Lexington #1 BBQ
10 US Hwy 29-70 South
Lexington, NC 27294
Lexington is one of North Carolina's barbeque meccas, a town whose various and sundry BBQ joints have been operating since 1919. Lexington barbeque is all about slow-cooked pork shoulder, cooked over hickory wood and tended with love and affection by the town's accomplished pitmasters. A "dip" composed of vinegar, ketchup and spices is basted on the pig in lieu of a rub, creating the uniquely flavorful appeal of NC's distinctive BBQ. The finished pork shoulder is served either chopped super-fine, chopped not-so-fine, or sliced. I prefer the version in the middle, served with "outside brown," the crispy and flavorful pork skin still attached. (Some BBQ restaurants in the area make their own fried pork skins which may be ordered as an appetizer or side dish.) Other attributes of Lexington barbeque include tasty, Cheetoh-puff shaped corn hush puppies, "bbq" or "brown" coleslaw, and vinegar-and-spice based sauces (used sparingly and with reluctance by the hardcore).
We went to Lexington #1 BBQ, which is purported to be the best. Area residents seem to be engaged in a constant argument over which Lexington joint reigns supreme: my uncle, for example, swears by nearby Speedy's, whereas my dad is a Lexington #1 partisan. Barbeque is an extremely controversial subject in North Carolina.
Lexington #1 is extremely popular, and the parking lot was packed the day we visited. The restaurant seems to traffic primarily in to-go orders, but we were there to eat in, so we took our places in the swiftly moving line. The dining area is basic but clean, and the wait staff are models of efficiency and professionalism. They've got to be fast.
I chose the chopped pork with outside brown. Lexington #1 serves barbeque in either plates or trays. Plates include meat, cole slaw, french fries, and another side item (I hear the beans are good,) and trays offer simply meat and coleslaw in a handy cardboard holder. Since the tray actually contains more meat then the plate and I am ambivalent to french fries, I chose the tray. The meat was good, if a little tougher then I might have liked - but the pork skin was truly delicious, a thin layer of fat giving way to a crackly, rich exterior layer. I am also wild about Lexington style coleslaw: vinegar and spice is the main player here instead of the gloppy mayo-ridden junk that passes for slaw in most regions of the country. Dee-vine.
The hushpuppies are also a work of art at Lexington #1. Lightly fried corn meal without cloying sweetness, these are an absolute must. They come with pretty much everything at Lexington #1, so you don't need to worry about somehow missing them.
The restaurant offers cobbler and pie for dessert, but I didn't sample those. You pay at the counter and stand in line with your fellow BBQ eaters with your money in hand: it's great fun to watch waitresses dashing food out of the kitchen and the meat choppin' area into the main room. I noticed someone noshing down on a smoked turkey sandwich while I was in line: apparently Lexington #1's smoked turkey is tasty indeed. Have to get a side of it next time. To go with the pork.