Chase Webb figures he’s eaten barbecue every single day of his life — tender, hand-chopped pork, painstakingly pit-cooked over a bed of glowing hickory and oak, slathered in red, Lexington-style sauce. Oh, and hush puppies and red slaw. As the co-owner of Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby, and the grandson of Red Bridges himself, it’s a habit he’d never try, or want, to break. “It’s just so moist with the smoke flavor in there, the little brown bits, and a little bit of crunchy …” Webb trails off with a sigh. “Oh my God, I’m telling you, I am still not sick of it.”
For Webb, who represents the third generation to run Red Bridges, keeping the restaurant going — and cooking the barbecue exactly the same way his grandfather did more than 70 years ago — is about carrying on a family legacy. “I want to make him proud,” Webb says. “I cook barbecue in the same exact way he did when he started in 1946. Barbecue and hospitality — it’s a family tradition.”
Our State sat down with Webb to learn more about the Red Bridges tradition, and the beloved barbecue that generations of customers can’t get enough of.
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OS: What sets Red Bridges’ style of barbecue apart?
Webb: We pit-cook our barbecue on hickory and oak, and we cook it fresh every night. It takes 12 hours on average. It’s just pit-cooked, fresh-smoked barbecue. Our sauce has a ketchup-vinegar base. Here in the western side of the state, we love our ketchup-vinegar base. We’ve done the barbecue the exact same way for 72 years; we don’t want change. I think that sets us apart, too. We want the barbecue you had back in 1995 to taste exactly the same as it does in 2018.
OS: How did the restaurant get its start?
Webb: My grandfather was a cook in the Army, and when he came home to North Carolina, he wanted to open a restaurant. He was taught how to cook by [North Carolina barbecue legend] Warner Stamey back in the ’40s, and they pit-cooked it on hickory and oak. At the time, out on Highway 74 in Shelby, this was the middle of nowhere. We were one of the first restaurants with air-conditioning and one of the first to serve Sun Drop.
OS: How did you get into the family business?
Webb: I grew up working in the restaurant. I started cooking meat when I was about 14 years old, and then I started cutting slaw when I was about 15. That’s when I really started getting my hands on things. One memory that brings me back to this place and keeps me most connected to it is my grandmother teaching me the process. I remember when she sat me down and told me, “You’re going to learn how to cook meat.” That was one of the proudest moments for me, because I knew my grandmother trusted me. And she was old-school, straight to the point — so if she asked you to do something, she had confidence in you.
OS: What’s it like to be part of the third generation to work at Red Bridges?
Webb: A lot of our employees have been here 30 and 40 years, and our customers have been coming for 60 and 70 years. We really connect with the community. We’re really close with a lot of our customers. Some come every day — if they don’t come in, then we know something’s going on or something’s wrong. I would love for my little nephews to take over someday, to be the fourth generation, because it means the world to me, and I know it would mean the world to them.
OS: What do you love most about carrying on this tradition?
Webb: Fund-raisers, weddings, backyard barbecues, restaurants — barbecue brings people together; it’s a communal food. I’m very proud of what I do. I don’t want to let my grandmother down. I want to make sure she’s proud of me — and my grandfather, too. A lot of the locals look up to us because we are carrying on a family tradition, the third generation. And it makes me proud — I love to do it. The most rewarding part about what I do is making people happy, getting their bellies full, and seeing them smile and carry on. Anytime I’m cooking, eating, or even talking about barbecue, I feel close to my family. It just warms my heart up.