Come Saturday’s BBQ Pitmasters Kings of Carolina, you’ll see whether newfangled BBQ flavor profiles and cooking methods can go toe to toe with the more traditional style of North Carolina BBQ. Two relatively young teams are facing off with a veteran NC BBQ Pitmaster. As usual, comments and smack talk will fly, but it’s the final judging that determines who will walk away with the title of King of Carolina BBQ and a chance to win the ultimate BBQ Pitmasters $50,000 prize.
This week features the following three North Carolina BBQ Pitmasters:
- Jonathan Upchurch of Rocky Top BBQ – Monroe, NC
- Christopher Prieto of PRIME Barbecue – Wendell, NC
- Carl H. Lewis of Big Show BBQ – Fremont, NC
Some History About North Carolina Barbecue
North Carolina has a history of BBQ that focuses on one specific species of animal… pork. In terms of the cut, we’re talking Whole Pork Shoulder – which is comprised of what we call the Boston Butt and the Picnic Shoulder. Preparation is simple: hog meat cooked low and slow over real wood charcoal. No gas, no electric. Just meat and heat.
For more on this concept… check out what the folks over at TrueCue.org have going on. They’re doing a bang up job promoting and preserving the art of True Carolina barbecue.
Chef Charlie McKenna of Lillie’s Q of Chicago, IL Breaks Down a Whole Pork Shoulder
As you can see from the video above, the Boston butt is from the upper part of the pork shoulder and has only a minimal amount of bone. The picnic shoulder is the bonier lower part of the shoulder. Each of these cuts are by themselves normally about 6 to 8 lbs – with a whole pork shoulder weighing in at around 12 to 18 lbs.
For this weekend’s episode, the teams will in fact focus on pork – with a whole shoulder as well as baby back ribs. Again, all of the meat provided for this competition is provided by the fine people of Buedel Fine Meats and Provisions.
North Carolina BBQ Flavor Profiles
When you talk North Carolina BBQ, you’re typically talking chopped pork with a vinegar based mopping sauce and ribs that have a little twang to them. The two main regions of “Carolina Q” are the Eastern Whole Hog Style using a vinegar based mopping sauce containing little if any (mostly none) tomato base and a Lexington Style (Western Style) that focuses on pork shoulders with a vinegar-based sauce containing some tomato base and other spices.
North Carolina BBQ , East vs. West
As the video above states, in North Carolina BBQ means pork. It always has and always will. The tradition of pork BBQ in North Carolina can be traced back to the introduction of pigs by the Spanish across the American Southeast in the 1500s. Though some modern methods of cooking have crept in (electric and gas), the traditional way to cook North Carolina style BBQ is over an open pit using heat and wood.
These next two videos on North Carolina BBQ are awesome. Produced by USA Today, they do a pretty darned good job of capturing some of the feel of what the culture of BBQ in North Carolina is all about. I must mention here that you get a sense for this deep rooted NC BBQ Style in the way that Carl “The Cook” Lewis carries himself on this episode of BBQ Pitmasters Kings of Carolina.
North Carolina BBQ Trail – Part 1
This video starts of featuring Stephen Grady of Grady’s Barbecue in Dudley, NC. You start right off early in the morning and watch how he cracks open the dawn by removing the heads and feet from some whole hog carcasses and putting them and the sides of pork on a big old open pit.
We then hear from Samuel Jones of Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC as he tells how cooking BBQ in North Carolina means cooking the whole pig over hardwood coals. It’s about low and slow – with the exact opposite pace of the speedy “want it now, get it now” mindset the world operates in today.
North Carolina BBQ Trail – Part 2
Part 2 of the North Carolina BBQ Trail video features Tammy Godley of B’s Barbecue in Greenville, NC. She shares a little about her family’s history cooking BBQ in the Eastern vinegar based style – cooking 8 hogs a day! Wayne Monk of Lexington Barbecue, in Lexington, NC shares some information about the Western Style of NC ‘cue – talking mainly about cooking shoulders vs. whole hogs, incorporating some red slaw, and finishing up the barbecue with a red barbecue sauce. Heads up here as Tommy Monk shares the basics for the Lexington Barbecue red sauce recipe!
