01 May 2008


"Blues For The Barbecue" by Count Basie which clocks in at 10:28

"Where's the f#@*ing sauce?!"

The first time I ever tried North Carolina-style barbecue that's all that kept going through my mind. That and the question "why": Why did these people hand me salad dressing (vinegar sauce) when I asked for some barbecue sauce? Why was everybody drinking "sweetea" by the half gallon? Why did our neighbor suggest this particular restaurant? (It was a local fast food spot, not unlike McDowell's excepting that they served really terrible and cheap pulled pork and spoiled cole slaw instead of ripping off McDonald's.) Why did I feel like I'd just landed on another planet? Wasn't this still America?? All I wanted was some barbecue!

And that's precisely what my folks and I were having, we just didn't know what Carolina barbecue was back then. At the time, it didn't even occur to us that there might be different regional variations of barbecue. Heck, to us barbecue was an event, not an entrée. "Come over to our barbecue for some burgers and hot dogs!" What did we know? We were new to the area - carpetbaggers - and I was but a wee child with minimal knowledge of the art of North Carolina barbecue. And, it is an art form. In time I'd learn.

Growing up in North Carolina offered me a barbecue education second to none. The catering for my high school baseball team events was always done by Wilber's out of Goldsboro. The best. In college my friends and I used to go to any of a number of Raleigh barbecue spots for family-style dinners - cheap, delicious, and a helluva lot better than Top Ramen. And I'll tell you what, I've been to more pig pickins than I can remember. Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats a pig pickin' with your family and friends.

Not long ago I wondered how, then, to best express, rekindle, revisit, and inflict my love of barbecue - and of Carolina barbecue above all others - upon the world of independent music? How to mix music and barbecue?? Why... with an EF BBQ Road Trip! Duh.

Conceived by Mike and I as a perfect way to better shape our itinerary to SXSW, EAR FARM's BBQ Tour '08 started with us talking to members of the bands Tapes 'n Tapes and The Rosebuds to see if they might like to go out for barbecue with us in Austin and Raleigh respectively. The goal was to hit up the four US barbecue meccas (North Carolina, Memphis, Texas, Kansas City) with a band in tow at each location. When the first two bands we asked jumped at the opportunity, we realized there might be a chance to create something larger than a simple EAR FARM story out of the whole thing. Enter CHOW, two more bands, and a barbecue loving music nerd's dream travel itinerary...

Click HERE to see the published piece over on CHOW, click through (below) to see pictures not used in the CHOW story and to read a bit more about our adventures.

(ABOVE: North Carolina BBQ slideshow)
The first spot we hit up was Allen & Son in Chapel Hill, NC with The Rosebuds. I'd never been here before but I know quite a few people who swear by it. The first sign of a good barbecue spot was delivered as soon as we sat down - the sweet tea was excellent. Not quite Bojangles level, but very good. So were the hush puppies. Which generally means you're in for some good barbecue. And it was very good, if a bit on the extra-smoky side. I had the pulled pork sandwich (w/ slaw, obvs) that you see bitten into in the above slideshow. Note, as Kelly did, the coquettish pig on the menu and the large pink pig lounging in the corner as decoration. Classic. This was probably my favorite of the four places we went on the trip; which, given that it tasted, smelled, and sounded like home, should come as no real surprise.

(ABOVE: Memphis BBQ slideshow)
Next stop: Tops Bar-B-Q in Memphis, TN for lunch with Amy LaVere and her bandmates Steve Selvidge and Paul Taylor. Smoke was billowing out of the chimney as we drove up and I found a pedestrian overpass to grab that super-wide crane shot published on CHOW. Inside, the decor hasn't been updated since they opened (I'm sure of it). The food was served very quickly and was easily the most inexpensive meal on our trip. Once again I got a pulled pork sandwich and fries (w/ slaw, obvs); but this one didn't compare - at all - to the one I got at Allen & Son. If I'm being honest, this was my least favorite of the four places we went. However, the company was great and we got to sit outside. Can't really complain about that.

(ABOVE: Texas BBQ slideshow)
Austin during SXSW is kind of crazy. Fucking nuts actually. So much beer and music and people and stuff to do and so little time... Which is as good a reason as any as to why we went to Iron Works with Tapes 'n Tapes rather than drive 45 mins out to The Salt Lick. I hear that that's the place to go in Austin for BBQ, but I've been very pleased with Iron Works two years in a row now. I got the Flintstone-sized beef ribs pictured above and they were outstanding. This ranked as my third favorite place we went to - a close call. But ultimately, we're talking beef barbecue here. So it's just never going to be as good as slow cooked pork.

(ABOVE: Kansas City BBQ slideshow)
The final stop on our tasty tour of gluttony was at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue in Kansas City with rap duo Skatterman & Snug Brim. After having been to three other BBQ joints, and having countless plates of free barbecue offered to us at SXSW, we were the tiniest bit BBQ'd-out by the time we got to KC. In addition, we'd already started dealing with THE FLOOD. But that all faded away very quickly when we entered Fiorella’s Jack Stack, sat down in a huge comfy wooden booth, and ordered up some Long Island Iced Teas with barbecue chicken wings. Amazing! Maybe even the best wings I've ever eaten. I followed this with a pork rib combo plate that included (without a doubt) the best BBQ baked beans I've ever had. Dessert came in the form of tequila shots purchase by Kutt Calhoun, another rapper/friend of the band who was also eating lunch at Jack Stack that day. Fun, delicious, and rather extravagant, it makes sense that Mike called this "possibly the best barbecue we ate during the trip". But it ranked a close second for me in terms of overall personal favorites. What can I say? My heart is forever with the "f#@*ing sauce" in North Carolina.

*above slideshows created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR

Buy Farmer's Market Barbecue on Amazon.

EAR FARM's 8+ is a weekly feature that showcases songs longer than 8 minutes. In the recent past these songs were featured on EF's 8+:
The Besnard Lakes - "You've Got to Want to Be a Star"
M83 - "Couleurs"
David Byrne - "Happy Suicide"
Fleetwood Mac - "Oh Well"
Phish - "You Enjoy Myself"
Green Day - "Homecoming"
Billy Bragg - "Joe Hill"
Van Halen - "Year to the Day"

To see a full list of every song featured in EAR FARM's 8+ click HERE.


Anonymous said...

these pictures are awesome. the trip looks and sounds like it was a lot of fun. how can i get on the next bbq tour?!

Anonymous said...

This is a very cool story. You shoudl've made the trip to Salt Lick in Austin and should've gone to Payne's in Memphis. Both outstanding joints.

Anonymous said...

its about time!

Anonymous said...

Definitely Wilber's in NC. Nice pics.

Anonymous said...

no, seriously, how can we join the next bbq tour?

Anonymous said...

Wow those pictures are making me hunger for bar-b-q! Love The Rosebuds too, nice work.

Anonymous said...

Count Basie & bbq niiiiiice

wendyo said...

I'm dying Matt...those pics are amazing.

so hungry now...

kathryn said...

No love for Lockhart, TX, huh?

*Real* central Texas BBQ fans don't go to Salt Lick. They drive to Lockhart.

kathryn said...

Also, if I were in KC and didn't go to Arthur Bryant's, I'd be kicking myself, especially after reading what Calvin Trillin has to say about the place.

What are your thoughts on Ed Mitchell's BBQ in Wilson, NC given that you grew up in Raleigh?

Matt said...

Yeah, I can't say I'm too familiar with Texas BBQ. But I heard that Llano, TX is also a place worth going to.

To me, Mitchell's is very good... but in Wilson I actually prefer Parker's.

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