Two decades ago, Bob Garner set off on a statewide exploration of food and restaurants for UNC-TV — and we went with him.
We watched him close his eyes as he dug into banana pudding and country-style steak; we listened to his long and slow “mmm-mmm” noises — he sure said it like he meant it — and we bolted from the couch right after his evening segments to get in the car and go off in search of our own pleasure-inducing meal at places like Fran’s Front Porch, Strickland Dail, and Shelby Cafe.
For years, we relied on Garner to tell us where to eat, from mom-and-pop places to white-tablecloth restaurants all across North Carolina. But anyone who’s ever watched Garner pop a hush puppy in his mouth and proclaim it heaven, or seen him take a mouthful of pit-cooked pork and shake his head in humble admiration knows that one kind of place, maybe more than all the others, holds a special place for Garner.
Garner, you see, knows barbecue.
He is a barbecue historian and a pit master himself. He has talked about North Carolina barbecue on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He’s also the author of three books on barbecue. His latest, Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue published by John F. Blair Publisher in Winston-Salem, might be considered the definitive resource on North Carolina ’cue.
The book took more than a year to compile, and Garner visited 101 North Carolina barbecue joints. Among those, he identifies 42 restaurants as “North Carolina Classics,” those with a strong lineage and historical significance as well as fantastic food.
This month, we set off on an exploration of our own, accompanied by Garner’s book, in his own words, to 10 of those places for a special Our State look at what makes a champion.
Our State offers thanks to John F. Blair Publisher for allowing us to reprint Bob Garner’s stories of North Carolina’s classic barbecue spots.To order Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue: North Carolina’s Favorite Food, contact John F. Blair Publisher. 1406 Plaza Drive, Winston-Salem, N.C. 27103. blairpub.com.
See the rest of Our State’s barbecue tour:
Allen & Son Barbeque
Bridges Barbecue Lodge
Little Richard’s Barbecue
The Pit Authentic Barbecue
Short Sugar’s Pit Bar-B-Q
The Skylight Inn