With Labor Day coming up, what better time is there than a 3-day weekend to plan a BBQ tour? Pick an area around NC -- whether it's across the state or in your own backyard -- and spend the day sampling some of state's finest. Make barbecue more than just a meal -- turn it into an adventure!
Between researching for The Great NC BBQ Map and putting together trips with friends and family, Paul and I have done our fair share of BBQ touring. I think the most restaurants we've eaten at in one day is five, though we've heard tales of people doing more! We put together a few tips along the way that will help you plan your own BBQ tour and keep you from entering into a food coma.
1. Grab your copy of The Great NC BBQ Map and plan your route. Will you be touring while traveling or just day-tripping from home? You have two choices here:
(A) Pick an area of high concentration and focus there, hitting multiple stops in one town/city/county. We like this option if you want to hit 2-3 places just for lunch or dinner and not plan an entire day around BBQ. Two or three stops can easily be done back-to-back for a single meal.
(B) Start in one area and end up in another, peppering barbecue into your route, along with other stops. We like this option for making a day of it, whether traveling or staying close to home. By spreading out your stops, you can get in more restaurants -- easily 5, and more if you're a real thrill-seeker. For your first meal, begin at a BBQ joint that starts serving early, so that you can have BBQ for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In between restaurants or groups of restaurants, do some sightseeing and check out more of the area you're touring. (A walk in the park or through town is not a bad idea!)
2. Share! Do not attempt to eat five barbecue sandwiches in one day by yourself! You only need to get a taste of everything, so just split a sandwich (and hushpuppies, corn nuggets, Brunswick Stew, or whatever classic sides you want to sample) and move on to the next stop. Depending on the number of stops you have and how many people are with you, you can go halvsies or split four ways.
3. It's easiest to compare the 'cue if you order the same thing from each restaurant. We like to go classic with a barbecue sandwich and an order of hushpuppies. We go for pulled or chopped, whichever the restaurant specializes in. And we take it as it comes, with whatever slaw or sauce they add on.
4. If you want to rate the restaurants to determine which type of BBQ you like the best, decide on your criteria ahead of time. What factors will you be considering? Ideas include: level of smoke, moistness of meat, the chop/texture, bun, slaw, sauce, sweet tea, etc. Some people even take it as far as rating a restaurant on its napkins and ice! Come up with a list, and have fun with it!
5. Take notes and photos. It's hard to keep up with all that barbecue, so have a way of remembering your stops! The Great NC BBQ Map has a section for note-taking, so bring along something to write with. If you snap pics, share them on The Great NC BBQ Map Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram, with hashtag #NCBBQMAP. We'd love to see your travels, and we'll repost some of our favorites.