Kevin's BBQ Joints

Kevin's BBQ Joints Blog

Wayne Monk and Lexington Barbecue – BBQ Joint Review

With the nights long and the earth warming up around us it’s apparent that it’s finally (and officially) grilling and barbecue season across the nation (and world). I have another great BBQ joint below, but if you’re looking to purchase a grill in the near future (and really who isn’t), you should

check out the range of BBQ’s. Now on to the review of one of my all time favorite BBQ joints:

If Arthur Bryant’s BBQ was the first place I learned what real BBQ could be, then Lexington Barbecue was where I was indoctrinated into the cult of BBQ. I was changed forever.

Wonderfully, we have an incredible guest review of Lexington Barbecue by Dave Raymond from Sweet Baby Ray’s. He himself has two BBQ Joints in Wood Dale and Elk Grove Village, Illinois. It’s a bit longer than most of our reviews, but once you’ve read it, you’ll realize not only the passion Dave has for BBQ, but also what a great establishment Wayne Monk has created.


Photo courtesy of Mukur H. – Yelp

We went to meet Wayne Monk and of course eat his Lexington Barbecue. The group was Duce, my nephew and business/competition barbecue partner, Ron Nunes, our friend and competition barbecue partner, and my brother Larry, who is the chef who created Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce (and Duces’s father).


Photo Courtesy of John B. – Yelp

I had read in Mike and Amy Mills’ book Peace, Love, And Barbecue as well as John T. Edge’s Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South how great Lexington Barbecue was as well as seeing Wayne, his family, and his operation on the Food Network. We sell regional barbecue at our place and I am always interested in learning more about bbq, meeting bbq folks, and of course eating barbecue with my friends.


Photo courtesy of Buffetbuster via Roadfood.com

For some background, I believe I am well on my way to an excellent bbq education. I have been to the barbecue belt in Texas two times, to Memphis and KC multiple times all just for barbecue. In addition to as operating two barbecue restaurants and two catering company’s we also compete in KCBS competeitons and with the ribbers at Naperville Ribfest. I have been to the Jack in Lynchburgh, Tennessee with the #17 ranked team in KCBS Shigs and Pit. I have been to The Big Pig Jig in Vienna, Georgia as a spectator as well as many other competitive barbecue events. We have attended KCBS classes taught by Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South as well as Rod Grey and Jonny Trigg of Pellet Envy and Smokin Triggers respectively. I am fortunate enough to have lots of excellent barbecue friends who are barbecue experts and the tops at their craft. Basically, what I am trying to say is I know barbecue, but after visiting Lexington Barbecue and meeting Wayne and his team I know so much more!


Photo courtesy of Michael Stern via Roadfood.com

Mike and Amy Mills refer to Wayne as a “Living legend of Barbecue” Having now met Wayne and some of his family and seen his operation first hand (and after eating his BBQ) I say can say, “Living legend, you bet!” I say, “Wayne Monk: Family Man, Business Man, and Barbecue Man.” I do not believe you can have or make or eat better pork barbecue anywhere that would be as good as Lexington Barbecue. Why is that? I have a few thoughts on that I will share with y’all.

First off, I have always thought that the best barbecue people were not restaurant people. It was my opinion that the best barbecue people were ribbers because they cook so much barbecue (up to 300-600 cases) over a long weekend (4-5 days) and up to 32-36 long weekends a year for the top ribbers. I know a lot of competition guys who feel they are the best ribbers. They are precise and some are great, but in the end I did not think that they have cooked nearly as much as ribbers and barbecue restaurants. Barbecue restaurants like all restaurants have so much going on I did not personally believe that they could possibly have the best barbecue. And the fourth category for barbecue people is the backyard barbecue folks. While they are the largest segment and offer the greatest potential by sheer numbers to have the next great barbecue person, it has not been my experience that they are on the level with other folks I know who barbecue.


Photo courtesy of Buffetbuster via Roadfood.com

I called in advance to inquire about meeting Mr. Monk and see his operation. When I called I spoke with Bubba, Wayne’s son-in-law and one of the managers at Lexington Barbecue. My conversation with Bubba went very well. Bubba was gracious and agreed to get us a behind the scenes to look at Lexington and if I came Friday or Saturday morning we would have a chance to meet Wayne. Deal! We set a date and time and it was “Game on”. I had read about North Carolina barbecue and the difference between East Carolina Barbecue (whole hog chopped together served with a vinegar sauce that has no catsup or sugar seeing as Eastern Carolina style bbq is so old, when tomatoes were thought to be poisonous) verses Piedmont or western style or “Lexington style” as it is referred to in some places. Lexington style barbecue is pork shoulders not the whole hog served with a vinegar sauce that has some sugar and tomato.


Photo courtesy of Farm Table Catering Barbecue Inspiration

We checked our schedules, got permission from our wives and bosses (for me one and the same), made our plans, and hit the road. I think we pulled into Lexington around 9:45am on Friday. I saw the famous Lexington Barbecue sign first then the next thing I see is a guy carrying a box of barbecue, helping a lady put the box in the back of her car. It was Wayne Monk himself. I could not believe it or even stop myself. I rushed up and introduced myself unable to contain my enthusiasm, saying something about why he was carrying a box to the car. Wayne replied that he was working (clearly leaving the impression that this was nothing out of the norm, kind of like he had been doing it for 60 years or so).


