On my current work expedition through North Carolina, I realized I’d be passing through Lexington, home to a very particular and infamous style of BBQ. In this part of the country, BBQ is equivalent to pork, and the trademark offering is a chopped sandwich.
I sampled five sandwiches in an hour, the first twenty miles south of Lexington in Salisbury, the other four being within a few miles of each other in Lexington. I could have chosen from maybe ten places in a five mile radius, so my selections were somewhat blind. Everything was quick, though I could have probably had my four sandwiches in twenty minutes if I really tried. Three of the four restaurants offered curb side service, all you have to do is park in a certain area and honk your horn.
The Lexington chopped sandwich is defined by it’s minced smoky pork shoulder, mixed with bits of bark, a “red” vinegar based sauce (each place apparently has their secret formula), and mayonnaise-less chopped cole slaw.
Chopped isn’t my favorite pork shoulder product, I think chopping it up results in loss of moisture and they tend to be too lean. By no means would I say this is life changing BBQ, but this is a sandwich about balance between the components and subtle differences, in a tiny town with a firm BBQ identity.
The sandwich below at Smiley’s may not look like much, but it was my favorite. In general, they all look the same, even arriving in the same white lunch bag at each destination. But this one was moist, noticeably smokey, non-mushy texture (which I saw elsewhere), with just enough sauce and crunchy cole slaw, but the real difference maker was the large amount of densely flavored bark mixed in. There was twice as much of it as the next competitor.
Now, I think this is where luck is involved. There is only so much bark on a smoked shoulder, and the person making the sandwich is going to decide how much to disperse in your particular sandwich. A guy I met in Raleigh told me if you know the person making the sandwich and you call in your order, your more likely to get more of the good stuff. As far as the secret sauce formulas went, I didn’t notice much difference.
In Salisbury I tried a “sliced” sandwich, which is the term they use for pulled pork. It was decent, but there was no fat and no bark, so it was dry and without enough flavor. I did like it better after dipping it in the thin vinegar sauce though, a style of sauce I enjoy as it’s not too sweet and cloying. It was a fun food learning expedition.
Full set of photos here.