photograph by David Stanley

RED SLAW

Traditional Lexington-style red slaw has been around since the early 20th century, spreading throughout the Piedmont and western North Carolina.

WHITE SLAW

In eastern North Carolina, where pitmaster Sam Jones claims it’s not “white” slaw but rather “sweet” slaw, sugar is the perfect complement to the smoke-and-vinegar flavor of a whole hog cooked for 18 hours.

 

Cabbage, ketchup, vinegar, salt, sugar, and a pepper blend. And a bowl chopper so that the cabbage is fine but not too fine: You want that unique consistency of runny enough to blend, but solid enough to hold its texture.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

 

Minced (not chopped) cabbage, and absolutely no vinegar. “It’s three to five ingredients: mayo, sugar, cabbage, mustard, and some whipped salad dressing,” Jones says. “Anything else is just fancying it up.”

 

“We’ve snuck white slaw on the menu,” says Cecil Conrad, chef/owner of the Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington, “but it’s buried near the bottom.

TOP SECRET
 

“We’ve snuck white slaw on the menu,” says Cecil Conrad, chef/owner of the Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington, “but it’s buried near the bottom.

Red slaw uses the same flavor profile as the sauce in Lexington-style barbecue, Conrad says. But in Lexington, locals call it “dip,” not “sauce.”

DID YOU KNOW?

At Sam Jones BBQ and its sister restaurant, Skylight Inn BBQ, both in Pitt County, 3,500 pounds of cabbage a week are ground into slaw, made fresh every morning.

Red slaw has a kick you won’t find in white slaw. And, aesthetically speaking, there’s something about a plate of auburn-colored food that just goes together.

WHY WE LOVE IT

“Red slaw has a bite,” Jones says. “Taste is personal, but sweet slaw works best to balance the pork’s natural sodium content and the tang of the vinegar in the sauce.”

Cecil Conrad is the second-generation owner and chef of the Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington, open since 1955.

THE EXPERTS

Sam Jones is the owner of Sam Jones BBQ. Now 37, he got his start sweeping floors at the Skylight Inn when he was 9.

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.

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