More FOOD PORN and snapshots of Stamey’s HERE
When I go try barbecue places it’s never to pass judgement. By what undue arrogance would I need to hold to believe that my 2 cents on an establishment would matter? The Market has spoken and given its verdict on Stamey’s long before I was born. Fourteen United States Presidents have held tenure in this period. The restaurant was born in the barren landscape of the Great Depression and has lived to continue to thrive in our current day economic crisis. My trips through the American South are solely for my own personal research and my goal of bringing true North Carolina BBQ to New York.
If we were to stand in front of a random BBQ joint in any state and you sniffed the air. Could you tell where you were? If this were Texas or Kansas City, the answer would be no. Burning wood basically smells like burning wood. Pecan is very nice, hickory is nice a hearty, and oak is the benchmark. But they wouldn’t give you a clue to where you were. Walking into the parking lot of Stamey’s you know exactly where you are. The smell in the air is wood but more than that. It’s PORK. The slow rendering of the shoulders release both fat and juices which hit the wood embers underneath and puff up into smoke itself. It’s a flavor that’s the heart and soul of North Carolina barbecue. If you can understand this very critical element, you can understand why baking a pork shoulder in a gas powered smoker, drenching it in vinegar will never ever give you North Carolina barbecue.
Stamey’s is very pretty. The building feels like you’re walking into a restored barn. The space is very airy and decor beautiful. This is in sharp contrast to many other North Carolina joints which are truly “shacks”. If you’re looking to rough it, Stamey’s isn’t for you. You can see several shots I took of the interior in the link above.
I got the chopped pork barbecue plate with slaw and hush puppies as my custom. The one flavor profile that stood out to me was temperance. The ketchup based slaw was invented here and has spread throughout the Triad region. In other places that I’ve tried it like Little Richards and Barbecue Center, the slaw was very sweet and aggressive. Here you can still taste the Lexington style dip in the slaw but it’s not as cloying. The slaw remained fresh and vegetative. The meat did need a bit more of the sauce there but the texture was dead on. Tender, moist and very savory. The hush puppies were also introduced here at Stamey’s. You could see from my stool the person making the puppies. They have this crazy hand crank that just spits out batter into the hot grease. They were excellent and a standard of hush puppies I hope to achieve. Not sweet, deep corn flavor, and slightly chewy texture.
James Boo gushed to me about their sweet tea – believing theirs to be heads above everyone else’s. James as a far more refined palate than I do so I couldn’t tell you if it was that marginally better. You should order the sweet tea anyway, it’s the South after all. Stamey’s is the only barbecue joint that I know of that roasts and brews their own coffee. You see a massive roasting machine when you first walk in the door. This would not seem out of place at all in New York City at some hipster cafe, ideally with a poetry reading in the back. Being a huge coffee fan I couldn’t resist and hand myself a mug. If this place was in New York, I’d eat here twice a week just to have coffee this good with great barbecue.
I was allowed into pit building which is separate from the restaurant. My original intention was to grab some photos of Pon, the Asian pitmaster of Stamey’s. I will be doing an upcoming post on Asian pitmasters. While in the back snapping pictures an elderly gentleman proceeded to talk my ear off about barbecue. We talked about everything from cooking philosophy, to pit designs, to history, to hog breeds. I was in there for a good hour and half! I smelled like pork and smoke when I finally left the pits. The old pitmaster told me he was retired and just came in from time to time to try new things. When I asked him if he was an owner or manager he told me he was just a cook who used to man these pits.
Well he got me good. When we finally parted ways I asked him his name. And there he was, the barbecue patriarch himself. The entrepreneur whose sheer will and work ethic built the Stamey dynasty and brand – Charles Stamey.
I will be doing a series of posts where I reflect on our conversation.