While traveling through North Carolina to research my new book, Pig Perfect, I ate barbecue at least once a day. And, for four days last year, I ate it at almost every meal on a 250-mile, high-intensity barbecue tour. Since my starting point was Lexington, in the middle of the state, and my destination was a fishing lodge on the Outer Banks, I have come to think of this dining excursion as my barbecue march to the sea.
My guess is that you could drive up to almost any of the thousand-or-so barbecue places in North Carolina and get a first-rate meal. I chose the joints I chose because
(a) the guy at the gas station told me where he goes
(b) a chef knew where the Little League teams always eat after practice
(c) there were a lot of trucks filling the parking lot and spilling out onto the road.
Following the will-'o-the-wisp in this fashion rather than planning every stop is an appealingly unstructured way to enjoy the rich and rolling landscape, where the hill country descends to the fertile plains of the lowlands and their fields of picked-over cotton and red barns stuffed with ripening tobacco. The vista is an old-time onemuch of it still unmalled and unfranchised and tantalizingly redolent of the aroma of barbecue, without which local elections, high school football games, weddings, graduations and firehouse picnics would be unthinkable...or, at least, not nearly so much fun.