Food

Grady’s Barbecue

  • By Emily Wallace
  • Photography by Geoff Wood

Eating barbecue at this Dudley restaurant is simple, but running the place requires some sacrifices.

Gradys-Barbecue

The coals are finished. By 8 a.m., splintered hickory and oak give way to a heap of smoke-tinged, whole-hog barbecue. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t pine for the slow-cooked meat Steve Grady prepares four days a week at his cinder-block building in Dudley. But locating someone who would like to do his job is another story.

“Nobody wants to fight grease and sweat like we do,” says Gerri Grady, Steve’s wife, who runs the restaurant with him. She learned that lesson on her first day in 1986 when her brother-in-law started the restaurant. He opened it on a Friday and decided by the start of Saturday he was done with barbecue.

Steve’s brother told him, “I can’t stand the smoke. There ain’t nothing about it I like.”

But Gerri did enjoy it, so Steve’s brother made him an offer: He’d sell the business to him for less than he paid. About three weeks later, armed with loans from the bank and Steve’s boss from the local sawmill, the Gradys entered the barbecue business. Gerri had recently lost her job at Wayne Memorial Hospital, but Steve still held his job at the sawmill in addition to working on his farm.

“Gerri had one day of experience, and I didn’t have any,” Steve says. But he knew he could handle it, thinking to himself, “I can cook a pig; I’ve always known how to cook a pig.”

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Hickory and oak

Steve and Gerri grew up on farms in nearby Seven Springs. And whenever someone in the community held an event, Steve watched his grandfather — the neighborhood pit master — smoke a hog over coals in a hole dug in the ground. The method is similar to the way Steve cooks today. He lights fires in a pit built with bricks that form an eight-inch wall.

“You don’t need something that fancy to cook a pig,” Steve says. “All you need to do is manage the heat.”

The pit house at Grady’s sits a few feet behind the restaurant. And if there’s any question about what happens inside it, the open shed next door provides a hint. Steve chops hickory and oak logs and stacks them inside the shed for all who drive by to see. He receives a call whenever a storm hits Wayne County.

“Usually somebody always has some tree they want to cut, and I cut it,” he explains. The tornadoes that swept through eastern North Carolina in April 2011 left him with a seemingly endless supply of wood. “I might cut a little bit this winter,” he says.

For years, Steve worked at the sawmill, manned the pits, and raised his own hogs. But keeping three jobs — including one that required him to stoke a fire most hours of the night — became too much. “I didn’t have time to tend to [them],” he says of the hogs. So while he still farms 15 acres of hay and 23 acres of soybeans, he now buys his livestock from a grower who lives a mile from the restaurant. The driving route is longer, however, looping around a swath of trees.

A little more

Steve and Gerri tend to stay away from shortcuts. At the restaurant, Gerri brews tea on the stove top, and peels and chops vegetables for side dishes — stewed collards and cabbage, slaw and potato salad. Like Steve, she learned from working with her family on the farm.

“My mama used to have me in the kitchen when I was 9 or 10 years old, and I learned from her,” Gerri says. “I try to cook like her, my grandmother, and my mother-in-law. They were three good cooks.”

Gerri makes the fourth in that line, adapting family recipes to serve on a larger scale. That quantity was one of the hardest things to master. On the first day of business, most barbecue plates went out with no bread.

“But we did have slaw,” she says. “We got by, and the next week we tried to work it out a little better.”

In the 26 years since, the Gradys have worked it out quite well, appearing in the pages of USA Today and GQ, talking to groups for the North Carolina Barbecue Society and the Southern Foodways Alliance, and serving good food to hundreds. “We’ve had people fly from New York just to have a taste,” Gerri says.

Customers make the hard work worth it, she says, but a few other advances have also eased the Gradys’ efforts. Gerri once used a little black pot for bread making but eventually replaced it with multiple deep-fat fryers.

And three to four years ago, Steve, now 77, found a way to get a little more rest. Instead of starting a fire with wood at 1 a.m. and staying up the rest of the night, he builds the first fire with charcoal at 11 p.m. and is back in bed three hours later. At 4 a.m., he rises to smoke the hog with hickory and oak, finishing by 8 a.m.

“I don’t get good sleep,” Steve says, “but I get plenty, I reckon.”

Grady’s Barbecue
3096 Arrington Bridge Road
Dudley, N.C. 28333
(919) 735-7243
Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Emily Wallace is a freelance writer and illustrator in Durham.

This entry was posted in Coast, Dining, January 2013 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Grady’s Barbecue

  1. Pingback: News from around the BBQ Blogsphere | The Arrogant Swine

  2. gibbsmack says:

    Best Eastern NC BBQ I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. As a home smoker myself, it’s a humbling experience tasting a product so good. I found Grady’s about a year ago, reading reviews of cue joints across the state. When I read “It tastes so good, I didn’t want to swallow it.”, I decided I had to try it. No need to look any further for the best BBQ. This is it.
    Thank you for your hard work and passion for good food, Steve and Gerri Grady! Long may you live!

  3. Ricky Grady says:

    Great BBQ, but also good people. Wish them many more years of serving.

  4. Glenn Fields says:

    I really like Grady’s BBQ. I have eaten barbecue in quite a number of restaurants in eastern NC. There are only two that I go to any more. They both cook with wood and are great. Grady’s is on top for me. I just eat at the other one when I want cue at night. Ms. Gerri is so nice and friendly as is the rest of the staff. The cue is superb thanks to Mr. Stephen. Try it, you might (will) like it.

  5. Carter Monroe says:

    This is a world class place to eat. When I have friends down from around the US I take them by Grady’s even if they’re closed just to see the restaurant. And, it’s not just about Eastern NC BBQ pork. Try the hamburger steak over rice or the BBQ chicken. Many people in Wayne County live for their fried chicken. I even know vegetarians who dine there frequently just for the cabbage, black-eyed peas, and boiled potatoes.

    When we had our family Christmas gathering last year on Christmas Eve, I ordered all the food from Grady’s and our out of town relatives were literally gushing. Don’t even mention that “Miss Gerri” is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and is always appreciative of your business. Grady’s BBQ is a landmark. If you’re reading this “Miss Gerri,” I’m the guy with the ball cap, glasses, and overalls. I’ll be there tomorrow.

  6. Andre' says:

    Grady’s is simply the best! Besides having the best BBQ around, every visit makes you feel right at home and you can’t wait to come back!

  7. Judy and Ron Brogden says:

    Love Grady’s. the are the nicest people and work so hard to provide us with such good BBQ. I always go when we are in Goldsboro, NC. Great food.

  8. Emory Daly says:

    The best BBQ in the state my brother and I are there every sat for Grady’s good old BBQ.

  9. Roger Whaley says:

    I am native eastern north Carolinian. I have eaten BBQ all over N.C. I am 67 years old. I now live in Swansboro N.C. I drive 160 miles round trip to Grady’s BBQ just to get great BBQ. Thanks so much for cooking with wood and being such a good host.

  10. Darlene kelly-taylor says:

    The best choppef bbq around, and omg the sweet tea and lemonade is absolutely the best, soo sweet!

  11. Beth says:

    Grady’s Barbeque is fantastic! This should be on the bucket list of places to try for everyone who enjoys amazing barbeque!

  12. Beachhouse3 says:

    This is the real stuff – make the trip!

  13. Maurice Kelly says:

    This has to be some of the best tasting Barbecue I have ever tasted, everyone should go on down and give it a try!

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