BBQ ROADTRIP!!! : Hill's Lexington Barbecue - Winston Salem, North Carolina
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In New York City, Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken makes the city’s best tasting fried chicken. I also don’t eat there very often. While the chicken is amazing, it’s all the way up in Harlem and in a particularly dodgy area to boot. The staff tends to be indifferent to your presence and you need some effort to get them to stop talking on their cell phones to take your order. The space is also very cramped. Needless to say if it was up to my wife, we would never go there.
So the “best” BBQ experience is the sum of its parts. They have TV shows in which they do bIind taste tests to determine who has the best hotdogs/BBQ/Pastrami etc. That’s all fine and good on an entertainment level but it’s not terribly practical.
I will say that of all the Western/Piedmont/Lexington style BBQ in North Carolina, I enjoy eating at Hill’s the best. For one it’s definite a lot nicer looking than most places. Hey even serve you on plates and trays not made of paper! Not that I really care about that but it sticks out. It’s not as pretty as Stamey’s in Greensboro but it’s nice. Winston Salem as one of the major cities in North Carolina is oddly well served by top BBQ spots. Charlotte for example doesn’t have much BBQ to brag about. The University Triangle area really only has Allen & Son’s a destination spot. I’d throw in the Pit but as Big Ed is no longer there, I’m unsure of its current quality.
Is everything about Hill’s the best? No. I actually enjoy the hush puppies at Little Richards more. But Hill’s hush puppies were very good PLUS they got North Carolina’s best banana pudding. Banana pudding is the state’s signature dessert and I’m not sure how Hill’s does it, but the entire custard wafer mixture is just perfumed with banana essence. I tried getting dessert over at Little Richards but they don’t seem to offer it on a regular basis. Even my wife loved the pudding and she hates pudding. I honestly can’t think of a better dessert than a warm custard. It’s definitely not the prettiest dessert but there’s something very proper and regal about it.
The one thing I really liked about Hill’s was they mixed in the outside brown into your BBQ without you asking. In the western part of the state, you can order your BBQ in a myriad of ways. One of them is getting “outside brown” which is the part of the shoulders where the flesh was exposed to the smoke during the cooking process. I’ve been to plenty of BBQ joints in which none of the bark was mixed in and you just had bland inside flesh. Unfortunately for me, I tend to forget to specify I want some bark mixed in. The fact that Hill’s just mixes it in without asking is definite plus. Just to sample everything I got it chopped and sliced. Both were very good.
Hill’s claims to be the “original” Lexington barbecue. This does not mean they think they originated the style, they’re taking credit for coining the name “Lexington-style BBQ”. The vinegar-tomato sauce is largely a creation of the city of Lexington, soon it became the signature style of the Piedmont Triangle. People now continue to call Piedmont area BBQ to be “Lexington-Style”. Hill’s has long left the fairly small city of Lexington to serve the larger Winston Salem area.
They’re also open on Sunday which is an important thing to note if you’re going on a BBQ roadtrip. Many places down South do not. So If you have a Sunday itinerary, they’re a great resource to have.
After dinner they were nice enough to show me their pits in the back. Now the cooking for the day was long done but the lingering hickory smoke just hits you like a heavy-weight boxer! A few wood chips in your charcoal grill is a very pleasant smell. But these guys burn through truckloads of hickory wood and that concentrated pungency is needed to get through that dense meat.
As noted above, I have and will continue to sample many different North Carolina BBQ joints both Eastern whole hog and Lexington-style shoulder. Everyone has their little niche and there’s many who do a great job. Others have their standard pick for the “Best” in Lexington BBQ. Names like Honey Monk’s are legends for a reason, they’re really really good. For me though, I still pick Hill’s as my favorite Lexington style joint.