CarterQue in Mount Airy
By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
You can smell the sweet smoke from CarterQue Barbeque & Grilling Co. several blocks before you pull into its always-crowded parking lot in Mount Airy. When you get inside the yellow-walled space decorated with neon beer signs, license plates and a jackalope crossing notice, the scent becomes more nuanced. You can pick up undercurrents of slow-roasted pork, rich molasses and a golden sugariness that turns out to be from the caky, Northern-style corn bread.
These fetching fragrances are like pheromones for your belly, so expect hunger pangs to escalate quickly.
Barbecuing began as a weekend hobby for 37-year-old co-owner Chris Carter, a Mount Airy local. He entered a barbecue competition nearly a decade ago and took second place with his sweet and tangy black raspberry sauce, which is now CarterQue’s claim to condiment fame. Over the next couple of years he kept entering and winning contests, inspiring him to open a part-time barbecue catering service in 2006. A year later, he and his wife, co-owner Jessica Carter, quit their jobs and cut the ribbon on the original location of the restaurant in a former firehouse in Mount Airy that had room for only 30 seats.
That limited space kept pace with demand for only a year, so the Carters moved into their current address in early 2008. They plan to open another location in Frederick this year with an eye to franchise outlets throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Chris Carter developed all of the recipes himself, though he has stepped away from his role as pit master. The pulled pork is a labor of love. First massaged with a cayenne-kicked rub, the meat rests for a full day before being cooked over local red oak for 16 hours. The pork is nicely caramelized at the tips with a pervasive yet light sweetness. It is a tad dry, but that just means you’ll have to slosh on one of four house-made sauces: the signature black raspberry, a Tabasco-sparked option, one that’s apple-cider-vinegar based or one that’s ketchup-y.
Order the pulled pork platter ($10.49) and you’ll get a square of worship-worthy corn bread and two sides: Choose the baked beans sweetened with dark molasses and apples cooked down into a silky puree and dotted with bits of brisket, and the Old Bay fries. Steer clear of the monotone mac and cheese and the over-fried hush puppies.
If you’re in a sandwich mood, get a kaiser roll filled with the low-and-slow-cooked beef brisket ($7.99), which comes with chips and a pickle. (It’s worth spending an extra $1.99 to get the corn bread and a side instead.) Yes, there are salads, but they come topped with diet killers such as pulled pork ($8.99) or beef brisket ($9.99). Then again, who goes out for barbecue when they’re counting calories?