About Regional Flavor
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.
North Carolina Regional Specialties
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.