Lexington is the self proclaimed BBQ capitol of North Carolina. With BBQ shacks like Speedy’s, Stamey’s, Lexington BBQ and The BBQ Center lining the streets it’s not hard to see why. If anything this town at least has the most traditional BBQ for Eastern North Carolina standards. This region is known for pit smoked whole hog with vinegar BBQ sauce, red slaw and hushpuppies. The BBQ Center, which celebrated it’s 60 year anniversary this year, is the perfect example if you want to see what this style of BBQ is all about.
The pit was happily smoking away when we pulled up to The BBQ Center’s massive parking lot. The 60 year old plus building has all the tell tale signs of generations of success. Multiple old signs (they probably get a new one every 15 years or so), old vintage ice box outside, a covered portion of the parking lot reserved for curb side service that reminds you of roller-skating waitresses and doo wop 50’s music and an ancient looking brick and cast iron smoke house out back (that would never in a million years be up to code in San Francisco).
When you walk inside there is a lively buzz. Every seat is filled, swarms of waitresses circle the dining room offering way too much sweet tea, the well lit walls are lined with BBQ festival posters, enormous banana splits are being built at the long diner style counter, massive plates of BBQ are flying out of the kitchen and everyone looks happy.
The BBQ – BBQ in NC generally means one thing. Smoked whole hog. You can get it fine chopped, course chopped, sliced or pulled. We ordered fine chopped and course chopped. Both came with vinegar BBQ sauce drizzled over the top. Although there wasn’t a huge smokiness to the pork the flavor was still good and the meat was moist. Their dark meat BBQ chicken was excellent. Chunks of perfectly moist meat pulling effortlessly off the bone with a hint of black pepper.
The Sides – The BBQ Center offers white or red slaw but since we were in red slaw country we opted for the latter. It was just as I remembered; small diced cabbage tossed in vinegar BBQ sauce with a hint of horseradish, an excellent contrast to the fatty pork. Hushpuppies (fried cornmeal batter) were of course brought out on the side and added a crunchy, salty and sweet addition to the meal. Also offered on the menu are crinkle cut french fries, baked beans that tasted like they were out of a can and fried okra which was nice and crunchy with a fresh pure okra flavor.
Desserts – The restaurant’s famous Banana split is older than the BBQ Center is (originally named The Dairy Center the restaurant was an ice-cream house before it was a BBQ house). I think I counted 9 scoops of ice-cream and then watched as the waitress proceeded to load on “wet nuts” (walnuts in syrup), whipped cream, chocolate syrup and a maraschino cherry. The sugary monstrosity was carried over to a table where 5 people dug in with spoons and devoured it. Also offered are apple pie, pecan pie and a variety of ice-cream and frozen yogurt flavors. I opted for the traditional BBQ shack staple banana pudding. Which (also traditional) was most likely the recipe off the side of a Nilla wafers box.
Having no regrets we stumbled out of there full and happy and in seek of a cold beer to wash it all down with. If you want to learn what Eastern North Carolina BBQ is all about, The BBQCenter has definitely got you covered.
900 N. Main st.
Lexington, NC 27292
Closed Sundays (like all BBQ joints in the south)