R.O.’s Bar-B-Cue | North Carolina BBQ & Best Slaw

Review by: Michael Stern

Slaw Matters

Barbecue slaw, which adds sauce to the familiar chopped-cabbage salad, matters greatly in this part of North Carolina. Nowhere do people hold it in such high esteem as at R.O.’s, which just may serve the best slaw anywhere. Billed as “sauce, slaw & dip,” the soupy emulsion draws some customers who come for nothing but a slaw sandwich. That’s a thick layer of sauce in a well-toasted bun, no meat whatever. R.O. sauce is a shade darker than coral pink. It makes me think of 1000 Islands dressing (but only vaguely). Its flavor notes include pickly sweetness and enough cayenne pepper zest to rouse taste buds to attention. Might there be there a hint of pimiento cheese in it?

Of course, R.O.’s customers buy the slaw to accompany barbecue. They also take it home to use as an ingredient in meat loaf and a sauce for cocktail shrimp. It serves as a hamburger condiment and a dip for chips or crudités. The recipe dates back to 1946 when Robert Osy Black opened his barbecue restaurant and made his wife Pearl’s specialty condiment part of the menu.

Blue-Ribbon BBQ

If you are coming to R.O.’s, I do not recommend ordering a slaw sandwich. You will like it, for sure. But you’d regret not having the slaw in concert with R.O.’s barbecued pork. The pork ranks as some of North Carolina’s best. They cook it the old fashioned way, with hickory smoke. The pale meat emerges from the pit so creamy and rich and moist that no sauce is necessary. But, oh, what great companions the pork and slaw make! You can get the pork sliced or chopped. The latter sports texture that is more fun. Slices define tenderness.

Signature Drink

Ice tea and soda come in 16, 24, and 32 ounce tumblers. But if you really want to go local, have the R.O.’s specialty, Cherry-Lemon Sun Drop. Imagine a cross between Mountain Dew and Hawaiian Punch.

A Place to Contemplate Great BBQ

Aside from the best slaw and superb BBQ, R.O.’s earns Roadfood respect because it exudes grand, well-weathered character. Casual manners rule. That means that you order at the counter and fetch your own tray when your number is called. The dining room to which you take the tray (after stocking up on napkins at a service bar) might remind you of an old-fashioned tea room. Décor includes potted plants and wallpaper of which a Victorian grandmother would approve, complete with fancy border all around the top. A hushed reverence prevails in the dining room. So many great BBQ parlors offer a place not only to enjoy their food, but to peacefully contemplate it.

What To Eat

Barbecue Plate

Grilled Pimento Cheese

Cherry-Lemon Sun-Drop

Sauce, Slaw & Dip

Slaw Sandwich

BBQ Sandwich

Hush Puppies


R.O.’s Bar-B-Cue | North Carolina BBQ & Best Slaw Recipes


What do you think of R.O.’s Bar-B-Cue | North Carolina BBQ & Best Slaw?

4 Responses to “R.O.’s Bar-B-Cue | North Carolina BBQ & Best Slaw”

Johnny Twobad

August 7th, 2022

Most know that North Carolina is a long state, east to west, and there are two primary styles of BBQ, with ‘cue in Eastern North Carolina being sauced with a vinegar and pepper sauce, while western Carolina adds tomato or ketchup, butter, and sugar. As you get to the center of the state, you need to ask what kind of sauce and cooking style they use.
Since Gastonia is just west of Charlotte, maybe you should have specified how the ‘cue is cooked.


Michael F Byers

October 14th, 2021

I saw your review and RO’s just struck a chord so I went this week.Delicious BBQ and the slaw was amazing. Not anything like I ever tasted before. The cherry lemon Sundrop,with lemon slices was the perfect accompanying beverage.


    Kaarina Aufranc

    October 28th, 2021

    That is so good to hear. I’m jealous and wish I could eat there right now.


Chris & Amy Ayers

January 29th, 2008

Since 1946, R.O.’s Bar-B-Cue has been a household name in greater Gastonia, thanks to their famous spicy barbecue coleslaw. This tasty condiment not only tops R.O.’s tender pork barbecue sandwiches but is also sold by the tub as a savory dip for chips and crackers. Back in the ’40s, Robert Osy “R.O.” Black’s wife, Pearl, developed her own recipe for this mouthwatering slaw and made it with a hand grater in her kitchen. Demand for their “sauce, slaw & dip” became so high in recent times that the third-generation family owners built a production facility across the street from their original restaurant, located midtown at the edge of a quiet neighborhood.

R.O.’s specializes in three of our favorite Southern delicacies (pimento cheese, BBQ, and Cherry-Lemon Sun-Drop), so we began with a grilled sandwich with their homemade pimento cheese. Also available in local grocery stores, this semi-spicy cheese is delicious right out of the fridge, but when melted, it attains a new taste level altogether. Thinly spread on regular white sandwich bread, grilled until light brown, and wrapped in wax paper, this was a mere appetizer to our main course of BBQ.

Though they do offer it sliced, we chose minced in the BBQ plate. Boasting enough meat for two sandwiches, the pork is finely minced, almost ground, with a tinge of smoke flavor. Its inevitable dryness begs to be complemented by the spicy slaw, which helps to hold the meat together on the two buns provided. These brown-topped rolls are pressed flat on the grill, so that every bite has a wonderful crunch. A scattering of both onion rings and fries, plus a small tub of mild baked beans, rounded out this meal made for two.

R.O.’s third specialty, and one that reaches further across area counties and over the line into South Carolina, is their homemade Cherry-Lemon Sun-Drop. Tasting like a more citrus-y Mountain Dew, Sun-Drop is a delicious soda bottled in the South, and R.O.’s mixes it with another Southern favorite, Cheerwine cherry soda (while others use cherry syrup), and serves it with a squeezed lemon wedge. The iced tea is also very good and not too sweet.

R.O.’s remains one of the few places in this corner of the state that offers curb service. On our visit, we hadn’t even pulled into a parking space before a teenaged hop waved at us, asking if we wanted to order outside. We pointed to the front door, indicating that we were heading for the dining room. After eating, we picked up pint tubs of pimiento cheese and slaw (the latter does come in gallon containers) to take home.


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