up some of the tastiest fried chicken. And when the lady building your tray asks if you want their World Famous Banana Pudding, say, “Yes, Ma’am.”

Read More: 50 of the Best Day Trips from Durham

Gardner’s Barbecue

Flagship Store Address: 1331 N Wesleyan Blvd, Rocky Mount, NC
Fairview Address: 835 Fairview Rd, Rocky Mount, NC
Westridge Address: 3651 Sunset Ave, Rocky Mount, NC

Restaurants in Rocky Mount NC Gardners Barbecue

Cooking up barbecue since 1972, Gardner’s is a third-generation Rocky Mount institution still run by family. Their flagship location’s all-you-can-eat buffet is affordable and offers incredible pulled pork, fried chicken, and Southern food at its finest!

There are two other Gardner’s locations in Rocky Mount, and each are waiting to provide you with a unique, delicious experience!

Read More: 15 of the Best Things to Do in Rocky Mount

Grady’s

Address: 3096 Arrington Bridge Rd, Dudley, NC

Southern Barbecue Gradys Dudley NC Image

Opening on July 4, 1986, Grady’s is an independence story for more than just when they first got started. Mrs. Gerri Grady had lost her job, and her husband, Steve, was inspired to find a way that they could work together.

Steve worked in a lumberyard which gave him great access to wood, so they started Grady’s cooking barbecue the old-fashioned way without any experience.

And as Mrs. Grady explained during our interview, they’ve been busy since day one. You’ll see why when visiting and tasting their whole-hog barbecue that’s woodsy, tender, and with bits of red pepper popping throughout.

Read More: Restaurants in Goldsboro

Marty’s Barbecue

Address: 2643 Ward Blvd, Wilson, NC

Martys BBQ Wilson

Marty’s BBQ is another North Carolina barbecue legend, and one that you need to visit. For more than 30 years, hot, smoky barbecue has been going out in trays to the hungry people of Wilson.

If you arrive and see a line of cars wrapped around the building, there could still be a seat or two available inside.

Come in hungry, and don’t skip the banana pudding after your epic plate of Eastern NC barbecue! Fried chicken is optional but highly recommended.

Read More: 40+ of the Most Amazing Museums in North Carolina (for ALL Ages!)

Parker’s

Address: 2514 US-301, Wilson, NC

North Carolina Barbecue Parkers Wilson NC Image

You know the moment you drive by Parker’s Barbecue that it’s going to be amazing.

The parking lot is packed from open to close and if you think you’re going to score a table on Mother’s Day, you’d better be ready to wait for a while!

Parker’s opened in 1946, and not much has changed since then.

The wait staff still wears paper hats and nicely pressed white shirts while carrying heavy trays as quickly as possible, keeping the service is just as good as the food. Up to 150 whole hogs get smoked each week and Parker’s serves more than 20,000 customers.

This is also one of the few barbecue joints in North Carolina that is open for breakfast. I mean, who wouldn’t want vinegar and peppery smoked delicious meat for breakfast!?

Read More: 16 of the Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens in North Carolina

Skylight Inn

Address: 4618 Lee St, Ayden, NC

Best BBQ in North Carolina Skylight Inn Ayden NC Image

Skylight Inn‘s motto reads, “If it ain’t wood-fired, it ain’t BBQ” and we can see why after visiting this spot in Ayden. Sam Jones is the seventh-generation pitmaster serving deliciousness inside this odd-shaped building resembling the US Capitol.

One of the best parts of their barbecue is the crunch from crackling chopped in the meat. That salty and crunchy texture mixed with the juicy smoked meat is something that I promise you will never forget.

Another remarkable appearance on the plate at Skylight is cornpone. Cornpone is a cousin to cornbread except it is denser because there are no eggs and sometimes even milk.

Instead, cornpone is made with drippings, which notably from Skylight come from the hogs themselves.

Note: Remember to bring cash and don’t forget to take home some pork rinds!

Sam’s Whole Hog BBQ features among 20-plus essential cookbooks from North Carolina chefs and food writers here.

Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)

Stephenson’s Barbecue

Address: 11964 NC Hwy 50 North, Willow Springs, NC

NC Barbecue Restaurants Stephensons Image

At Stephenson’s Barbecue, you’ll find red-checkered vinyl tablecloths, a bucket of perfectly crushed ice, and a pitcher of sweet tea along with some of the most delicious barbecue!

It’s cooked over coals for seven hours and turned for another two, all before the delicious juicy meat is then left in the pits for six to eight hours to smoke.

