Foodies and barbecue lovers listen up. Did you know the North Carolina Barbecue Society (NCBS) has designed a barbecue trail that reaches from the eastern coast of North Carolina all the way to Tennessee? Yes, that’s right… you can plan an entire road trip around the very best places to eat real Carolina barbecue and experience a little Southern culture while you’re at it.
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According to the North Carolina Barbecue Society, barbecue originated on the Eastern shores of North Carolina, making it the “Cradle of Cue” and the Barbecue Capital of the World. Which makes it the perfect home for a trail of historic barbecue pits.
Each of the twenty-two stops along the trail were carefully selected by the NCBS Board using several criteria, including product that is cooked over a wood or charcoal-fueled pit, homemade sauce and an end product that represents the historic institution of North Carolina Barbecue. The historic spots have all also operated continuously for at least fifteen years. Each of the pits included on the trail have a sit-down dining experience as well, which means you can relax and take in the atmosphere while you enjoy some delicious Southern goodness.
The trail begins at Herb’s Pit BBQ in Murphy, NC. This small, family-owned restaurant has been in business since 1982 and is truly a family-run operation with owners Herb and Helen Gibson cooking on the pits and overseeing the operation, their son cooking in the kitchen and their daughter-in-law managing the wait staff. You’ll be able to taste the care they put into their food too, once you bite into the hand-chopped barbecue or the sliced barbecue that’s so moist you won’t even need a knife.
From there, it’s a bit of a drive to the next stop in Shelby (about three hours), but it will be well worth it once you arrive at Bridges Barbecue Lodge. Although this historic restaurant originally opened in 1946, it has been at its present site since 1953. They’ve been slow-cooking their pork over hickory wood for seventy years and continue to do the same today. In addition to barbecue pork, you’ll find other Southern favorites like deviled egg sandwiches, grilled cheese, BLT’s and of course, delicious sides like slaw, baked beans, French fries and hush puppies.
As you progress along the trail, you’ll start to move into the center of the state where you’ll find lots of fantastic BBQ spots back-to-back, from Granite Quarry all the way to Burlington, NC. You’ll stop at Allen & Son Barbecue in Chapel Hill and Stephenson’s Barbecue in Willow Springs, before moving on to the next “cluster” of spots in the Eastern part of the state.
Here, you’ll find infamous spots like Grady’s Barbecue – an unassuming little spot where everything is homemade including the cole slaw and potato salad, and even the iced tea, which owner Gerri Grady brews on the stovetop. While her husband, Steve, spends 12-15 hours slow cooking their barbecue over open wood fire pits. It’s the kind of care and passion that has garnered them attention from major publications like GQ magazine and USA Today. Make sure you save room for dessert when you stop in, because you’ll want to try the sweet potato pie or the banana pudding.
The trail wraps up at B’s Barbecue, located in Greenville, NC. Another small, non-descript place that is so old-fashioned they don’t have a phone and don’t take credit cards. But, that doesn’t stop guests from lining up for their legendary barbecue and cornbread sticks. In fact, you might want to get there early to make sure you get some food before they run out!