Pig Out with Charlotte BBQ
The five-minute guide to Charlotte barbecue
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Four Questions with Pitmaster Dan “Boone” Gibson
We sit down with the pitmaster of the Queen City
The pitmaster at Queen City Q (225 E. Sixth St., 704-334-8437), Gibson, forty-five, grew up in Charlotte and draws from his heritage—and his family’s hand-me-down recipes—to craft his barbecue. He calls it “Piedmont style,” a mélange of styles from eastern and western North Carolina and South Carolina.
What makes good barbecue? First off, good quality pork. My secret is my homemade dry rub … it’s probably got more spices than are listed in the spice book. Also, the right smoke.
Sauced, unsauced, sauce on the side? How do you eat your ’cue? I just want to enhance it with a little bit of sauce. I have to admit, I like the eastern sauce on it. There’s a lot of love in there. It just takes a couple of bumps to enhance the sandwich.
What’s your earliest barbecue memory? The first time I can remember my dad and my neighbors lighting up the pit … the first times those flames went up, I must’ve been five. They made it look easy.
How did you become a pitmaster? I went to culinary school, but my father was a barbecue guy. I learned at family reunions, Clemson tailgates. We just really enjoyed it. But I owe a lot to J. D. [Duncan, one of the restaurant’s partners]. I begged him for three years to buy me a barbecue restaurant.
Do you ever get tired of eating barbecue? No. Pork fat rules (laughs). No, I never get tired of it. Every day I’m stoked about coming to work. I finally get to do what I was raised on. I enjoy doing what I do.
New South Barbecue
What’s more Southern than barbecue? That question takes on a whole new flavor in the ethnic eateries blossoming in Charlotte’s older suburbs. During the last two decades, the South has become even more of a magnet for newcomers—and they all seem to bring their own wonderful ways of cooking ’cue. How do we define barbecue? Anything that a restaurant calls barbecue counts, as does anything that reminds us of a Southern pork product. Don’t sweat the definitions. Just dig in. —Tom Hanchett
Ben Thanh Vietnamese Restaurant (4900 Central Ave., 704-566-1088)
The Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli and pork bowl) at Ben Thanh—named for Saigon’s huge outdoor market—is hard to resist. Number forty-four on the menu, the dark-red glazed pork dish is described as “charbroiled” on the eat-in menu and “BBQ” on the take-out menu.
Cocina Latina (5135 Albemarle Rd., 704-531-5757)
Scholars say that the ancestor of U.S. barbecue is Mexican barbacoa, traditionally steamed with cactus leaves in a pit in the ground. Fausta Salvatierra and her sons make barbacoa in the style of their native Hidalgo, a state in central Mexico—tender, moist, falling-apart lamb. When you order the barbacoa taco, also ask for an al pastor taco for comparison. The roasted and marinated chunks of pork are closer to today’s U.S. barbecue.
Le’s Sandwiches & Café (4520 N. Tryon St. (inside Asian Corner Mall), 704-921-7498)
There are many reasons to brave the pot-holed parking lot at Asian Corner Mall, including two huge international supermarkets and Dai Sing Restaurant Supply, a cook’s playground of giant woks and industrial kitchen utensils. Seek out Le’s Sandwiches & Café. Family run and sparkling clean, Le’s serves banh mi, characteristic sandwiches of French colonial Vietnam. Crisp toasted baguettes are stuffed with pickled vegetables, cilantro, special mayonnaise, spicy green peppers, and your choice of meat. Try the pork barbecue banh mi, which comes in two sizes.
Joy Luck Club Café (4400 Potters Rd., Stallings, 704-821-0899)
The Charlotte branch of a popular restaurant inside the Grand Asia Market in Cary, Joy Luck Club is located in a former Winn-Dixie in Stallings, a mile or so off I-485 Exit 52 in fast-growing Union County. Look for the roasted ducks hanging in a glass case, Hong Kong-style. The barbecue pork and duck plate will fill you right up, including red-glazed slices of pork and crunchy-skinned duck, plus bright-green bok choy over a mound of rice.