There are foods that I like, foods that I love, and foods that I lurve (a feeling much stronger than love). Having grown up in the Charlotte area, BBQ falls into the latter category. Now I'm going to reveal something that I find incredibly embarassing: I cannot seem to decide which style of BBQ I prefer... the whole hog, vinegar-based Eastern NC style or the pork shoulder, vinegar and tomato-based Lexington style. In my highly exalted, unassailable opinion, my dad makes the best BBQ... period. My dad (aka- El Grande) seasons a raw butt with salt and pepper (no fancy ingredients allowed) and smokes the meat in his Akorn, a combo grill-oven-smoker that consistently produces smoky, juicy, and out-of-this-world flavorful meat products. With the exception of some poor bovine specimen that contributed his lower chest to a forgotten-about, four-hours-overcooked brisket, no animal has died in vain that my dad has cooked in his Akorn. Combine El Grande's Q with some of his secret recipe "Pig Whiz" vinegar sauce, and person could easily eat their way into a pork coma. I think that my flavor indecisiveness stems from the fact that my dad's BBQ is somewhat of a hybrid of Eastern NC and Lexington recipes. Regardless, my hesitance to declare a favorite might just be a blessing in disguise because I've become an equal opportunity BBQ eater. If it's pulled pork, I'm going to eat it... and I'm definitely going to write a wordy, adverb-filled opinion about it. Hence, this review (with an incredibly long introduction).
Generally, I'm a little disappointed by Charlotte's notable BBQ restaurants (please tell me if there is some secret, glorious place that I haven't discovered). Even the ones with good reviews never really strike me as that impressive and I leave craving my dad's BBQ or some Q from Allen & Sons, Clyde Cooper's, or The Pit up in the Triangle. Despite the fact that I work really close to Sauceman's, I'd never actually eaten there until this past July when my mom and I decided to check it out for a lunch date. I discovered that I love the [insert favorite expletive] out of Sauceman's. On that date, my mom and I tried the brisket, coarse chopped bbq, macaroni & cheese, texas toast, fried pickles, onion rings, red slaw, and white slaw (do you think we ordered enough food?). Needless to say, we left stuffed but the best part was that the food was really good! Both of us couldn't wait to tell the BBQ master himself about our meal. That was before the unfortunate iPhone-in-the-trash-compactor debacle, so I lost my pictures and never blogged about our visit, but BFTB and I recently returned so that I could try one of the "Sauceman's Grill" options that are only available on Saturdays and after 2pm on weekdays.
|Three Great Sauces: Golden Octane, Carolina Dip, and Love & Sauce|
We rolled in around 12:30pm on a Saturday and happily snagged the last parking spot in the gravel lot (or at least we assumed that the tiny space near the dumpster was a parking spot...). It was hotter than the hinges of hell outside, so we decided to forego our usual choice of dining al fresco and headed inside to place our orders at the register. BFTB debated his options, and settled on ordering the chopped pork plate, which comes with hushpuppies and your choice of a slaw and a side (he went with red slaw and sweet potato fries). I ordered the brisket version of the Sweet Smoke sandwich (granny smith slices, cheddar cheese & house-smoked applewood bacon plus choice of meat) and an order of fried pickles as my side. Sauceman's is on the iPad ordering train, which I fully support. It makes everything move efficiently and the register area seems clean without a giant cash register/credit card setup in the way. As another non-food observation, I would like to note that every single person I have encountered that works at Sauceman's is incredibly friendly, helpful, and all-around pleasant to be around. There's usually at least one grump in the bunch at restaurants, but I've yet to leave the restaurant thinking that the service was anything other than exceptional.
|Chopped pork, hushpuppies, sweet potato fries, and red slaw.|
Back to the important part... the food! We went to a table and only had to wait a few minutes before a server delivered our meals. BFTB's chopped pork was juicy and tasty, especially when accompanied by one of the three sauces provided at the table. BFTB's favorite, the Carolina Dip reminded me of a Lexington-style vinegar sauce and was really good with the pork. Out of NC-loving principle, I tend to eschew any thick, tomato-based sauces or SC-style mustard-based sauces out of principle, but I have to admit that both the Love & Sauce (tomato) and the Golden Octane (mustard) were really good and ended up being my two favorites. All three are available for purchase on the Sauceman's website. Although I prefer my pork pulled rather than chopped, there was nothing to complain about with the meat. The slaw was alright, and I preferred it to the white version I tried on my previous visit, but it wasn't anything special. The sweet potato fries were crunchy and quite possibly the best I've had in the area. I never really crave sweet potato fries, but these would be on my re-order list. I really felt like the best part of BFTB's meal was the hushpuppies. I feel like restaurants usually treat hushpuppies like an easy filler item and produce pups that resemble lukewarm blobs of wallpaper paste. These guys, however, were steamy, crunchy, and salty with a little hint of corn-y sweetness.
|Sweet Smoke Sandwich with a side of fried pickles|
While BFBT's meal was really good, mine was out-of-this-world. If you've read this blog before, you know that I'm on a quest to find the best fried pickles in Charlotte. First place was held by the Diamond until I ate the fried pickles from Sauceman's. Holy Mother of God, they were stupendous. Every single chip was piping hot, crispy without being overbattered, seasoned with a hint of spiciness, characteristically tangy, and best of all, every bite was crunchy on the inside. They came with Ranch dressing, but it was an absolutely unnecessary accompaniment. BFTB probably didn't get a fair chance at trying them since I quickly shoved them in my mouth like a chipmunk prepping for hibernation, but he agreed that they're the best we've tried. The sandwich was also delicious and definitely worth timing your visit right so that you can order it. The Texas toast was buttery, grilled, and substantial enough to keep the bulky ingredients in place. The granny smith slices were cut to a good thickness, but I wish there had been a few more of them. I was also surprised to find a couple rogue seeds in my sandwich (which are toxic to humans according to Fruit Ninja...). The bacon tasted strongly of applewood and was a really good combo with the smoky, rich brisket. I was worried it was going to be a bit of a battle to eat in sandwich form, but the meat was juicy, tender, and easily chewable (although my fingers were pretty greasy after eating everything). Sealed together with a perfect amount of cheddar, the sandwich was surely a caloric nightmare but completely worth it.
For the indecisive BBQ eater, Sauceman's is a goldmine. While my arteries might have been screaming in terror, the rest of me loved everything. It's rare that a Q restaurant excels in multiple meats, but both the pork and the brisket were great. Now I can't wait to head back and try the ribs and the smoked turkey! I was also really happy with the fried pickles, hushpuppies, sweet potato fries, and assortment of sauces. The slaw left something to be desired, but I don't normally pick a restaurant based on the caliber of its chopped cabbage, so I don't think this was too huge of an issue. For BBQ, Sauceman's gets a strong 9/10.