Drew’s Clues: Eastern NC Style Chopped BBQ

by firsthandfoods on September 4, 2014

Now I don’t want to start any fights, but I’d have to guess that most people reading this (primarily our (M)eat Local Box subscribers) would consider BBQ to be slow cooked pork with a mildly spicy vinegar sauce. I know I do. I would never in a million years turn my nose up at the BBQ of other regions. I would definitely dig into the sticky sweet ribs of the Midwest or smokey brisket from Texas or Kansas City without complaint. Yet for my money, I would take North Carolina’s native version over those any day. When it’s done right, with good pork, you really taste the meat but the sauce is there as a supporting player to cut through the fat and brighten the flavor. And when it’s really done right with a whole hog over real wood you get to appreciate the many varying textures and flavors of different muscles and crispy skin that’s been made delicious over long hours of slow, smoky cooking. There’s no better way to appreciate the pig.

Making NC style BBQ at home is a bit of a project but there are some ways to simplify it and since we’re only using a small boston butt roast here it’s really not all that bad. The goal is long slow cooking to the point that the meat is just about shredable. This could be done in its entirety in a smoker or on a grill but it’s easier to split the cooking time up between the grill and the oven.

Here’s how I did it:  Take the butt roast out of the package and give it a quick rinse with cold water. Dry it off. If there’s too much fat for your tastes trim some off. You want some fat on there but you don’t really need more than a ¼“.

on cutting boardSeason it liberally with salt and pepper. When I say liberally I mean when you think you’ve applied too much salt add a little more. You need this salt to penetrate into the muscle so you’ll need more than might seem sensible. Let the seasoned butt hang out in the fridge for a few hours.

salt & pepper

Bring the butt to room temperature while the grill or smoker is heating. If using a Weber style grill, pile up the hot coals all to one side and add wood chips to the coals. Using an oven thermometer, confirm that the temperature with the lid on is around 225°. Place the butt on the side of the grill opposite the heat source and replace the lid. The vent should be over the meat. Do what you can to keep this temperature around 225° for around 2 hours.

on the grillAfter 2 hours put the butt in a roasting pan and cover tightly with foil and cook in the oven for 2-3 more hours. Start checking the doneness after 2 hours. Once it’s jiggly and looks just about ready to fall apart pull it out and let it rest for 20 minutes or so.  At this point you have a nice roast pork butt.

cookedTo turn it into BBQ you’ll want to chop it up and add a sauce. A cleaver works best and is probably the pitmaster’s tool of choice but any large knife should work.


Once chopped, scoop the meat into a pot or bowl, add sauce to taste (you may need to season with a little salt at this point too), place on a bun with some slaw and you’re done.

sandwichBelow is the sauce recipe I used. It comes from my favorite book on southern cooking: Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking. There are plenty of other sauce recipes out there so feel free to use whatever you like.

NC BBQ Sauce:

Combine 1 cup apple cider vinegar with ½ cup water, ½ an onion, minced, 1 crushed garlic clove, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 teaspoons red chile flakes, 1 teaspoon sugar and a sprig of thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. In a separate bowl mix 2 tablespoons dry mustard with ¼ cup cold water. Stir this into the sauce. Allow this to cool to room temperature and that’s it. Note: I happen to like the addition of dry mustard to this sauce but it may not be to everybody’s liking. Leave it out or add less if you want


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