We recently took a trip to Lexington, North Carolina to experience some of what the “Barbecue Capital of the World” has to offer. For our final night in the town we went on a dinner tour, visiting three barbecue spots consecutively; the second was Smiley's Lexington BBQ.
Back in the day (i.e., the 1970s), there were approximately 20,000 people living in Lexington, and 24 barbecue joints, bringing the ratio to less than 1,000 people for every barbecue restaurant. Four decades later, the population has stayed more or less the same, but many of the eateries have shuttered. Smiley’s Lexington BBQ, however, has stayed open. Despite being the smallest operation we had the pleasure of dining in on our trip, they have secured a reputation with the locals for their pit-cooked chicken, which is served only Thursday through Sunday each week.
Sure, they smoke 50 to 60 pork shoulders weekly, but they cook approximately 200 chickens in the same manner and in the same time period. The locals love the way the restaurant treats their birds, salting them before pit firing them. Another menu item that distinguishes this barbecue joint from its neighbors is that they serve regular, or “white” coleslaw, made with mayo, as opposed to red slaw that is made with ketchup, which is the predominant way locals prepare the Southern staple.
In a town where the local fare is dominated by smoked pig, Smiley's Lexington BBQ has pecked out a longstanding niche for itself.