Grady’s (Dudley, North Carolina)
Grady’s is a small restaurant in Dudley, North Carolina, with all the traditional feel of a small Southern BBQ restaurant. The building is a small, unassuming white structure, with wonderfully hand-lettered signs on the outside walls, and a classic “Pepsi” sign out front. As we pulled up, we were greeted by the smell of barbecue, and with this being our first barbecue restaurant of the day, we were hungry and ready to go.
Once inside, the atmosphere was cozy and homey, with plenty of wood paneling (I am always a sucker for wood paneling) and pictures of the owners and their friends and family. Business was still getting started for the day, but a few were lined up to order, and some customers were already enjoying their orders. As we stepped up to the counter, we were introduced to Ms. Grady. As we could tell from the name of the restaurant, she was primarily responsible for the running of this efficient and orderly joint. Stephen and Gerri Grady have been keeping this place running smoothly for 27 years.
From the start, Ms. Grady was a delight, with a big smile and a desire to keep her customers leaving happy. When we ordered, we basically requested whatever she recommended most (which was more or less everything), and sat down, eager to start. Our plate consisted of barbecue chicken, barbecue pork, and fried chicken (yay!). Grady’s was also the first restaurant where we got sides of vegetables, including coleslaw, collard greens, cabbage, butter beans (my new favorite), German potato salad, and black-eyed peas. It was fantastic having fried chicken- Sarah says it was the best fried chicken she’s ever had, and this was the start of a definite smokier flavor to the meat. With the great food that we received here, we tried our hardest to clean our plates, despite having two more stops for the day in our future.
Afterwards, Stephen Grady showed us the smokehouse. This building, not 15 feet from the restaurant, has been standing for 25 years- it burned down once two years after the restaurant began. The smells were terrific, and the building was well-organized, with plenty of Mr. Grady’s homemade vinegar barbecue sauce prepared and stocked. With our bellies mostly full, we headed towards Lexington.
As we headed over to Lexington, there was a definite shift in the style of barbecue. The meat is similarly cooked, but they cook the shoulder and butt instead of a whole hog cooking process. Also, this was west of Chapel Hill, and is where we begin to head into red sauce territory, but it is still fairly light and involves plenty of vinegar. One more note on sauce- in Lexington, it is referred to as ‘dip’. Here, the atmosphere was very friendly, and provided curb assistance- a honk from your car results in immediate service. We opted for seating indoors, as at this point, almost any break from the van is welcome.
Our waitress, Anne, was fantastic, and introduced us to our first taste of “Cheerwine” (which I now crave). We ordered hush puppies, BBQ cole slaw, chicken, and both roughly chopped pulled pork and sliced shoulder. There was dip on the meat, and also two warmed servings on the side. The meat was also just a bit smokier than we had eaten earlier, and this was the first time that we were able to try sliced shoulder, as well as pork that had been cooked by the shoulder and butt separately. Both the roughly chopped and the sliced pork were amazing, as was the chicken, which was tender and lightly coated in barbecue sauce as well.
After eating, the owner showed us the pit where they cook the meat. This location, unlike those we saw at previous restaurants, was in the same building as the restaurant, for ease of access and to save space, and they cook over hickory. Inside the kitchen, we were shown how they cook pork rinds, which are very popular, and how the sections of the pork are chopped up and served with the dip placed over the meat only once it is being served. Our next stop was not five minutes away, so we savored what last bits we could, said goodbye, and headed on over to Lexington BBQ.
Just down the road and right up a hill, we found Lexington BBQ. Dave of Sweet Baby Ray’s recommended it to us, but called it by a different name, Monk’s (after Wayne Monk, the man who started this restaurant), which is a name for the restaurant that is still often used by the locals. Stepping in, we noticed that this place was a lot bigger than most of the restaurants we have visited. Waitresses were bustling everywhere, but we were still seated almost immediately. We ordered, of course, barbecue pork with coleslaw and hush puppies (these Sarah’s, and my, favorite so far), and a new item, a pork skin sandwich.
The food was quickly served, and we quickly dug in, despite having eaten not 30 minutes ago. There was a definite similarity between the two Lexington restaurants, as both used a similar method of cooking, in pits attached to the kitchen, and a similar vinegar/ketchup-based barbecue sauce. The pork skin sandwich was intriguing, and dangerously good. It involved a bun (naturally), fried pork skin (of course), and coleslaw. In a couple of bites, it was gone. After finishing our meals to the best of our ability, the grandson of the original owner of Lexington BBQ gave us an amazingly thorough tour. We noticed the telltale piles of wood outside, and he showed us how there was a door connecting to the pits indoors, through which wood could be put to stoke the fire.
Inside, we were shown how the pig shoulders and butts are cooked, in the skin, unnecessary parts are removed, and the pork is then coarsely ground. Lexington BBQ was also the first place to cook turkey, and it is cooked in a similar manner as the pork. Here, we were able to better watch the action of the kitchen. Orders moved in an assembly-line manner, which was fascinating and mesmerizing to watch. One man would chop the meat, fresh per order, the next would add the sauce, and so on.
Everything moved like clockwork, and I think we could have stood there watching for quite a while, if we would have had time. Because this was our last stop for the night, we indulged in pecan pie (my personal favorite – delicious!) and apple cobbler. With full stomachs and a full schedule for the next day, we said goodbye, and piled into the van. Thank you, everyone at Lexington BBQ and at Smiley’s, for your friendly faces and willingness to put up with us!
Written by Maggie