3 Festivals to Get Your Weekend Started Right

There are a slew of spring festivals in NC this weekend, and many of them include BBQ. Pick one of these 3 around the state, and get ready to hit the road...

1. Melange of the Mountains >>> Cooking and brewing competitions in Waynesville & Haywood Smokehouse BBQ is making an appearance.

2. Fremont Daffodil Festival >>> Fremont does it right with crafts, music and BBQ. 

3. Beer & Bacon Fest >>> Learn some pork DIY during the Butchering 101 demo this Saturday in Cary.

5 BBQ Adventures for Spring

As we're being teased with 60 degree sunshine, Paul and I have felt inspired to start drafting our Spring road trip wish list. Get prepared for warm-weather wanderlust and start routing your own travels around the state! If you need a little inspiration, plan a trip around one of these 5 NC BBQ restaurants that offer more than just pulled pork.

Our trusty road   trip companion,  Clementine, enjoying a helping of hushpuppies.

Our trusty road trip companion, Clementine, enjoying a helping of hushpuppies.

Sim's Country BBQ | Granite Falls, NC: Listen to live bluegrass, watch the cloggers, and after you fill up on their BBQ buffet, cut a rug on the dance floor.

Barnyard BBQ & Flea Market | Peachland, NC: Use your BBQ fuel to shop the flea market. Bet you can find something pig-themed as a memento for your trip!

CJ's Bar-B-Cue | Cleveland, NC: Get there on Thursdays for live gospel music in the restaurant featuring different groups from around the area.

The Fire Pit | Wake Forest, NC: The restaurant parking lot is transformed into a car show on the 4th Saturday of every month. Dream about which car you'd like to take on your next BBQ road trip.

The Blue Note Grill | Durham, NC: This spot has live music every night and features everything from jazz to blues to bluegrass to country -- something for every musical interest.

For details on each restaurant’s location and style of BBQ, refer to your copy of The Great NC BBQ Map. If you don’t have one yet, grab one here.

BBQ Touring: Top 5 Tips

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 pageTwitter, or Instagram, with hashtag #NCBBQMAP. We'd love to see your travels, and we'll repost some of our favorites.

Mike's Reminder

This week, we've been calling all the barbecue restaurants on our list to gather the rest of the map data. This involves asking each restaurant owner a series of 16 questions and explaining a little about the map as we go along. We get through as many restaurants as we can between their lunch and dinner rushes and analyze and sort the data the rest of the time. This is an all-day affair that will last through next week.

With so many restaurants to get through (well over 300 now), it's easy to get caught up in the work and start thinking about these restaurants in terms of numbers, instead of places. But the people and their stories bring us back every time. Everyone we've talked to has been so gracious and eager to tell us about their barbecue. (Ok, we did have the phone slammed down one time, but we'll get to them somehow.) But the man who I just talked with at Cove Creek BBQ & Grocery in Rutherfordton just reminded me of the heart and soul of this map.

Mike has been running the BBQ joint out of the Rutherfordton gas station for two years, but he went to the country store, where the restaurant got its start, back when he was a boy. The store was a farm supply with moonshine in the basement and a caged squirrel out front that the kids could feed by buying some peanuts. The recipe for Mike's "Miss Daisy" sauce (an Eastern-style barbecue sauce) came from Miss Daisy who ran a sandwich shop down the road, and when she passed, he started using her recipe in remembrance. Mike is very proud of his barbecue, and he's also very proud of his family. He told me about two of his sons who live down the road from Paul and me, one in Mt. Pleasant, where we grew up. 

Mike's stories really made his barbecue restaurant come alive and they brought me back from my questionnaire comma. Mike has a lot to do with why we decided to make a barbecue map in the first place. It really is about the people, their stories, and the traditions they are carrying on. Aside from how much we love the taste of it, that is what drew us to barbecue. To us, barbecue is much more than pulled pork piled high on a bun. It's a way of life, a history, an identity for so many people, and that's the other part of the love and appreciation we want to spread.

Thank you, Mike, for that reminder. And thank you to all those out there who are living their dream every day, sun-up to sun-down, tending those wood coals and those restaurants, telling your stories, and helping us remember. You are an inspiration to us, and we do this for you.