FACE-OFF: NORTH CAROLINA BARBECUE
East vs. West: Which Is Best?
In the world of North Carolina barbecue, the battle of East vs. West is paramount. We decided to see for ourselves by visiting the pillars of eastern- and western-style barbecue: Ayden's Skylight Inn and Lexington Barbecue in Lexington. The Skylight is an exemplar of the vinegary eastern style, while Lexington is the mecca of the tomato-laced western style (people usually say "Lexington style"). Here's how they measure up.
-- Jonathan Bloom
DISTANCE FROM D.C.: An hours-long jaunt south to sample some pigture-perfect barbecue? Sounds reasonable enough. Ayden sits between Raleigh and the Outer Banks, a five-hour drive from the District. Lexington, roughly halfway between Winston-Salem and Charlotte, is about a 5 1/2 -hour drive.
Advantage: Skylight Inn, by a gallon or so of gas.
|Here is a meal with some sides at Lexington Barbecue.(Jonathan Bloom)|
Neither Lexington's faux-wood paneling nor the Skylight's metal chairs and folding tables offer much atmosphere. While Lexington does feature a bona-fide lunch counter, its decor can be described as L.L. Bean meets Flo's Diner: Shelves filled with wooden ducks and paintings of hunting dogs abound.
Meanwhile, the 1947-era Skylight has a replica capitol rotunda on its roof, lending credence to its modest claim of being the "Bar-B-Q Capital of the World." Inside, a display case is stuffed with plaques and autographed pictures: Skylight has served every president from Nixon to the elder Bush.
THE MAIN EVENT: Eastern-style barbecue features a tangy vinegar sauce. Western, or Lexington style, to the horror of easterners, mixes ketchup into the meat-basting "dip."
While easterners cook whole hogs, westerners only smoke shoulders. As a result, the Skylight Inn cooks its hogs for up to 14 hours, vs. eight to 10 hours for the Lexington Barbecue shoulders. That may explain why the Skylight's meat has a more robust, smoky flavor. Lexington's barbecue needed augmenting from the Tabasco on the table.
Advantage: Skylight Inn.
SIDES: Lexington Barbecue serves some mighty fine coleslaw. The vinegar-laden side could be a meal on its own. While the Skylight's all-white slaw is good, it lacks the zest and heft of Lexington's.