That causes the meat to drop slowly all night. It gets sauced in the kitchen, making the stuff from Stephenson’s BBQ perfectly moist without being greasy, and definitely worth traveling for!

Read More: Eastern North Carolina Map (with 300+ Amazing Places Listed)

White Swan Bar-B-Q

Brightleaf Blvd Address: 3198 S Brightleaf Blvd, Smithfield, NC
Wilson Mills Address: 3655 Wilson Mill’s Rd, Smithfield, NC

White Swan Bar B Q Smithfield Johnston County NC

Smithfield is another place that doesn’t disappoint when it comes to North Carolina BBQ Restaurants! White Swan is a popular barbecue place that’s been around for a long time, with two very good locations.

They serve homestyle breakfast, but the star to us is the lunch and dinner menu. Order a barbecue plate, fried chicken, and sides, and you’ll be hooked.

We certainly are!

Wilber’s Barbecue

Address: 4172 US-70, Goldsboro, NC

Goldsboro Restaurants Wilbers

Wilber’s is a true NC Barbecue icon. With a house-made vinegary sauce and a tradition of smoking whole hog since 1962, Wilber’s has been a favorite to the two barbecue addicts behind NC Tripping.

While the restaurant temporarily shut down in 2019, we are happy to report that it is back open! Local investors bought the Goldsboro restaurant and reopened in the spring of 2020 keeping the Wilber’s tradition alive. They have restored the building and have kept the pit-cooked barbecue we all know and love.

And don’t forget to get some of that legendary gravy meant for dipping hushpuppies!

Read More: 25 Wonderful Weekend Getaways in North Carolina (For Families, Couples, or Just Yourself!)

Non-Traditional, Contemporary NC Barbecue Restaurants

These restaurants don’t stay within the confines of “Lexington-style” or “Eastern North Carolina BBQ” but they’re absolutely worthy of a place at the table.

  • Adams Roadside BBQ (Goldsboro)
  • Boulevard Barbeque (Morganton)
  • Flat Rock Wood Room (Hendersonville)
  • Haywood Smokehouse (Dillsboro, Franklin, and Waynesville)
  • JD’s Smokehouse (Connelly Springs)
  • Johnny Ray’s Smokehouse (Fallston)
  • King’s Restaurant (Kinston)
  • Lawrence Barbecue (Durham)
  • Luella’s (Asheville)
  • Noble Smoke (Charlotte)
  • The Pedalin’ Pig (Banner Elk and Boone)
  • Picnic (Durham)
  • Pig and Grits (Burnsville)
  • The Pit (Raleigh)
  • Pop’s Butts on the Creek (Maggie Valley)
  • PRIME Barbecue (Knightdale)
  • Redneck BBQ Lab (Benson)
  • The Smoke Pit (Concord, Gastonia, Monroe, and Salisbury)
  • Southern Smoke BBQ (Garland)
  • Switzerland Cafe (Little Switzerland)

Adams Roadside BBQ

Address: 3451 US Hwy 70 W, Goldsboro, NC

Goldsboro Restaurants Adams Roadside

If you’re looking for more than Eastern barbecue, Adams is your answer! This place is where you go for incredible and expertly smoked meat, including pork, Texas-style brisket, Memphis ribs, smoked turkey, and chicken.

Found off the side of the road before you exit US 70 for Goldsboro, Adams gets rave reviews for their lean brisket and oh-so-cheesy mac-n-cheese. You’ll also want to stop here for elevated country flavors, especially for their homemade desserts.

And if you’re in Goldsboro and feeling something closer to town, Adams Downtown serves the same incredible food. Check out Wing Wednesday and the special Brisket Meatloaf for starters!

Boulevard Barbeque

Address: 810 S College St, Morganton, NC

Boulevard BBQ Best Morganton NC Restaurants

Boulevard Barbeque was founded in 2019 by two Mount Airy natives who had 17 combined years of experience in the restaurant industry.

One thing distinguishing Boulevard BBQ is that they slow-cook their fresh pork for sixteen hours in Hickory Wood. Additionally, all original sauces are made in-house by their “smokeologist.”

You can also choose beyond barbecue from their expansive menu that includes mouthwatering wings, sandwiches, chicken tenders, and more.

Read More: Linville Falls (How to See One of North Carolina’s Most Popular Waterfalls!)

