Among Barbeque aficionados North carolina is justly famous for two unique regional sauces. In the Eastern part of the state (I have to admit I'm not really sure where that dividing line is) the meat is sparsely sauced (maybe moistened is a better word) with a "sauce" of vinegar, sugar and chili peppers. To be considered real BBQ in this part of the state whole hogs are slow cooked and then chopped (almost minced) to be sprinkled with the assertive sauce. The meat is the star here with no thick sauce to cover sub-standard cooking. Ask for barbeque and this finely chopped pork is what you'll get. Cool creamy cole slaw with the astringent sauce is one of the culinary world's great combinations. A taste worth traveling for.
In the Western part of the state cooks use a proper sauce, still with a vinegar base but generally sweetened and thickened with ketchup and whatever creative ingredients your pit master deems worthy. At first glance Western NC style will seem more familiar to BBQ eaters from around the country -- heavy sauce on pit cooked meat (pork shoulder not whole hog) -- but the tangy sauce will be a pleasant surprise.
Though on a map -- to me at least -- Charlotte seems on the Western side of the state what I find in the city's restaurants is clearly Eastern.
Though the surrounding areas offer some great tastes, Charlotte itself is not what I'd consider a great barbeque town like Memphis or Kansas City. But I can't help but sample the local fare.
My first stop? Bar-B-Q King, a drive in joint with curbside service. A vanishing icon of Americana. I order from my car hoping for their renown fried oysters only to find there has been a scare and there is no local shellfish. I settle for a BBQ tray (BBQ, perfectly crisp hush puppies and cole slaw) with a side of crisply fried deviled crab. The "sauce" is certainly tangy, forceful even. The BBQ is good, not great but this place is fun, homey and nostalgic. I'll be back for a chicken liver sandwich next time.