A report from a casual BBQ lover whose BBQ street cred rests down east -- I lived 6 years in Ayden, NC, and was particularly fond of Bum's, then B's, and was one-and-done on Parker's and Pete Jones / Skylight Inn.
Today I found myself in Lexington, NC, yes that Lexington, the epicenter of Lexington-Style BBQ. The Lexington style is slow-cooked pork shoulder, rather than the whole hog, and a "red" sauce rather than a white, vinegar-based sauce popular down east. And the place to find the best representation of the Lexington style, or so I've been told, is just out of downtown on Highway 29/70 -- Ruby Tuesday's. Had you, didn't I? No, it's the creatively-named Lexington Barbecue No. 1. When you find yourself in such close proximity to a veritable shrine like this, a place that BBQ aficionados discuss either rapturously or in hushed, reverential tones, you feel obligated to go see what all the fuss is about. Even if it's 10:30 in the morning.
Too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, I nevertheless sat down a the diner-style lunch counter in the small, wood-paneled dining room. There were a few booths and tables inside, and the restaurant feels small on the inside compared to the size of the building from the parking lot. It was founded in 1962 and it has a frozen-in-time ambiance to it. The women work the front, the men work the back, and never the twain shall meet. It takes them about 10 hours to cook a pig. I was eating the pigs cooked yesterday, and the smoke puffing out the smokers were for the pigs that would be eaten tomorrow.
Lexington BBQ cooks whole shoulders over wood and then separates them into different sections: outside brown, regular, white, lean. I asked the waitress what I wanted and she said "outside brown and lean." I told her I'd take it. I ordered the small BBQ tray ($5), and it came with slaw and unlimited hush puppies. The BBQ came sauced. Their "red" sauce is thin and consists of water, salt, sugar, and peppers. The BBQ was smoky and moist, the brown pieces of "bark" add chewiness but no crunch. No fat in my tray. The sauce was spicy but not particularly hot. The waitress proffered a bottle of Smokehouse Sauce, which she said was their hot and tangy sauce. It was. I liked it. The BBQ was so good, however, that you could have been happy eating it sans sauce.
The slaw wasn't bad either. The cabbage was finely chopped to the size of rice grains, and its vinegar (no mayo) base made it tart and tangy. The thumb-shaped hush puppies were right out the deep fryer, left a slight film of oil on your fingers, and tasted delicious. I stopped at one basket, despite my waitress's protestations.
In summary, even at that early hour, it was an incredible lunch. The BBQ was some of the best I've ever had. The restaurant is cozy and clean. The service could not have been friendlier. For BBQ fans, this is a must visit.