Driving down Route 158 south of the Virginia state line brings you into Currituck County, North Carolina and what could be called Barbecue Row, which extends all the way into the Outer Banks. A smoky culinary feast for the senses awaits you as you pass down home establishments with signs extolling the particular virtues of their smoked meats. Starting at the north end of the county, I ate my way south and discovered why this, as much as anything else, is a part of Americana.
Currituck BBQ Company
Currituck BBQ Company in the township of Barco is a prime place to pick up some choice pork BBQ as well as beef brisket, ribs, and rotisserie chicken. Like most eateries in the area, the main feature is slow cooked pork with an apple cider vinegar concoction.
Manager Tina Webb says what makes their barebcue the best is that they cook all their food on-site, and they make all their sauces from scratch. Sauces, it seems, are as much a closely guarded secret as Area 51. Here, you can choose from Larry’s Original (sweet with a tomato base), brisket sauce (sweet and smoky), or tangy vinegar.
On one of the walls, I noticed a map of the United States that was loaded with push pins showing where visitors had come from and every state was represented. People apparently drive by, smell the food, turn around, and wander in. That’s apparently when they get hooked, I thought, as I sampled the fare.
BJ’s Carolina Café
With a belly full of tart and tasty pork and beef, I continued south to my next feeding spot: BJ’s Carolina Café in Jarvisburg. With a hunting theme, BJ’s captures the spirit of Currituck being known as a “Sportsman’s paradise.” The restaurant features hand cut barbecue pork with sides of baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread. I tried both the vinegar and red sauce and preferred the sweeter red.
Dennis Newbern is a lifelong local who says that BJ’s tastes like home cooking, which brings him back on a regular basis. “I like that they hand pull the meat,” he says. “It makes it leaner with less fat.” ‘Less fat? That’s good to know,’ I said to myself as I wolfed down another sandwich, now feeling justified in finishing every bite.
After lunch, I was treated to some of BJ’s banana pudding. ‘So much for saving on the fat,’ I mused as I waddled out the door.
Sooey’s Barbecue and Rib Shack
Toward the southern end of the county, the road heads south toward Kitty Hawk but I turned west across the Wright Memorial Bridge and into the Outer Banks. I made my way north to the sleepy (except on weekends) town of Corolla and home to Sooey’s. If you can call a strip mall a shack, looks not withstanding, Sooey’s offers hungry patrons both dine in or takeout options.
One of Sooey’s most popular items is the 3 Little Pigs that feeds up to 10 people. It includes three pints of barbecue pork, beef, or chicken; fried chicken; hush puppies; and a pint of Wendell’s Sauce (named after the owner, Wendell Overton). “It’s famous in the Outer Banks,” they tell me. Of course it is, I muse. “Would you like a taste of the pork?” they ask. I think you know the answer.
Corolla Village Barbeque
While Sooey’s looks like a standard storefront, Corolla Village Barbecue does have more of that backyard woodsy appeal. It is hard to miss so just follow the aroma and hoards of people around lunchtime in historic Corolla Village. This is a small wooden building with just one small takeout window, set among oak trees in the shadow of the famous Currituck Lighthouse.
They has been satisfying hungry customers with barbecue pork, chicken, and ribs for many years and have been busy since opening day. Using hickory wood, they smoke their meat all night, chop it by hand and serve it up with their own mixture of apple cider vinegar and other sauces.
As I lingered in the establishment’s kitchen, I wondered if my wife would start calling me “Porky,” The owner interrupted my thoughts, “It’s all about the ambiance, techniques and sauces,” he said, pulling some meat off of the tray. “Here,” he said. “Try some!”
A version of this story originally appeared on Hospitality21.