Finally Stephen Grady finishes out Part 2 of the North Carolina BBQ trail video by stating simply:
You got to have a reason to get up in the morning. And this will give you a good reason for gettin’ up…
Amen! Now that we’ve done our homework on North Carolina style barbecue – let’s look at the cook teams who will be competing in this episode of BBQ Pitmasters Kings of Carolina.
The BBQ Pitmasters Kings of Carolina Cook Teams
Jonathan Upchurch – Rocky Top BBQ
A quick look at the history section of the Rocky Top BBQ website and it’s clear to see that Jonathan and his partner in ‘cue Graham Young are all business, all the time when it comes to BBQ. There’s a strong desire for this team of relatively young pitmasters to make their mark not only on the NC BBQ scene, but in competition barbecue in general.
Rocky Top BBQ – Pitmasters Audition Video
I found a great interview with Jonathan over at the Q4Fun Blog, run by Steve Gibbs. In the interview, Jonathan talks about his start with cooking pork butts back in college on the grills at his apartment complex with some pretty disastrous results. He bought a Brinkman Smoker and things improved, and from that point he was hooked.
As the audition video above makes clear – and you’ll see in this episode, these guys are not short on confidence, which is a quality you always see in the best competition cook teams.
BBQ Gear of Choice:
Rocky Top BBQ is cooking on an indirect water cooker designed by none other than Myron Mixon. For those of you not familiar with how a water cooker works – there’s an intake for water through a hose that flows into a pan sitting underneath the meat. A regulator valve and sensor keeps the water at optimum levels, and the steam created inside the insulated cooker cavity helps keep the meat moist as the smoke goes to work on it.
Here’s what Jonathan had to say about the smoker over at the MyronMixonSmokers.com site:
When I went on the search for a cooker that would help me make money and be successful, I found the Myron Mixon 72″. With the capacity to cook up to 60 butts at once or two 200 lb hogs, this cooker is a beast and a money maker for me. It nearly has more insulation than my refrigerator that makes it cook just as efficiently in the rain, snow, or sun.
The automatic water system is a must have and it allows the cooker to regulate its own water level so you don’t have to. You lose no moisture in the meat because it evaporates 5-10 gallons an hour. Basically, you light your fire, load it up, and let it roll. I’ve had no issues with it and it’s by far the best cooker on the market. If I were Myron, a man who stands for quality an excellence, I would put my name on them too. Plainly put, it’s badass.
In addition to the Rocky Top BBQ team, Jonathan owns and operates a catering business. For sure his MMS72 comes in handy as hell where that’s concerned!
Christopher Prieto – PRIME Barbecue
PRIME Barbecue is headed by Christopher Prieto, arguably the pitmaster most concerned with his personal appearance to a degree for this episode. He makes a statement or two that confirms this as you’ll see… claiming in one instance that he’s very proud of his hair. (Watch out Matt Pittman over at the Meat Church – you guys may have to battle it out for the best hair in BBQ.) As a bald guy – I’m no longer eligible for any sort of hair related awards.
In all seriousness, everything about PRIME Barbecue speaks to clean presentation, excellence in execution and presentation, a little flash, and a ton of style.
PRIME Barbecue – Pitmasters Audition Video
Watching Prieto’s team do their thing on Saturday will remind you a little of what we saw with Michael Johnson of Sugarfire BBQ. While PRIME Barbecue doesn’t sport the culinary background or resume that Mike possesses, they definitely let their focus on BBQ Fusion shine as they prep their pork shoulder and ribs.
Christopher and his team really do represent a cool hybrid approach to Carolina Barbecue. You’ll hear him use the word “fusion” at least once when describing his approach, meaning that he’s bringing in flavor components from regions and cuisines outside of what you’d normally expect to see with Carolina ‘cue. I applaud this approach, as it’s nice to have variety out there. I especially enjoy it as a KCBS and FBA judge when competitors step outside the box.
From a competition standpoint, Christopher has some impressive chops. He started competing when he was only 21 years old and has won 9 Grand Championships, has cooked in the Kansas City Royal Invitational, and now he wants to add BBQ Pitmasters Grand Champion to that list. From the looks of his 2 FEC 100s he sporting on set, he definitely knows what’s up in terms of gear. (See my Fast Eddy’s feature in this post for details.)
