The North Carolina BBQ Trail is one insane road trip to 23 of the state’s very best barbeque restaurants. Are you up for it?
North Carolina is serious about its barbeque. A discussion with any North Carolina resident and you’ll surely get an opinion on Lexington-style or Eastern-style and a list of their favorite spots to eat both. With so many great barbeque restaurants spread across the state, how does one even begin to try and visit the best ones? Well, thankfully the NC Barbecue Society has hand-picked their favorites and pulled them together in one unbelievable road trip: the North Carolina BBQ Trail.
Here’s a little about each place on the trail… (East to West)
Skylight Inn (Ayden)
For over 70 years, Skylight Inn has been doing BBQ right. Cooking the old-fashioned way with heaps and heaps of wood, their barbecue just may be the best in the world. (Seriously, National Geographic even said so in 1979). The accolades for the Skylight Inn’s barbeque are well documented… Practically every major food magazine and tv show has made a stop at Skylight Inn over the years, and for good reason. It’s just that good. It’s so good, it’s even been served to US presidents. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a politician (in fact, we’d all probably prefer if you weren’t) to enjoy this first stop on the BBQ trail.
B’s Barbecue (Greenville)
Unpretentious is the word to describe B’s Barbecue. This simple little lunch counter has been serving up some of the state’s best BBQ with no frills since the 1970s. Wildly popular both in Greenville and across the whole state of NC, their BBQ flies out the door each day just as fast as they can serve it up. They’ll stay open until the meat runs out, so if you want some, don’t wait until later afternoon.
Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place
There’s nothing better than a father-son story, and this is one of those. Jack Cobb worked for years as a barrel-maker for the tobacco industry while doing a little oak-wood bbq on the weekends. Once the secret of his delicious food was out, it was time to finally open his own shop. Today, his son Rudy still does it his father’s way, and it’s delicious. They’re only open Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, so plan ahead, but know it’s so worth it.
Wilber’s Barbecue (Goldsboro)
Like Skylight Inn, Wilber’s Barbecue has hosted its fair share of presidents and dignitaries over the 50+ years its been in operation. These days, they’re still a favorite for any eastern NC barbecue aficionado with their oak-wood barbecue pork. If you want to try the standard-bearer of eastern North Carolina barbecue, Wilber’s is the place for you.
Grady’s Barbecue (Dudley)
When life hands you lemons… Make barbeque. At least that’s what Gerri and Steve Grady did when Gerri lost her job after an injury in 1986. The two opened Grady’s Barbeque and the rest, as they say, is mouth-watering history. Slow-smoked over wood on open pits, their barbeque is everything you dream of when you think of eastern NC bbq, and their home-cooked veggies and hush puppies help round out the perfect bbq meal.
Stephenson’s Barbecue (Willow Springs)
It all started in the 1950s when Paul Stephenson realized he could make more money turning his hogs into bbq than selling them to other people. Lucky for us, he was darn good at turning them into bbq, too. Today, Stephenson’s Barbecue is legendary for smoky flavors and near-perfect barbecue.
Allen & Son Barbecue (Chapel Hill)
The taxidermy on the walls… the bbq pits out back… This is a classic bbq joint through and through. Their barbecue is sauced at the smokehouse and has a perfect taste so you don’t even need any sauce at your table. Pair it with some of their tasty slaw and you’ve got a top-notch meal in front of you.
Hursey’s Barbecue (Burlington)
Yet another excellent barbecue restaurant that’s had the privilege of serving presidents and celebrities, Hursey’s Barbecue is a Burlington institution. It all started in the 1940s when Sylvester Hursey and his wife Daisy started serving their bbq to neighbors and friends. Over the years, Hursey’s Barbecue has won award after award (including best of the Carolinas), and today the family business spreads itself across multiple locations, each with the same tradition of excellence.
Stamey’s Barbecue (Greensboro)
With 10Best’s #1 BBQ pork sandwich in the whole state, Stamey’s Barbecue is a must-eat for any barbecue lover. Their tradition of great grub dates all the way back to the 1930s and little in their methods of wood cooking has changed over the past several decades. It’s also no secret more than one of the other pitmasters on this list trained under founder Warner Stamey. Stamey’s is like the Godfather of NC barbecue.
Oh, one more thing… you should save a little room for their out-of-this-world peach cobbler.
Short Sugar’s Pit BBQ (Reidsville)
With the look and feel of a 1950s diner, Short Sugar’s Pit BBQ is a delightful walk back in time. The unique name is a memorial to the founding brothers’ late sibling, Eldridge Overby (nicknamed Short Sugar), who passed away in a car accident just days before the restaurant opened. Between the tasty food, touching namesake, and the time-machine-feel of the place, Short Sugar’s is one of our favorites on the trail.
Fuzzy’s BBQ (Madison)
Don’t let the nondescript exterior of Fuzzy’s fool you… The good stuff is on the inside. The Nelsons have been serving up Madison’s best bbq since way back in the 1950s, and judging by the continual crowd of folks flowing in and out, it’s just as popular today as ever.
Hill’s Lexington BBQ (Winston-Salem)
The birthplace of “Lexington Style” bbq in Winston-Salem, Hill’s Lexington BBQ started back in the 1950s when founder Joe Allen Hill brought Lexington-style bbq to town. The smokey meat with hot and peppery sauce caught on and these days Hill’s Lexington BBQ is still some of the best Lexington-style bbq you’ll ever find.
