Sad to leave Texas behind but looking forward to the next 2 weeks. First thoughts were: wow, great to be surrounded by some hills again and some greenery. It would be unfair to say that Texas/New Mexico was all desert, it rained too much for that to be the case, but North Carolina is a different kettle of fish. A few basics to note before this phase begins: North Carolina barbecue is very different to Texas.
Texas specialises in dry rubs, mostly beef products (though pork is very available) and frowns upon sauce viewing it largely a cover-up for poor workmanship with seasoning and smoke. My experience was that most cooking in Texas was with oak, either post-oak (aka white oak) or 'live' oak.
North Carolina (NC) specialises in pork, but they don't call it pork, they actually call the product 'barbecue', that is to say it is a noun, not a verb. Here they specialise in 'whole hog barbecue' which usually involves cooking a whole pig over coals and or wood, instead of just a large joint or smaller cuts. The challenge is obviously cooking a serious amount of meat without overcooking exposed parts or undercooking the inner parts. Here, they like sauce; lots of it....sometimes up to 6 different sauces are on offer. Within NC, there are 2 sub-styles: 'Lexington style', which favours pork (sliced, chopped or pulled) with red, ketchup-based sauce, or 'East NC style' which is whole-hog and is sauced with thin, vinegar based condiments with no tomato. The woods vary a bit more, I've found that oak, hickory, cherry, and pecan are used with the trade-off being price, heat and smoke/flavour. Price is usually correlated to how close and plentiful the supply is; heat is a property of the hardness of the wood (hickory is hard and therefore gives good heat); and smoke/flavour is basically a choice of how much smokiness the meat can take, such that it has a kiss of smoke without tasting bitter.
The barbecue definition usually brings an interesting conversation, that I have had many times, when people ask "do you have barbecue in the UK?" My initial answer when I arrived in the US would be, "yes" or "sure man", but I've come to a more pragmatic answer of "we do, but you wouldn't call it that, we really just do grilling over charcoal". What follows is usally a blank expression which I have come to assume means "well, if I wouldn't call it that, then it probably isn't barbecue!"
I was joined for the first few days in NC with some British friends, including bro Max, and Team Porter (Dan, Soph, li'l Audrey) which was great. Eating shed loads of delicious BBQ food is one thing, but sharing it with great company is a whole lot better. We ate some 'barbecue' on 4th July at Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville, which was a pop-up hosted by a microbrewery (Catawba Brewing). Very different flavours and side dishes to Texas, and although I was dissapointed that they'd sold out of ribs, it was great to have some BBQ pork crackling known as 'skin' over here. Basically the worlds best pork scratchings. The guys at Buxton Hall seem to be getting a lot of people excited and are due to open a restaurant in September, which is currently under construction and looks big. Look forward to seeing how they get on. Photo below is Catawba beer flight, with Buxton Hall's whole hog BBQ