Traditional NC Bar-B-Q (Lexington style)

Strap on your reading specs, forget everything you ever knew about BBQ and join me as I take you on a journey inside Lexington Style NC BBQ.

First let's define NC BBQ (source)

"The big difference between eastern barbecue and western - or Lexington-style, as it's sometimes called - barbecue is that ketchup is commonly added to the sauce of western barbecue. The other difference is that in the east they use the whole hog, both white and dark meat, while in the west they cook only the pork shoulder, which is dark meat and thus more fatty, moister and richer."

OK, now that we know that Lexington Style is:

  1. Sauce contains ketchup
  2. Pork Shoulder (instead of whole hog)
  3. Chopped not pulled

I should also let you know a few other tidbits about NC BBQ.

  • It is Pork shoulder or whole hog. (No beef, no ribs, no chicken....)
  • Outside of a finishing sauce, there is no sauce used with NC BBQ, also there is not usually any rub used (other than Coarse Sea Salt).
  • Cooking temps are usually in the 275 range
  • Whole logs or large splits are used

Here is my version I have been cooking for 30+ years and learned from folks much older than me who knew their way around a pit in NC.

I couldn't locate a whole shoulder out here on the west coast, so I picked up the next best thing.
A ~10lb butt & a ~10lb picnic (these two cuts are what make up a whole shoulder)
It is important to get meat from both cuts to get the true texture you would get in a NC Q joint.

They went on the smoker - naked.

Picnic on the left, butt on the right

Picnic on the left, butt on the right

that's right NAKED! No rub, no sauce..NAKED! just as God intended.


After the meat has developed a good sweat, it is time to pour salt in it's wounds.

Coarse Sea Salt is sprinkled liberally on the top (fat/skin is on bottom) <Important step!

Leave meat alone at this point until it hits 185 - 190 IT (no foil - ever!)
Once it hits the magic number, it goes into a cooler to rest.

I pulled these at 3am and they sat in cooler until 9am


After I pulled them from cooler, I put into bus tub to separate.


Picnic on left, butt on right

Picnic on left, butt on right

In true NC BBQ tradition, these were pulled into the major chunks and muscles first, then they get tossed with the finishing sauce.

Lexington Style Finishing Sauce


    • 2 cups cider vinegar
    • 1/2 cup ketchup
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon Gourmet Sea Salt
    • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
    • 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes (or up to 1 tablespoon, if you like hotter sauce)
    • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together and let sit 10 minutes. Add to chopped barbecue when hot to season the meat and keep it from drying out.

Then those chunks and muscles get coarse chopped.
To complete the NC BBQ sandwich, you must use CWB (cheap white buns), and some of the finishing sauce as a dipping sauce.
You also MUST use slaw: white coleslaw or red BBQ slaw - your choice.