If you’re a fan of North Carolina barbecue you’re likely familiar with the East vs West divide – tomato vs no tomato, whole hog vs shoulder. What I found interesting is that many people don’t really know about the “corn bread” divide. Now unlike the sauce and meat debate, no one really cares too much about the corn bread portion. The distinction is similar and is determined by geography.
The properly garnished North Carolina plate will have chopped barbecue (whole hog/shoulder), slaw and hush puppies. The vast majority of the state will fit this mold. What was funny to me was that most people don’t really know the other corn bread cousins eaten in North Carolina — the corn stick and the cornpone. There’s also geographic differences in the hushpuppy as well.
Let’s start with the hush puppy. The hush puppy, while one of the holy Trinity of NC BBQ, is a recent addition. It’s widely accepted that it was first added to the traditional barbecue plate by Warner Stamey, the entreprenuer who through is the father of Lexington Style barbecue. He figured it’s great as part of a fish fry but even better paired with smoked pig and slaw. Hush puppies are basically fried cornbread. The variations are as follows
Ball vs Boomerang – The hush puppy ball is the more nationally recognized shape. Ask any kid whose been to one of the over 1,200 Long John Silver’s locations and they’ll tell you the same – hush puppies are round. They are round for the same reason most fried doughs are round – most efficient way to make portions is with an icecream scoop.Not so in North Carolina, the vast majority of puppies are boomerangs as Stamey introduced them. In the west of the state you’ll see them boomerang shaped, hit the middle around the Chapel Hill area and suddenly they’re balls, leave middle and you’ll see boomerangs again at Wilbur’s. There’s always exceptions to the rule of course – Little Richard’s which is deep in the western style has their puppies as balls.
Check out this plate from Allen & Son’s which is both sweet and round
Sweet vs Not sweet – Again the West – Central – East progression. Central North Carolina fries up hush puppies which basically taste like a sweet corn donut. To add to this, some of them are even served with honey butter if it’s not sweet enough. The edges once again are not sweet.
Onion vs No Onion- No surprise here. Set in the middle and you’re gonna see onions. Head to the edges and there’s not an onion for miles (at least in your puppies)