While dining on the patio at one of Durham’s most popular barbecue restaurants, it suddenly occurred to me that I had scarfed down every last bite of pulled pork that was supposed to be shared with our entire group.
I am not a food critic and don’t pretend to be. I’m fairly picky and to be blunt – I’m an incredibly boring person when it comes to eating. While I’m adventurous in most aspects of travel, my wild side rarely extends to the dinner table.
In my first book, 100 Things To Do In America Before You Die, “eating barbecue” was 1 of the 100 American experiences I referenced. I’m sure I’ve missed a few varieties but I’ve sampled the most notable favorites – Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, and St. Louis style among others. And now I can add North Carolina to my list. And for my tastebuds – it goes straight to the very top.
Wyatt Dixon, one of the co-owners of Picnic doesn’t mind sharing the secret to great North Carolina barbecue. “We keep our pigs happy” says Dixon who raises his own pigs for the restaurant. “They roll around in the mud, they live a good life, they’re happy. And it makes a difference.” He also goes through a laundry list of things North Carolina barbecue isn’t – hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, turkey, or anything else. It’s pork. Only pork.
The sauce is also unique to North Carolina and something that puts the state’s favored style over the top in my book. It’s thin and you can basically see through it. There’s a vinegar base and just a few added ingredients which may include salt, sugar, ketchup, and maybe a pinch of hot sauce.
According to Dixon, the restaurant’s name has a double meaning. “A picnic makes you think of something family friendly and welcoming. But the other meaning is that a picnic is actually a part of the pig.”
You can watch my interview on-location in Durham to learn more about what BBQ is, and isn’t, in the great state of North Carolina.