5 Things to Know About North Carolina BBQ

Fire Smoke & Flavor, Regional Spotlight

A visit to Goldsboro, North Carolina, finished up Williams-Sonoma’s Fire Smoke & Flavor tour, where the crew experienced whole hog smoking and sugary-sweet iced tea at its finest. Here’s what makes North Carolina barbecue different from all the rest.


1. Hog Wild

North Carolina barbecue traditionally uses the whole hog, which pit masters smoke slowly over hickory and oak chips. They chop meat from three parts of the pig: the ham, well-marbled shoulder and ribs.


2. Signature Sandwich

The delicious, smoky chopped hog meat is doused with a thin, spicy vinegar-based sauce spiked with cayenne pepper. The pork is typically served on a soft bun with a plain slaw—white cabbage dressed simply with a sauce that may or may not include mayonnaise.


3. Sweet Drink

North Carolina is famous for its sweet iced tea, which is sweetened while still hot for super saturation.


4. Stewed and Fried

Another dish specific to North Carolina is Brunswick stew, which originated as a wild game stew (Native Americans made it with squirrel, European settlers with domestic meat). Today the stew usually contains chicken and pork, along with tomatoes, potatoes, butter beans and corn. Although there is a Brunswick County in North Carolina, it’s believed the name is derived from either Brunswick County, Virginia, or Brunswick, Georgia, which also have versions of the stew.


Hush puppies—crunchy balls of deep-fried cornmeal—are often found on the side of a pork sandwich. According to legend, they used to be thrown to barking puppies to make them “hush.”


5. Sauce Secrets

Vinegar-based sauce rules in North Carolina, thanks to the old plantation practice of pickling to preserve crops. Also, it’s perfect for cutting the fat of the pork.

6 comments about “5 Things to Know About North Carolina BBQ

  1. Ted P

    You’re only partially correct about the sauce.The vinegar-based sauce is found primarily in the eastern part of NC (east of I-95), whereas most of the western half prefers tomato based sauce, like the kind found in TN.

  2. Potard

    I remember this old and charming lady cooking hush puppies for me when I was in NC in the 70s. I now live in Paris France and 30 years later I can still remember the taste of it.could someone send the recipe to me? Thank you so much

  3. Annie

    I gotta disagree about the I-95 split. My family is from all western NC (Cleveland County) ever since the earth cooled, and everyone I know LOVES the vinegar sauce. All of the best BBQ places from Hickory to Asheville have a vinegar sauce.

  4. Ann Drum

    If you are ever in Goldsboro, NC and stop at Wilber’s, do try their wonderful tangy chicken gravy. Nothing better than dunking your hush puppies in that gravy! As far as I’m concerned, no one beats Wilber’s BBQ…I have to have it at least once a year and I live in TN.

  5. Jeff

    The difference between the Eastern and Western NC styles of sauce is simply the addition of ketchup. Western NC style is a light-tomato style. South Carolina adds mustard, instead of ketchup, thanks to the prevalence of German settlers.
    And, while Eastern NC uses whole hog, Western NC uses pork shoulder (or Boston butt)/ South Carolina has a similar divide. Whole hog is more likely to be chopped, due to the variety of different elements coming from the entire animal. Shoulder is more likely to be pulled, or sliced.

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