North Carolina BBQ: Lexington and Eastern NC BBQ in one weekend

Lexington BBQ popular menu item. The chopped pork tray

I managed to eat at two iconic BBQ restaurants in North Carolina in one weekend featuring two of the most popular types of North Carolina barbecue.

On the first night, I stopped at Lexington Barbecue, the most legendary of the Lexington-style barbecue restaurants in Lexington, NC. The image at the top of this post is from Lexington Barbecue : hush puppies, slaw, chopped barbecue and Cheerwine.

Wayne Monk opened Lexington BBQ was in 1962. During the Reagan presidency, the White House book him to cater a meal for heads of state at Williamsburg, Va. that included Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterand. Barbecue was already “a thing” when Monk was growing; he managed to make it a much “bigger thing.” There are maybe two dozen BBQ places in Lexington, but this one along Old I-85 is ground zero.

It’s now run by Monk’s son, Rick.

The sign in the parking lot for Lexington BBQ.

The next afternoon I was in Ayden, North Carolina at the equally iconic Skylight Inn BBQ, eastern-North Carolina style whole-hog barbecue that has was opened in 1947 by Pete Jones, a 17-year-old who read or write. There was a line in mid-afternoon that moved quickly to the chop-chop of barbecue on the cutting board. I had pretty much the same meal as in Lexington except instead of hushpuppies, I had the flat cornbread the Skylight Inn serves.

There was also a huge supply wood behind the restaurant for its wood-fired cooking. The replica of the U.S. Capitol Dome on the top of the building was added in 1984 after National Geographic named it the “capital of barbecue.” In 2003, it received the James Beard “America’s Classics” Award.

It’s still family run by Pete’s son Bruce, nephew Jeff, and grandson Sam Jones.

Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, North Carolina with its U.S. Capitol top.
Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, North Carolina.

If you want to delve into the differences between Lexington and Eastern NC, this Washington Post article is a quick take.

Which is better? Lemme taste both again.