Flat Rock Wood Room

Address: 1501 Greenville Hwy, Hendersonville, NC

Hendersonville Restaurants Flat Rock Wood Room

Located just outside downtown Hendersonville, the Flat Rock Wood Room is unlike any North Carolina restaurant we’ve visited! I mean, where can you find both wood-smoked barbecue and Neapolitan pizzas? 

Their Memphis-style barbecue (dry rubs and herbs instead of vinegar-based sauces) gives you a choice between melt-in-your-mouth ribs, candied burnt ends, or both. You decide.

Add in a great family-friendly environment, and you can see why we think this is one of the best restaurants in Hendersonville NC

Read More: 20+ Great Things to Do in Hendersonville and Nearby (+ Our Top 5!)

Haywood Smokehouse

Dillsboro Address: 403 Haywood Road, Dillsboro, NC
Franklin Address: 33 Macon Center Dr, Franklin, NC
Waynesville Address: 79 Elysinia Ave, Waynesville, NC

Haywood Smokehouse Waynesville

With three locations across Western North Carolina, Haywood Smokehouse has made its name one of the region’s best BBQ places.

The Waynesville-based restaurant prides itself on serving the best Texas-style barbecue outside of Texas and its dedication to the highest quality slow-cooking process.

We’ve enjoyed a meal here several times and cannot recommend the place enough! Haywood Smokehouse has fantastic service and invariably smoky and savory food.

We’ve tried the brisket, pulled pork, and collards and look forward to returning for more!

Read More: 20+ Great Things to Do in Waynesville and Nearby!

JD’s Smokehouse

Address: 500 Malcolm Blvd, Connelly Springs, NC

JD's Smokehouse in Connelly Springs is some of the tastiest barbecue in North Carolina, especially out west.

If you’re hungry and anywhere near JD’s Smokehouse in Burke County, then we know where you should stop. They woodsmoke everything, including pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and chicken.

During one stop, we loaded up on nearly all of it. I’d go with brisket if I knew this would be my last meal. Their sides are pretty amazing, too, and I can’t decide between their fried okra or sweet potato crunch when giving you a recommendation.

You can sample most meats and sides by bringing a few friends or family members.

Read More: 25+ Amazing Restaurants in Morganton and Nearby! (Map Included!)

Johnny Ray’s Smokehouse

Address: 4629 Fallston Rd, Fallston, NC

Johnny Rays Smokehouse Fallston NC Barbecue Restaurants

Did you know that there is only one barbecue restaurant in North Carolina that is farm-to-fork?

Johnny Ray’s Smokehouse (formerly The Honey Hog) in Fallston only smokes pigs raised on their farm 5 miles down the road, and you truly can taste the difference.

Nightly specials and the melt-in-your-mouth pork bring people from everywhere into this sleepy Cleveland County town. Johnny Ray’s smokey flavor is revolutionizing the barbecue world, and we are here for it!

King’s Restaurant

Three Kinston Location Addresses
405 E New Bern Rd, Kinston, NC
910 W Vernon Ave, Kinston, NC
2405 N Queen St, Kinston, NC

Eastern North Carolina BBQ Kings Kinston NC Image

With over three generations of smoke, King’s Restaurant in Kinston ensures you’ll “oink if you love barbecue.”

Frank King first opened up in 1936 as a country store and filling station outside his farm to supplement his income.

And now, with multiple locations, Kings fills bellies from “Murphy to Manteo.” If you’re feeling homesick for Eastern ‘cue, King’s ships with their Oink Express!

Read More: Restaurants in Kinston

Lawrence Barbecue

Boxyard RTP Address: 900 Park Offices Dr Suite 120, Durham, NC

box

Boxyard is also home to Lawrence Barbecue, which will always have a line. Bring your stretchy pants and order everything. Yes, everything.

Next door is their second concept Leroy’s Taco Shop, which was born out of demand for their birria tacos!

Read More: 10 Absolutely Delicious International Restaurants in Durham

Luella’s Bar-B-Que

Address: 501 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC

Restaurants in Asheville Luellas BBQ

Asheville isn’t the first place I’d think of NC barbecue being perfected but Luella’s Bar-B-Que gives us a delicious smoked meal every time.

Start with a Cheerwine, order the Eastern style pulled pork for a traditional experience, and get out of NC with a plate of brisket!

