Quick! Name one of the top 3 greatest Heavy-weight boxers in history. You might mention Mike Tyson, or Evander Holyfield, and you’ll definitely mention Muhammad Ali. Especially the latter as he spent most of his career calling himself the greatest. Poor Joe Louis. 12 years reigning as world champion. 25 successful title defenses (Ali had a mere 19). To this day there has not been a similar dominance in any weight division.
Unfortunately for Joe he was neither as well spoken or good looking as Ali. Hence why none of us know about him. I feel the same way about Bum’s Restaurant in Ayden, NC.
Ayden is a mecca for whole hog lovers. For decades the Skylight Inn has held the platonic ideal of swine cookery. Their familial cousin Lathan “Bum” Dennis cooks hogs in the exact same fashion and fails to get the same cred for no other reason than Skylight Inn exists in the same town. For God’s sake they’re not even on the North Carolina BBQ Society Trail!!! This last part is particularly irksome to me because Bum’s barbecue is really really good and there’s plenty of other joints on the Trail list that taste like ass and are coasting on their reputations.
Aside from my urge to root for the underdog, Bum’s really is very good. The pork is not hacked to a tuna fish consistency, juicy, and lightly smokey with lots of little nuggets of crispy skin. Their side dishes are easily the best in the state. No exaggeration there. This is real country eating here filled with soul feeding vegetables. Eastern Carolina corn sticks and pork rinds are available to add just enough crunch.
And the fried chicken. Oh the FRIED CHICKEN! Eastern Carolina whole hog BBQ is usually paired with fried chicken. Traditional giants like Wilbur’s, Parker’s both serve fried chicken with their hogs. Bum’s chicken beats them both. I’m all down for great whole hog, but when you got great whole hog and finger licking fried chicken – oh my….
A proper banana pudding topped with warm southern meringue finishes off the meal.
As you can see I have a particular affection for Bum’s. As practitioner of the art and as a traveled eater, I find it an utter travesty that Bum’s is never mentioned when talking about top BBQ joints in North Carolina. The NC BBQ Society Trail list is a wonderful tool and there’s other sources which basically name the same big name spots. But do yourself a favor, many of those big names are for tourists – Bum’s is for those in the know.
See all the Food Porn HERE.
Forbes just did an article on competition BBQ. One of my favorite lines –
And unlike most cuisines, many of the best barbecue masters don’t even have restaurants – there is no huge hobbyist group of ultra-passionate sushi cooks who devote all their time and resources to traveling around preparing sushi for competition judges.
The other premise of the article was that BBQ done in a commercial are inferior to those done in a competition setting. I would disagree with that. The one thing that competition bbq does is impose a sort of Kansas City uniformity to barbecue. The competitors by and large don’t like eating their own BBQ. Johnny Trigg, a heavy winner in the ribs category states openly he doesn’t like his competition ribs. He prefers his Texas style with just salt and pepper and heavy post-oak smoke. Aaron Franklin is a legend in BBQ circles but doesn’t compete and yet is nationally acclaimed as the best brisket cook in the country. His brisket – soft and tender with only a salt and pepper rub would easily lose in a KCBS BBQ contest.
Tuffy Stone has won many many contests and some very big ones. His trophies dot the entire restaurant. The wife was long sick of BBQ by the time we arrived in Virginia. She picked the hotel for the sweeping views and colonial aesthetics. Much to her dismay, I discovered that Tuffy Stone’s Q Barbecue was just around the corner.
It’s very pretty inside with lots of bright warm orange tones. The greatest part was that all the lights were shaped like pig’s snouts. This is modern BBQ, basically crafted from the BBQ competition circuit. We dug in for some ribs and brisket. Mr Stone is well known on the circuit as a top brisket cook. The one thing the Forbes article might have right is that people might not put as much care into their BBQ in their restaurants, and as I discovered, this was true for their pits. There were two massive gas powered smokers in plain view from the dining room. Competition BBQ will not allow you to use gas powered smokers. You only have the option of cooking with charcoal and wood.
The brisket was cooked to pull and wasn’t all that flavorsome. The ribs were nicely seasoned and I enjoyed them quite a bit. I’m not a fan of his sauce. It’s definitely different than what many others offer, which I applaud him for. It was dark, very molasses based with a hint of Worcestershire. I did appreciate the onion rings they had. Love a good onion ring.
Our two desserts were a nice end to a meal. Pie is the king of bbq desserts. Yes you can have cobbler, but pie is a good proper dessert. I got the massive chocolate pudding one and the wife had the keylime. The chocolate was divine and the key lime a tad too sweet. Tuffy Stone’s Q barbecue is a great neighborhood joint, clean, inviting and a great change from other fast food. I wouldn’t put it up there with destination places but who knows? some day he might move back to all wood cooking.
