A load of Bullock’s

I’m back from the Carolinas.

I was at Duke, my alma mater, visiting my parents — who also went to Duke and were there to celebrate their 36th anniversary — and my brother, who’s on his way back to Johns Hopkins undergrad for his senior year.

Last night, we dined at one of the most famed institutions in North Carolina. Imagine a place where you can get fried chicken, pulled pork, green beans, coleslaw, Brunswick Stew (I’ll explain later), french fries, and hush puppies all for a little over $10. Oh yeah…did I mention it’s all BOTTOMLESS???

I know what the New Yorkers are thinking: you’ve gone mad, man! You can’t get that much food for $20, let alone $10! And no one serves bottomless anything!!

But venture south, and you’ll see such a place does exist. It’s Bullock’s Barbecue, and it’s just a short drive from the Duke campus. If you find yourself in Durham or somewhere thereabouts, you must go there, you must make sure it’s for dinner, and you must fast the entire day. Maybe tide yourself over with a little something to keep your stomach sufficiently expanded. You will be eating a lot, and you might not eat again for a few days.

It’s that good and that filling. Here’s some pictorial stimulation to whet your appetite…

The evening couldn’t have started more perfectly. The waitress took our drink orders (sweet teas all around, of course), and then she said, “Now let me go get y’all some hush puppies.”

As those words fell on my ears, I knew I was back in the South. Across the table, a look of zen-like bliss came over my father as he closed his eyes, smiled, and said, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all week.”

While I waited with the family, we got into a heated debate over barbecue superiority. My father and I are in the Carolina Barbecue camp, while my mother and brother are passionate Texas BBQ pundits (notice the colloquial abbreviation).

For all the barbecue tyros, let me explain:

The meat of choice in Texas is beef. This is no small point. Texans LOVE their beef. You rarely see pulled pork in the Lone Star state. And when you do, it’s very clearly labeled “Carolina Pulled Pork”.

The essential ingredients in Texas BBQ sauce are tomatoes and molasses. It’s the thicker, more viscous sauce you probably pick up in your grocery store (e.g. K.C. Masterpiece).

I grew up in Houston, so I was raised on Texas BBQ, and I love it dearly. But once I went to Duke and sampled Carolina barbecue for the first time, I knew there would never be any comparison in my mind. As mentioned, the meat is pork, and it’s “pulled” with a fork. The result is a shredded mass of meat that when served family style comes in a bowl, not on a plate.

The meat is wonderful, but what makes it truly remarkable is the Carolina sauce. Rather than tomato and molasses, the operative ingredient is vinegar. It’s more of a watery liquid, and thus it’s not poured, but essentially shaken from a bottle with a small dropper-like opening (similar to the way oil and vinegar is served in Italian restaurants).

If the meat is done right and the sauce is the right flavor and consistency, the taste is unparalleled. I’ve eaten Carolina pulled pork at a few places in NYC, and trust me, this is one of the few cuisines the Big Apple will never master (along with Mexican).

Oh yes, and Brunswick Stew — I’ve been eating it since my freshman year at Duke, and like many, I still had no idea what was in it. Until last night. It’s essentially a tomato-based stew, and the ingredients can vary depending on where you go. But most of the time, you’ll find the following: lima beans (or butter beans), corn, okra, and some type of meat. The meat can be chicken, pork, or beef, but the more authentic recipe calls for squirrel or rabbit. Ours had not only pork, but pineapple, of all things.

After the meal, as expected, I struggled to lift myself from the chair unassisted. And it wasn’t until dinner the next night that I was actually hungry again.

This is far from the most healthy thing in the world. But even if you adhere to a strict eating regimen, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to sample (or binge on) authentic Carolina barbecue if you’re presented with the opportunity.

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2 comments so far

  1. Kimberly Orr on

    for a vegan (oy! not oink!) this is serious sacrilege… i was exposed to this greasy pool (pull) of meat while in Kentucky at seminary… And if I remember correctly from those days, I do believe (ironically) that a bullock is a bovine… hmmmm… Glad to hear, however, you love your pulled pork, oh god-eschewing, semitic one! 🙂

  2. Leonard Zwelling on

    YOu didn’t mention the creamy cole slaw, french fries and how amazingly good the hush puppies and fried chicken are. There ain’t nothing like it!


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