Lexington modestly declares itself "the BBQ capital of the world," raising a direct challenge to the mighty BBQ joints of Texas. Instead of the beef brisket which reigns supreme down there, Lexington’s speciality is wood-smoked pork shoulder, finely or coarsely chopped and moistened with a sweet-sharp, ketchup-and-vinegar-based slaw. Then there’s crispy hush puppies on the side, followed by a sweet and fruity dessert. In fact BBQ is so big in the city that it even hosts its own, enormously popular BBQ festival. Lexington is a small but undoubtedly essential city on any BBQ-based exploration of the United States.
Every October, Lexington hosts a huge BBQ festival: 160,000 people stream into the city and consume a mighty 15,000 pounds of barbecued meat. A section of uptown Lexington is closed off to traffic, and overtaken by stalls, stages, rides, paintings, music, and an endless chain of smouldering BBQs. Blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack the savory smoke drifting across the deserted streets of the rest of the city. The festival has been going since 1984 and has grown every year since, becoming one of the biggest food festivals in the entire United States.
The Barbecue Center is a roadside diner-style restaurant, with a long bar perfect for idle solo dining and a handful of red-vinyl booths to cluster in with friends. The BBQ it serves is slathered in Lexington’s famous red slaw, which suffuses the soft bed of pork meat with a sharp-sweet, tomato-vinegar flavor. Depending on personal preference, this generous dose of this rich and tart sauce either overwhelms the sacred smokiness of the meat itself, or leaves you itching to return for a second helping.
Jimmy’s serves up classic west NC pork shoulder, chopped fine and served with a splash of peppery sauce on the side, so you can mix up the flavors as much as you wish. They serve their pulled pork very tender, so if you like a bit of bite or variety in the texture of your meat, be sure to ask for some "outside brown" – the crunchy caramelized shards from the outside of the pork shoulder. As well as its BBQ, Jimmy’s is renowned for its delicious additional dishes, including wonderfully crispy hushpuppies and an irresistibly sweet banana pudding, which is a regional speciality.
This BBQ joint has the Lexington-style down to perfection. It serves a blend of tender white meat mixed with a little tougher brown and, if you ask, a crunchy sprinkling of outside brown. On the side, there’s a generous scoop of sweet and peppery red slaw, and a nest of crispy hush puppies. Then choose between a selection of sweet fruity desserts to follow the savoury smokiness of the BBQ – the peach cobbler is particularly swoonsome. Established in 1962, this place is recognized as one of the joints that kickstarted Lexington’s BBQ culture. As a result it’s particularly beloved with locals, who affectionately refer to it as the Honeymonk, after the last name of the long-time owner.