Note: The “BBQ Trail” lists Little Richards on Country Club Rd. in Winston-Salem. The founders of Little Richards eventually split ownership as they grew to multiple locations. The original Little Richards is now “Real Q,” and Little Richards Bar-B-Que has 4 locations across the area.
Real Q (Winston-Salem)
The name may have changed, but the wood cooked barbecue remains unrivaled in Winston-Salem. For folks familiar with Real Q, owner Richard Berrier is the king of barbecue and none do it better. They have two locations these days, but you’re going to want to visit the original on Country Club Rd.
Little Richards Bar-B-Que (Multiple Locations outside Winston-Salem)
Like all the restaurants on the trail, Little Richard’s Bar-B-Que‘s menu features delicious pork BBQ, but they also feature a darn good brisket and even smoked sausage. No matter which location you visit, you’re sure to walk away satisfied. Little Richard’s also serves up a huge selection of craft beers to help wash down that delicious bbq.
Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia (Arcadia)
Another Lexington-style bbq spot, Speedy Lohr’s BBQ is the result of years of the Lohr family learning from the best and putting their own delicious spin on it. Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia shouldn’t be missed.
Smiley’s Lexington BBQ (Lexington)
Smiley’s Lexington BBQ has changed hands several times over the years, but the tradition of real-pit cooking has remained through the decades. Today, their Lexington-style barbecue is served up in an unpretentious setting, and you can even get a little curbside pickup if you’re in a hurry. In a town known for barbeque, Smiley’s is still a local favorite.
The Barbeque Center (Lexington)
From the moment you see their classic neon sign, you know you’re in for a treat… Downtown Lexington’s oldest pit-cooking bbq joint, The Barbecue Center was originally just meant to supplement an ice cream parlor in the winter. These days, they still serve ice cream but it takes a backseat to their mouth-watering bbq. The entire place just looks, feels, and tastes exactly the way you hope it would. No wonder it’s still collecting accolades and making the news. (Oh, and if you have room after your bbq, try their massive banana split!)
Note: Lexington Barbeque isn’t on the official BBQ Trail, but we feel it would be criminal to be in Lexington and not hit up Lexington Barbeque. So… We’ve included it here:
Lexington Barbeque (Lexington)
Old-school and delicious, Lexington Barbeque is widely hailed by bbq experts as one of the best bbq spots in the south. Founder Wayne Monk studied under the famous bbq guru Warner Stamey before opening Lexington Barbeque in 1962, and it’s been a standout for Lexington-style bbq ever since.
Richard’s Bar-B-Que (Salisbury)
With a good country vibe and massive hush puppies, Richard’s Bar-B-Que doesn’t disappoint. Their hand-chopped pork brings you in the door, but their slaw and hush puppies bring you back.
Wink’s Barbeque (Salisbury)
Cooked low-and-slow, the pork at Wink’s is wonderful, and the wood paneling, tin signs, hush puppies, and slaw all back up the bbq for a pretty great experience.
M&K Barbecue & Country Cooking (Granite Quarry)
Opened in 1990 by a former truck driver, M&K Barbecue & Country Cooking is a local mainstay with its tasty bbq served in pretty epic portions. If someone with you isn’t a bbq person, their full menu of other country classics are satisfying as well.
Carolina Bar-B-Q (Statesville)
This classic bbq spot recently closed after the owners decided to retire. We were fortunate to have eaten there a time or two, but hey, they worked hard and deserve to relax!
Switzerland Cafe and General Store (Little Switzerland)
Talk about charm in spades… The Switzerland Cafe has it! Nestled in the Pisgah National Forest near the the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Switzerland Cafe and General Store just gives a good vibe from the moment you pull in. Once inside, you’ll be treated to some pretty phenomenal bbq. The folks here also serve up some terrific trout if fish floats your boat. Atmosphere pairs with good food to make for a neat little place for lunch or dinner. (Note: the cafe is seasonal)
Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge (Shelby)
Perhaps our favorite atmosphere of any bbq spot on our list, Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge beckons you in with its classic neon sign and the interior is just as fun. Like Shorty Sugar’s, the place has a distinct classic diner vibe, and we can’t get enough. Their food backs up the ambiance too. Pit-cooked the old fashioned way, Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge is widely regarded as one of the best barbeque restaurants on the planet. We happen to agree.
Herb’s Pit BBQ (Murphy)
To get to Herb’s Pit BBQ, you have to want to get there… It’s a bit of a hike. (But hey, if you want to complete the trail, you gotta go!) Once you make it to this little country cafe, you’ll be rewarded with a generous helping of wood-cooked barbecue sure to please your taste buds.
Whew, folks… There you have it! Some of the very best North Carolina barbecue restaurants all strung together on one epic road trip. Of course, we’re sure there are some other great spots not listed on the trail so let us know your favorites that aren’t on the official BBQ Trail…
For more information on the BBQ Trail, head over to the NC Barbecue Society’s website.
For excellent, unbiased, and detailed reviews of each restaurant, check out the Barbecue Brothers’ special BBQ Trail review collection.