What To Eat in North Carolina
North Carolina is one of the top barbecue states, but from the ocean to the mountains, exactly how the barbecue is cooked and served varies dramatically. Connoisseurs in the east and central parts of the state want whole hog ‘cue (although some prefer just the shoulders) hacked to smithereens and just barely moistened with vinegar pepper sauce. Side dishes include boiled potatoes in the east and Brunswick Stew and hushpuppies in the center of the state. To the west, sauce begins to contain tomatoes and is a more significant presence on the plate.
Beyond smoke-cooked pig, North Carolina’s prime attractions are fresh Mid-Atlantic seafood, some of the nation’s best fried chicken, country ham, and superior biscuits.
Outstanding fried chicken is a staple throughout North Carolina, but Keaton's of Statesville takes it to a higher plane. Once fried to a crisp, pieces of juicy bird get a quick dip in Keaton's zesty hot sauce, which somehow gets sucked through the skin and into the meat down to the bone. The result: a taste-buds trip in a class of its own.
It might seem odd to list slaw as a Tarheel specialty. Slaw is everywhere and, really, how good could it be? In the barbecue parlors at the center of the state, it can be the star attraction. Mixed with house-made sauce and God-know-what other ingredients that chefs tend to keep secret (pimento cheese? curry powder? hot peppers? tart pickles?), it can serve as a salad, a dip, or the secret element of meat loaf. But it reaches fullest glory when piled atop a mound of smoke-cooked pork.
There are literally dozens of styles of barbecue across the wide state of North Carolina. Lexington-style is king: pork shoulders cooked over wood coals until fallapart tender, dressed with minimal vinegar-based red sauce. Have a platter or sandwich, sliced or chopped, and ask for extra pieces of crunchy skin.
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A Gaston County treasure known for big plates of catfish, flounder, shrimp & oysters (with hushpuppies, natch), Long Creek Fish Fry is a Carolina best.
Lexington Barbecue #1 has defined North Carolina excellence since '62. Smoky pork is a festival of tenderness with crunchy bits from the shoulder's outside.
A restaurant boasting affiliation with the Asheville farmers market, Moose Cafe serves traditional southern fare from biscuits & apple butter to fruit cobbler.
Hot dogs, hamburgers, fries & shakes come long, tall and large at this Hendersonville, North Carolina, drive-in style restaurant that is an all-American hoot.
Foot-long hot dogs, giant burgers, chopped BBQ, plus brash drive-through service make Jay Bee's a favorite North Carolina destination.
A French bakery with kitsch decor, Amelie's is a 24/7 beacon of croissants, quiches, tarts, tortes, sandwiches, soups and salads plus coffee in every good form.
A pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch diner in Mount Airy (Andy Griffith's Mayberry) comes with a slew of condiments that add up to an American best!
Rocky Mount's Prime Smokehouse offers BBQ ribs and pork in a vinegar sauce, plus good sides. Spiced bread pudding, served with gelato, earns high marks.
The Burlington location of Hursey's BBQ has been around since 1960, serving classic North Carolina-style pork, plus ham and chicken and good sides.