Disappointing Beach Barbecue

Greetings from Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  I only have a short while to update the blog before I have to abandon my wireless connection and grab lunch with my companions. We do not have readily accessible wi-fi (read: “free”) at the condo we’re occupying, much to our collective chagrins. We have to walk across the street to use the wi-fi in the clubhouse. This prevents hours of web surfing, emailing and Facebooking at each other from the comforts of the sofa. It’s probably for the best.

I got here yesterday in the middle of the afternoon and we’ve done little of note since that time.  We’ve napped, read, had a lot of coffee and been to one meal together. We decided to get “North Carolina” barbecue at a little restaurant off mile post 1 in Kitty Hawk called “High Cotton“.  I put the “North Carolina” in quotes because, while the restaurant bills itself as North Carolina style barbecue, it really isn’t.

In my experience, North Carolina barbecue means a couple of things. For one, there’s no red sauce. The sauce is a clearish, vinegar based sauce untainted by tomato sauce or molasses. High Cotton offered both a weak vinegar based sauce and  a sweet molasses based sauce on the table.  That was party foul number one.

In addition, various styles off ribs, chicken and beef brisket were on the menu.  In North Carolina, “barbecue” means one thing and one thing only: pulled, sliced or chopped pork. The most severe definition would limit it to chopped pork.  If you are going to serve other types of barbecued meat, you can’t call it North Carolina style.

There were various other indicators that the North Carolina styling was nothing but clever marketing. There were no hushpuppies or corn sticks. Corn sticks are on the menu but not served. You get a dryish cornbread instead.  The best North Carolina barbecue restaurants offer up awesome hushpuppies.

The restaurant also served beer. While it was low-brow canned beer, it is still a violation of the no-alcohol rule that is the default of most barbecue restaurants in Eastern North Carolina. I don’t know that all of these establishments don’t serve beer. I’ve just never, ever seen it on the menu. Barbecue in North Carolina is a family event and it’s typically accompanied by a Pepsi or sweetened tea.  The only time I’ve seen barbecue consumed with beer was at a family pig-picking.

Lastly, the pork itself didn’t fit the North Carolina barbecue mold. It was neither the color nor the texture nor the flavor nor the consistency that I’ve come to expect from good North Carolina barbecue. It was what I’ve come to expect from out-of-state establishments that bill themselves as “North Carolina” style while not really coming close to the heart and soul of North Carolina “cue”.  As with most of those experiences, this one left me just as disappointed. It’s been a long time since I had good North Carolina barbecue. I had the craving and, well, I have it still. I got chopped pork but I didn’t get NC barbecue.

And neither will you if you visit High Cotton. My three companions and I, all well versed in NC (and Virginia) bbq gave it 2 and-a-half stars on a five point scale. It has a long way to go if it wants to live up to the Eastern NC traditions of King’s, Wilber’s, Allen & Son or even second-tier (to me) establishments like Parker’s or Smithfield’s or The Murphy House.

I will say one good thing about High Cotton. The coconut chess pie was good stuff. It served to erase some of the disappointment in the meal. If you’re in Kitty Hawk and decide to stop in, skip the cue and grab the pie.

Alright, I’ve overstayed my time in the clubhouse. Time go go grab lunch. Maybe Pigman’s won’t be a total waste of time. I’ll let you know.

3 thoughts on “Disappointing Beach Barbecue”

  1. What kind of beer?
    Nothing in this world is as dissapointing as an eastern style BBQ place that isn’t.

  2. There are two styles of North Carolina barbecue. From about Kinston to Raleigh, it is Eastern NC BBQ—that is the chopped style with vinegar and hot pepper sauce. Then there is the Western NC kind that you get around Lexington. It tomato based. Of course, we don’t recognize that kind, our being Eastern BBQ born and bred. The beach is NOT barbecue land. They don’t know BBQ; they just do seafood very well.

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