Luella’s uses pitmaster, Jeff Miller’s, Grandma Lue’s recipes. Although it’s a well-kept secret, taste the love and tradition in every bite and enjoy the smoke at this iconic Asheville restaurant

Read More: 30+ Great Things to Do in Downtown Asheville

Noble Smoke

Freedom Drive Location Address: 2216 Freedom Drive, Charlotte, NC
Optimist Hall Address: 1115 N. Brevard St., Charlotte, NC

Noble Smoke Charlotte restaurants

Enjoy wood-fired North Carolina barbecue AND Texas-style at Noble Smoke‘s two locations in Charlotte. With pits running 24 hours a day over sweet oak, the flavor of the meat takes center stage at this barbecue joint.

Everything is served a la carte, so we recommend bringing as many friends as possible. Just make sure you get some of that Lexington-style ‘cue when digging in!

Read More: 21+ Amazing Restaurants in Charlotte (Where to Eat in Queen City!)

The Pedalin’ Pig

Banner Elk Location Address: 4235 Hwy 105 South, Banner Elk, NC
Boone Location Address: 2968 NC-105, Boone, NC

The Pedalin Pig is one of the highest altitude barbecue restaurants in North Carolina.

Each Pedalin’ Pig location has its own distinct vibe. Banner Elk is the original, right across from Grandfather Mountain State Park‘s Profile Trailhead. And with a pond, waterwheel, and ducks outside, there’s more of a family feel in here.

In Boone, a lively bar compliments the delicious fall-off-the-bone meats that come out of this kitchen. No matter which restaurant you choose, you’ll be struggling for the right words to describe the amazing, locally sourced food!

Read More: Restaurants in Boone and Restaurants in Banner Elk

Picnic

Address: 1647 Cole Mill Rd, Durham, NC

Picnic Durham NC Barbecue Restaurants

Picnic is well-known for its whole hog BBQ and picnic tables outside. Go for the pulled pork or sway away from traditional NC BBQ with some brisket or some of their delicious fried chicken. 

Picnic pitmasters Wyatt Dickson and farmer Ryan Butler take farm-to-table seriously, with the distance from sty to fork a mere 12 miles.

Another thing we love about Picnic is that this North Carolina barbecue restaurant is just a short drive away from our favorite trails in Eno River State Park.

Read More: Restaurants in Durham

Pig and Grits

Address: 620 W Main St, Burnsville, NC

Pig and Grits NC Barbecue Restaurants in Burnsville North Carolina

It isn’t easy to attain the crown of the best barbecue in North Carolina, but you should consider voting for Pig and Grits. This Burnsville restaurant has perfected its cuisine across breakfast, lunch, and dinner to give you a slow-cooked option for three meals a day.

All their natural meats are smoked in-house over hand-cut hickory to bring the flavor home without shortcuts.

Can’t make it to the restaurant? Keep an eye out for the restaurant’s iconic food truck Pigs on Wheels.

Read More: 50+ Awesome Things to Do in Burnsville and Yancey County (and Nearby!)

The Pit

Address: 328 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC

The Pit is kind of a big deal, thanks to various press features on Food Network, the Travel Channel, NBC’s “The Today Show”, Bon Appetit, Southern Living, and many more outlets.

Compared to some of the other restaurants we’ve shared, The Pit is more upscale. Here, you can find craft cocktails, elevated Southern sides, and more than just pork.

Using only North Carolina pigs, The Pit is whole-hog and pit-cooked, located in both the warehouse district of Downtown Raleigh and a catering location Geer St in Downtown Durham.

Read More: Restaurants in Raleigh

Pop’s Butts on the Creek

Address: 1584 Soco Rd, Maggie Valley, NC

Butts on the Creek Maggie Valley

We couldn’t leave out Butts on the Creek BBQ!

Applewood smoked pork shoulder, ribs, fried corn on the cob, and homemade banana pudding from this BBQ restaurant will soothe your soul and fill your belly.

It’s one of our favorite places to stop in Maggie Valley, especially after a day of hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway and elsewhere.

Read More: Visiting the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley (+ 10 Things We Love!)

PRIME Barbecue

Address: 403 Knightdale Station Run, Knightdale, NC

PRIME Barbecue Knightdale NC image

From Champion pitmaster and celebrated chef Christopher Prieto, PRIME Barbecue is looking to making Knightdale, North Carolina a barbecue destination.

Shying away from North Carolina tradition, PRIME shines in their exquisite attention to detail to each meat smoked.

This barbecue restaurant is where you’ll find Texas, North Carolina, and Kansas City flavors fuse together.

Melt in your mouth brisket, perfectly hand packed sausages, and the best ribs you’ll ever taste; Prieto takes his years of barbecue research and perfects it on your plate.