It’s style and flair all over the place with PRIME Barbecue, and these guys have the passion for NC BBQ and new school techniques that might just put them in the winner’s circle.
BBQ Gear of Choice:
For this episode, PRIME Barbecue is cooking on 2 Fast Eddy’s – Cookshack FEC 100s. These are beasts among pellet smokers and the Fast Eddy’s brand consistently ranks among the favorite cookers out there among professional pitmasters. You can see Plowboy’s BBQ talking about cooking on Fast Eddy’s pellet smokers when they won the American Royal Invitational in this video here.
Carl “The Cook” Lewis – Big Show BBQ
OK. I’m just going to come out and say it… I freaking Love Big Show BBQ. Carl “The Cook” Lewis and John Kearney are what old school North Carolina BBQ is all about, from tail to snout baby!
The fact is, Carl’s Daddy taught him how to cook up hog meat the pure and simple way… the only way… go simple with the seasoning and cook it low and slow over real wood coals. You know those clips I included above with those wise old pitmasters sharing those porky nuggets of pure Carolina BBQ history? Yeah, you could easily throw Carl and his team right on in the mix with those Bad Asses.
Of the three teams competing on this Kings of Carolina episode, Big Show BBQ is the boar with the longest tusks. By that I mean these guys have a little age on Rocky Top BBQ and PRIME Barbecue. More importantly, they have some serious competition experience over them as well.
A Few Words About Carl “The Cook” Lewis
Carl H. Lewis, Jr., a native of Eureka, NC passion for BBQ began at an early age. Carl is the owner and founder of Big Show Foods, Inc., the makers of “John Boy & Billy Grillin’ Sauce” and “Lizard Lick Barbecue Sauce”, and the owner of Carl & ‘Chelle’s Grill Room in Goldsboro, NC.
Carl’s love for BBQ began when he was 8 years old helping his Daddy shovel coals under a whole hog. When he watched the folks eat it and talk about how good it was, he was hooked, and he’s been cooking up his award winning BBQ ever since!
And Don’t Forget Big John Kearney…
John Kearney, a native of Rosewood, NC is very passionate about his BBQ. John is the owner and operator of Hauling Hog Catering in Goldsboro, NC. John is no stranger to the BBQ Circuit and has been serving up award winning Q for many years, from his BBQ Trailer and at competitions.
Carl & John joined forces in 2013 forming the “Big Show BBQ Cooking Team” and are planning to take the 2014 BBQ Circuit by storm. Watch out boys, they’ve got some “Good Stuff”, so get ready to “Get Licked!”
Big Show BBQ – Pitmasters Audition Video
Three things I take away from this video: (1) You’re gonna get Licked (2) It’s all about good barbecue, good fellowship, good family fun , and good friends… and (3) Come ‘on! (that one’s cued up from the same place ol’ Dorsey Odell Hisself gets his.
What? You ain’t met Dorsey Odell? Shoot… I can’t tell you any more about him than you’ll get from this video. Sorry – gotta show ya. You won’t be the same after.
Dorsey Odell – Hopped Up On That Chicken Dust (Can I Get a ‘Come On?)
Carl, and John… I just thought you’d enjoy that. Dorsey is a local Imperial Polk County, Florida Ceeee-Lebrity and head Brisketologist for Team Unknown BBQ.
OK. So let’s take a look at the gear Big Show BBQ will be using in Saturday’s show.
BBQ Gear of Choice:
Craig and John will showcase a large rotisserie pit that has large rotating racks used for cooking big cuts of meat. They also have an insulated gravity fed vertical smoker similar to what we’ve seen on past BBQ Pitmasters shows, as well as a 20 year old direct fire grill that Craig normally keeps on his patio at home… just in case.
BBQ Pitmasters Kings of Carolina – Final Thoughts
Like I’ve said here already, I love Carolina BBQ. Truth be told, it’s my favorite regional style. The heritage, the simplicity, it all speaks to me on some level way, way, down deep inside. Maybe it’s the summers I spent with my Mom’s sister and her family in the Durham, NC area as a kid… I don’t know. I just know that this episode is going to make you guys smile… and it’s another feather in the “Putting the Spotlight on Regional BBQ” cap.