See all the Food Porn HERE
Greenville South Carolina has two competing BBQ joints – Henry’s Smokehouse and Bucky’s Bar-B-Q. I crashed at my buddy’s Clay’s place in Greenville and it was a requirement that we try them both. Unfortunately for me, Henry’s closes early and Bucky’s wasn’t too far behind. Bucky’s has great rags to riches story behind it. Wayne Preston was a man who had it all and lost it only to build a business with investors willing to gamble on a dream and faith in a higher power. The result today is a thriving barbecue business with four locations in one city.
I have a gripe with the South Carolina BBQ Association in that their top 100 destination BBQ joints do not distinguish people using gas smokers versus those who cook only with wood. The North Carolina BBQ Society actually does that for you, though they could use some updating. This leads invariably to odd couple comparisons. As you can see from the list Bucky’s sit on the same metaphysical plane as Jackie Hites, Scott’s BBQ, and Maurice Piggy Park. Given that I haven’t made my own list I can’t really fault them for how they make theirs. It would seem to me though that if we’re making a map of destination BBQ joints, it should be a map of places that preserve a heritage artisanal form of it.
Now it doesn’t mean you’ll have a bad meal if someone cooks with a gas powered smoker. I’ve cooked plenty of things in my oven that taste great. It just doesn’t give the same magic that comes from slow cooking over wood embers. Sadly this is the way many places in the South is going which basically makes many of the places I try taste like BBQ up here in New York.
As a testament of how good Bucky’s is, the series of photos I’ve taken at Bucky’s are my worst. This is because I was so preoccupied with wolfing down my food that forgot to snap some “before” pictures. I had some pulled pork and ribs. The ribs were very nicely done. I love how the rub leaned more on the savory end than sweet. The highlight of the meal was the Sweet Potato Crunch. I’ve had sweet potatoes before but THIS is the benchmark that all sweet potatoes are to be measured against. It was indeed sweet but not cloying, deeply fragrant, and the crunchy topping really brought it all together. If there was a better BBQ side dish in South Carolina, I’ve haven’t tried it.
We got tour the pits after dinner. The one thing I will say about Ole Hickory pits. They do look very nice. Bucky’s has two of them on location. I think they also function to cook for some of their other locations as well but I could be wrong. I’d encourage people to visit Bucky’s if they’re in the area. It’s a great story with tasty food. Don’t you dare leave without the sweet potatoes.
Click the link on top for photos.
See all the Food Porn HERE
Carolina Bar-B-Cue kinda reminds me of one of my favorite diners called “The Diner”. What it lacks in originality of name, it makes up for in an overall spirit that one can call home. There are gastronomic destinations and then there are places you discover on your journeys that you pine dearly that they would be in your neighborhood. Carolina BBQ is certainly part of the latter.
New Ellenton was en route to Georgia and given that it’s been around since 1968 I really needed to give it a shot. It’s not a very impressive spot. The buffet is very small and they don’t really do a la carte items. I normally don’t like buffets but choice it rather than debate the people at the counter. The meal was definitely home cooking at its best. Golf ball sized hush puppies are of the corn muffin donut style. They had these fair interesting sweet potato “tater tots”. Mac & Cheese and the de rigor Carolina hash rounded out my meal.
As is common in South Carolina, with it’s 4 sauce tradition, you can choose between either a red sauce, a vinegar sauce, or 3 different mustard sauces (plain, spicy, and honey). If there was a place I’d introduce someone to the mustard sauce, this would be it. It’s not very pungent and wouldn’t offend most folks. Let’s be honest, for most people the mustard sauce is an acquired taste. What’s funny is the complaint is often that it hides the taste of the pork which is odd given that few have any problem with the sweet sticky molasses based sauces out of Kansas City. Here the pork really stands up to the mustard sauce and it was very enjoyable.
What’s interesting about their pork is that there’s no wood cooking it. They’re an all charcoal establishment. Normally this would be a problem for me but the pork really was very tasty.I asked to see the pit area and it was completely off limits. The pitmaster seemed to be the butt of everyone’s jokes there and they assured me that he was indeed a character and needed to be met. I don’t recall his name but his photo is up top. He wasn’t into saying much but you could gather by the staff in general that this ole boy was pretty eccentric when the customers aren’t around.
As with any southern buffet, dessert is provided. I’ve effectively skipped desserts on my bbq tours but it was a long drive and I had a long drive ahead of me. Peach cobbler, chocolate pudding, and banana pudding. I simply couldn’t say no.
Some shots below and, as always, click the top link for all the photos.