Monday, February 20, 2017

Curling Whiffs of White Smoke

As you approach the original Little Richard’s Lexington BBQ in Winston-Salem, NC, it’s easy to notice the curling whiffs of white smoke spiraling from the smokestacks. It’s a good sign. Barbecue is being cooked in the traditional manner – over hot wood coals.

Spiraling smoke tells you how Little Richard's cooks its pork shoulders.

Little Richard’s takes its name from founder Richard Berrier who got his start in the barbecue business when he was 13. It cooks pork shoulders – the Lexington style, hence the use of Lexington in its name – with hickory wood on an open pit for up to 10 hours. Then they’re hand-chopped as the restaurant’s dip (sauce) is added.

The parking lot fills quickly when Little Richard's opens.

When I arrived for lunch several minutes before noon on a Monday, the restaurant was busy. Only two tables were available. Glancing at the other tables, I saw that most customers had a BBQ tray (a cardboard boat loaded with chopped barbecue and slaw) or a BBQ sandwich. Even a small tray, which also comes with hushpuppies or a roll, was more than enough for lunch.

My tray was packed with adequate servings of slaw and barbecue.

Although the chopped pork was moist and delicious without needing any extra sauce, I was captivated by the tangy flavor of Little Richard’s own house dip and kept adding more and more to my boat as I ate the barbecue. The dip, mixed every morning, is Little Richard’s select combination of vinegar, ketchup, water, spices, and salt. It is thin and vinegary with a consistency similar to sauces in eastern North Carolina.

The dip recipe is a secret, but the ingredients are listed on the bottles.

True to Lexington style, Little Richard’s offers a vinegary red slaw, which gets its characteristic color from ketchup, with its BBQ plates, trays, and sandwiches. The menu lists “slaw,” with no description -- the implicit understanding is that the mayonnaise-based coleslaw of eastern N.C. barbecue traditions isn’t available because it’s not Lexington style.

Soon after I arrived for lunch, every table was occupied.

The original location, a destination on the historic N.C. Barbecue Trail, opened more than 25 years ago (a second location is also available -- surprisingly and somewhat confusing, several other barbecue restaurants in the area are also named Little Richard’s but are not connected).

The wood pile in back is Little Richard's proof that it cooks its pork slowly over hot coals.

By serving delicious barbecue that is cooked slowly with hickory wood, Little Richard’s is easily achieving its goal of “Eat Mo’ Pig.”

"Eat Mo' Pig" is an appropriate motto.

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