Read More: Things to Do in Raleigh

Redneck BBQ Lab

Address: 12101-B NC Hwy 210, Benson, NC

Redneck BBQ Lab is our go-to spot when driving toward the coast. It sits in a prime location at Exit 319 off I-40, otherwise known as McGee’s Crossroads in Johnston County

Unlike most of the other locally-owned North Carolina restaurants you’ll find, this place proudly serves competition-style BBQ. At Redneck, you can order chicken, pork ribs, brisket, or pork shoulder.

Oh, and you can use the same rubs and sauces as they do in competitions. 

Hot Tip: Check their menu for specials, especially when those award-winning burnt ends are on the menu!

We also interviewed owner Jerry Stephenson before our first meal at Redneck BBQ Lab. You can read about it here.

Read More: 21 Great I-95 Exits in North Carolina That Lead to Adventures

The Smoke Pit 

Address: 796 Concord Pkwy, NC

The Smoke Pit Concord NC Barbecue Restaurants

The first of our favorite restaurants in Concord is a great stop for barbecue! The Smoke Pit is open for breakfast and lunch with large portions of smoked meat and house-made sides.

If you are looking for more than just NC barbecue, The Smoke Pit features Texas, Kansas City, and Memphis-style too! 

All of the meat is butchered on-site and smoked over local hickory for the best possible flavor. In case the name sounds familiar, the Smoke Pit has locations in Gastonia, Salisbury, and Monroe, too! 

Read More: The 20 Best Things to Do in Concord (Exciting Races + Great Places!)

Southern Smoke BBQ

Address: 29 Warren St, Garland, NC

In the tiny town of Garland, be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before, if not an hour, the sign flips to “open” at Southern Smoke BBQ. You’ll find people peeking into the window trying to get a look of what’s on the menu on Thursdays and Fridays when they’re open.

This outdoor seating-only restaurant often sells out before it’s closing time. That’s not surprising when you have a taste of the delicious stuff that Matthew Register puts out.

His ‘cue has a beautiful woodsy flavor hopefully, you’re lucky enough to be there on a day they’re serving ribs. After digging in, you might just think you’ve died and gone to culinary heaven.

Read More: Raven Rock State Park (The Overlook, Great Hikes, and More Things to Do!)

Switzerland Cafe

Address: 9440 NC-226A, Little Switzerland, NC

Switzerland Cafe North Carolina Barbecue in Little Switzerland NC

Don’t let the mountain location fool you, Switzerland Cafe off the Blue Ridge Parkway dishes up some pork that will make you oink!

If you mosey on to the back of this restaurant in Little Switzerland (an excellent day trip from Asheville), you’ll find an unsuspecting shed with latticework and a colorful mural.

That’s the pit that smokes tender, nutty pork. We’ve also been told not to miss out on their applewood-smoked trout!

Walk it off in the same group of shops, especially at Little Switzerland Books and Beans. This place is one of our favorite bookstores in North Carolina!

Read More: The Most Amazing Small Towns in North Carolina

Ready to Dig Into North Carolina Barbecue Now?

Writing about North Carolina barbecue is hard. We know that everyone has a favorite and that we may not have covered it. Our state is so incredibly lucky to have such a long and smoky history in pork.

We are most certainly grateful to work on this project. We look forward to sharing more barbecue restaurants as we experience them, and would love to hear from you, too.

What’s your favorite place to grab North Carolina barbecue? If it’s not on the list, we definitely want to know more and can’t wait to verify the deliciousness in person!

More Things to Do Beyond North Carolina Barbecue (NC Travel Guides)

We’ve created many more NC travel guides covering things to do, including and beyond North Carolina barbecue. Here are a few examples:

12 thoughts on “North Carolina Barbecue (Lexington vs. Eastern vs. Contemporary, and 35+ Restaurants to Visit!)”

    • Through the years I’ve eaten it’s some of these highlighted barbecue places that you mentioned in your article but I did not see the one in Smithfield North Carolina White Swan Barbecue

      Reply
    • I like Hog Heaven, too, but need more visits to be convinced, I think. Also, need to hit up Sauceman’s, so thanks for mentioning that one. Cheers, Steve.

      Reply
  1. There is a new bbq place in Wilson NC called Martys bbq. He is the son of Bill Ellis who ran Bills BBQ for many yrs before his death. Marty Ellis bbq taste a lot like his dad’s bbq. Anytime you in Wilson NC and want some good bbq give Marty’s bbq a try, you want regret it.

    Reply

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