The city of Charlotte might not instantly spring to mind when you think about the best barbecue in the United States, but it should. Barbecue is a staple in North Carolina, and the state is home to two main styles:
- Lexington or Western: Includes a red sauce seasoned with ketchup, pepper, vinegar, and other spices. Pork shoulder is the only cut of meat, and the sauce serves as the base for red slaw.
- Eastern: Includes every part of the pig, and the sauce is made with just vinegar and pepper.
When you visit Charlotte, however, you’re likely to find more than just these two native styles of barbecue. Once you understand the main styles, your next step is to figure out where to stay in Charlotte. No matter what part of town you stay in, you won’t be far from some delicious barbecue. Here are five of the best joints in town to get you started on planning your Charlotte vacation.
Opened in 2011, Midwood Smokehouse is already a legend in Charlotte. Specializing in Texas-style barbecue, this spot even has a custom pit that smokes meat 24 hours a day. Founder Scibelli did his research, working with pitmasters in a number of states before opening Midwood Smokehouse. It’s so popular even President Obama and Hillary Clinton stopped in while on the campaign trail in 2016.
Another relative newcomer to the Charlotte dining scene, Sauceman’s is a Lexington-style spot offering up delicious pork smoked for over 12 hours with a mix of local hickory and white oak wood. A popular option is plain pulled pork, sandwiched between two pieces of thick Texas toast. A local favorite is the Dixie Cuban, which is topped with pimento cheese and fried pickles.
Bar-B-Q King is one of Charlotte’s only remaining drive-ins. These guys have been serving barbecue sandwiches since 1959 off Wilkinson Boulevard, the state’s first four-lane highway. That makes Bar-B-Q King somewhat of a roadside dining icon. Expect it to be busy, especially since it appeared on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” show.
Mac’s Speed Shop
If you’re thinking Mac’s Speed Shop is an odd name for a barbecue joint, you’d be right. It’s a mix of a barbecue joint and a biker bar, and it’s located in what used to be a transmission shop. This spot is known for its sweet Carolina sauce and a wide selection of beers. It also deviates from some of the other standard barbecue joints by offering other menu items such as wings, nachos, and even salads.
McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon
McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon offers up barbecue with a twist. Rather than the usual hickory or oak wood, McKoy’s smokes meat with pecan wood. Try it in a sandwich, on a platter, or even piled on top of nachos or a baked potato. Don’t miss some of the other menu items, such as the smokehouse wings or the pulled chicken sandwich. If you get a late-night craving for barbecue, McKoy’s even has a late-night eats menu.
Barbecue is serious business in Charlotte. If you want to check out more barbecue joints in town, consider getting a Great NC BBQ Map. In its second edition, it maps out over 450 barbecue joints all across the state. Helpful symbols tell you whether they do whole-hog barbecue, how it’s prepared, and what styles of sauce you’ll find. There’s even a set of stickers so you can mark which Charlotte barbecue joints you visited during your trip.
This post was in partnership with Hotel Planner, but as always, all views and opinions are my own.