Friday, October 30, 2009

Lexington #1 (3/10) - 10 Hwy 29-70 South, Lexington, NC 27295

To the chagrin of many of my colleagues, I had visited approximately 60 barbecue joints over the past couple months and had yet to try North Carolina barbecue.  Carolinians love their barbecue and claim that its the best in the land.  To further complicate matters, the style of barbecue typically differs by which half of the state you're in.  West of Raleigh is known for its Western NC style of barbecue while anything east of Raleigh is known for its Eastern NC style barbecue.   While the entire state smoked pork, the western side typically smokes shoulders and hams while the eastern side typically smokes the entire hog.  The western side also uses a more traditional tomato-based sauce while the eastern side uses a higher concentration of vinegar in the sauce.  If you ask Western NC style fans where to head to try great barbecue, they'll undoubtedly tell you to visit any of the restaurants in Lexington, NC, a town that is self-proclaimed as the barbecue capital of the world, while most likely telling you to try Lexington #1 Barbecue.  I was hoping the food would talk for itself.

Lexington #1 is a large building built along the slopes of a hill against business route 85.  It is an impressive and glorious site.  The parking lot was completely packed, and I imagine this is typical for a restaurant with such a great reputation.  The line inside was 10 people deep, but I was able to by-pass the crowd by taking a seat at the counter.  The hospitality evident and heart warming as Rick Monk, who was stationed behind the counter, welcomed 94% of the incoming patrons by name.  Rick's father Wayne opened Lexington #1 back in the early 50's and the place has been family operated and owned ever since. 

I asked Rick for a small plate of pork and he said that he wanted me to try a few other dishes out of the kitchen.  I was served hush puppies, fried pork cheek, smoked turkey, smoked pork, and a side of slaw.  The slaw that is served in North Carolina is absurdly blasphemous and hardly edible.  The cabbage is finely chopped before being dosed in vinegar and an obscene amount of ketchup.   The sour flavor masks the flavor of the pork and is even less edible on its own.  I cannot imagine how locals in North Carolina proudly pass this off as good cole slaw because it's putrid - plain and simple.  The pork was finely chopped and rather dry, the pork cheeks tasted like bagged pork rinds in a convenient store, and the turkey was the best dish I tried this afternoon.  In a blind taste test, I cannot imagine anyone preferring Lexington #1 over any other run of the mill barbecue restaurant.  I suppose you either like North Carolina style barbecue or you don't.   I forgot to take pictures of my food so I found a an image online that looks identical to what I was served.

Lexington Barbecue on Urbanspoon


  1. I am loving your blog if for anything the fact that everyone does bbq pork differently!
    Having lived in a bunch of places, I actually crave grotie NC BBQ slaw and hushpuppies at times (and yes, the first time I tried them I was maybe 5 at the Lexington #1! LOL!).
    That being said, I also love dry rub ribs and sweet ketchupy sauce too. Maybe I'm just in love with the pig! Can't wait to see where you stop next.

  2. You dont know what you speak of, and you should learn more about barbecue. Raleigh is the dividing point of east and west?? who knew?!

  3. I mean I guess one can blog about whatever they please, but you are fucking stupid. And Im not speaking in defense of Lenxington, just pointing out your lack of knowledge.

  4. Here's another perspective. I've also been on a little quest over the past 6 months trying roughly 50 different BBQ joints in KC.
    I got the opportunity to travel to Lexington NC through work this week. Lexington is a town of 17,000 residents with 17 barbecue restaurants and an annual BBQ festival that draws north of a hundred thousand people. These people are serious about barbecue and Lexington is their Mecca (Google Lexington barbecue). In NC, barbecue means pork and in Lexington it means pit smoked pork shoulder. It comes finely chopped, course chopped, or sliced (think slabs more than thin slices). No brisket or burnt ends on the menu. You can get a sandwich, a plate, or a tray.

    I hit 5 barbecue places here in two days right after two straight days of KC barbecue. In general, the meat is similar to KC. The key differences are (1) they serve it with slaw,(2) the sauce is not a focus. Thin with more vinegar and less sweet tomato than KC, (3) hushpuppies are the traditional side, and (4) they separate the bark and only add it back in if you ask them to add some “browns”). Also a general comment that these places were nice. Not upscale, but well maintained, clean, friendly, and you could tell they care. There are a bunch of KC places that could take a lesson here.

    Lexington Barbecue – 2/21/11
    This is the most famous place in Lexington. My initial thought was that I certainly hope this isn't the best NC has to offer. $3.90 for a “sliced” pork sandwich – expensive by local standards. They only serve one size which is a relatively small sandwich on a medium to small bun. Pork was thick cut, not much smoke, moist enough, and not too fatty. Good, but unremarkable. For KC, this would be middle of the pack or lower. I ordered the slaw on the side. I didn’t like it, but not a big slaw guy. Sauce was basically vinegar and chili powder. It would take some getting used to. I ordered hushpuppies (because I felt like I was supposed to). They were pretty good, but I don’t have much to compare them to. Clean, fun and friendly family place where everyone seemed to know everyone else. It was busy at 2:30 in the afternoon.

    The Bar-B-Q Center on Main – 2/21/11
    Early dinner. $3.25 for the sandwich. Small by KC standards, but also cheap. Two of these would be bigger than most $6.50 sandwiches in KC. I forgot to order the slaw on the side so it came with slaw on it. The meat was pulled/chunked. Good and not greasy, but not very smoky. I liked the slaw on it. It added both a texture and a flavor that complimented the pork. All in all this sandwich was better than the one above. Bar-B-Q Center is a nice diner/counter place and similar to Lexington BBQ above, but smaller.

    Smiley’s – 2/22/11
    I stopped here for a pork sandwich in the morning. Chopped pork and with BBQ slaw. $3.25 for the sandwich. Chopped is similar to pulled in KC without being as stringy. Good, but not much bark. More slaw came on this one than at the BBQ center which wasn’t as good. I’m thinking a thin layer is good. Thick is bad. The slaw adds tang, crunch, and moisture. Smiley’s is a small counter/diner atmosphere. Clean and friendly.

    Clarks north of Lexington – 2/22/11
    Lunch at Clarks. So far the sandwiches in Lexington are pretty similar to each other (unlike in KC) $2.95 for this one. It was mushier than earlier ones, but only a thin layer of slaw which was perfect. The slaw is growing on me. Very good overall. Nice clean friendly place.

    Prissy Polly’s – 2/22/11
    I ate here before going to the airport. Pork sandwich and hushpuppies was $3.35. It came with lots of choices. Eastern or Lexington style? With slaw or without? BBQ slaw or mayonnaise slaw? I got Lexington style with BBQ slaw. It was the mushiest barbecue so far. Not quite Sams Club frozen BBQ, but close. Not my favorite. The hushpuppies were amazing. Shaped like onion rings and very good with a sweet batter. I could get used to these.

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  6. I have to agree with jazzisthedevil. You don't know shit about bbq.


Ratings and Reviews

In order to provide a consistent grading standard across each restaurant/region, I order a barbecue pork sandwich (and other meats/sides if a restaurant/region specializes in another specialty). In addition to comparing the quality of food, I will also take into consideration other intangibles (ambiance, atmosphere, service, authenticity, etc.) in my ratings as I deem appropriate.

Basically, a 10/10 represents an incredible meal, while a 6/10 score indicates a decent dining experience but a substantial number of dishes fell short of great. Lower scores indicate unpleasant experiences which I would most likely not even recommend to my worst enemy (Jonas Singer).

I reserve the right to continuously edit/update previous posts and to change rating scores as I see fit.