Photo courtesy of BBQ Illuminati

As we entered Lexington it was kind of surreal, a little like stepping back in time and place. In the nicest way I want to say that it was like Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show. The place was clean and neat, nice but not fancy, warm and friendly. We found a table in the back (there were already a few tables with guests (friends) who were allowed to enter thru the back and sit and have coffee and chat about the issues of the day). A few minutes later, as we were sitting at our table looking over the menu I saw Wayne take a seat at the counter and begin eating the first of two pork sandwiches (48 years in one location and the guy is still eating his own barbecue. “Wow” I thought to myself). Wayne later told me that it was a result of a late breakfast. We found out our lovely waitress Sallie had been working at Lexington Barbecue for 36 years, her brother who passed away 6 months ago was there for 42 years, and her son has been working there 23 years. I was beginning to understand that I was in a special place with extremely special people. When it came time to order we of course wanted to try everything. At Lexington Barbecue that means pork shoulder, chopped or course chopped, or sliced and white or brown (white being the inside white meat and brown being the outside dark smoked meat). It also means red cole slaw (very small amount of catsup), hush puppies, french fries, and fried pork skin (takes some getting used to as people either like it or don’t), and sauce and hot sauce all served with warm buns. I started with a hush puppy (it was perfect crispy, flavorful, and light for a hush puppy) as I began preparing my sandwich. Then I began by adding some brown and white chopped pork on my warm bun, followed by some barbecue sauce, then I added some hot sauce (just a tad), some red cole slaw, and put the top on it. It looked great. I had high expectations and it tasted even better. I was instantly sure I had never tasted better pork barbecue. We kept eating and as we began talking it quickly became apparent that we all felt the same way. Damn was it good, excellent, I mean it was really, really good. The best I ever tasted and I know I have tasted a lot.


Photo courtesy of Michael Stern via Roadfood.com

So I was content and we were all happy eating barbecue with friends, which is my idea of a good time and we/our very high expectations were exceeded. It would be fair to say that I was in “Hog Heaven”. In addition to our waitress being sweet I observed the other staff smiling and enjoying serving their customers which I am sure in a lot of instances was their friends and neighbors. When we had eaten too much knowing we would be going to other barbecue places (the true definition of great barbecue: when you are completely full and tired of barbecue and you still eat more barbecue… that is great barbecue) it was time for our behinds the seen look at Lexington Barbecue and the tour was given to us by Wayne himself.


Photo courtesy of Buffetbuster via Roadfood.com

Well let me tell you this is where it really got interesting. Someone asked Wayne how many shoulders he was smoking today and in a week. He said 70 today and about 380 in a week. These are picnic shoulders we are talking about, not butts, so they are twice the size (about 16-22 lbs. each would be my guess). Wayne asked one of the pitmen to show us inside the pits. Lexington Barbecue has three pits and they make their own charcoal by burning logs in one pit and taking the red ash and shoveling it under the pork (in another pit). They then cover the shoulders with 3 large pieces of cardboard to keep the ashes off the meat. We asked how long they cooked them for and were told around 9 hours over hickory and oak coals. As the shoulders got turned Wayne explained to us that they “only use salt to season and they did not baste which was true Lexington Style Barbecue.” Then the pit master pulled off a piece of meat with the salted skin. Incredibly it was better than the pork we had inside the restaurant.


Photo courtesy of 3rd Degree Berns Barbecue Sabbatical

We were then treated to watching the two pitmen Rick and Rick aka “The Missing Link” break down the cooked shoulders with the greatest of skill and ease. This comes from doing it for the past 20 years, 11 hours a day. They were nice fellas who were very proud of what they do…as would I be if I made the best pork barbecue on the planet. I also met Bubba in person for the first time in the back of the restaurant. No offence to the name Bubba, but Bubba did not look like or act like Bubba to me. He was a very nice man, who in addition to his barbecue skill and acumen is an accomplished wood craftsman (most guys I hang around with burn hickory sticks, but Bubba carves them as well as making some impressive cabinetry). If I had to guess I would say he was trained by Wayne himself, which somehow I get the impression that Mr. Monk still has a lot to do with what goes on at Lexington Barbecue. But to me it is the job he has done in his barbecue career (60 years, 48 at this location) operating his place and training his staff that makes Wayne Monk the living legend in barbecue that he most certainly is.


Photo courtesy of BBQ Illuminati

I have had the good fortune to know some successful people and successful barbecue people as well. While we are all different there are lots of common threads to their greatness and Wayne Monk and Lexington Barbecue personify many of those traits. I felt there was a purity and simplicity to Wayne’s operation as well as his obvious love for what he does combined with the notion that he has been doing if for 6 decades with a very high level of expectation and performance. I say it is hard to beat the combination of experience and commitment. It is easy to see that Wayne Monk is a thinking man and in fact I would say businessman. Our waitress used the phrase “he is particular” and I would say that was an understatement. Here was a man who figured it out early on with not just barbecue but with life. He is a man that is respected and admired by all who come in contact with him. No rush, no fuss, no mess, just right, now and every time. It kind of seemed to me that Wayne earned his way in life and he was doing exactly what he wants to be doing. In doing so he was setting the highest of standards for his staff, team, and family to follow and aspire to and in turn raised the bar for all of us who barbecue. I know I will. I was truly honored, humbled, and proud as can be to see, meet, and eat at Wayne Monk’s Lexington Barbecue. It was equally great to do it with my friends and family because at the end of the day to me that is what barbecue is about. Eating food that has been smoked with your friends.

Wayne Monk told me the truth and he bragged to me a bit. He bragged that the highway had been changed 3 times and it hasn’t affected his business. Wayne told me the truth when I said to him that we wanted to check out and understand the difference between Eastern and Western Carolina Barbecue. Wayne said I might as well go to try some Eastern Carolina barbecue because I would find nothing better around here. Believe that!

So we did. We drove another 5 hours to eat some East Carolina barbecue. We went to a very publicized, long time family owned place. I will only say this place had the name and had the reputation, but they no longer had the “Love of the game “ if I can quote one of my favorite people from North Carolina. Sad to say the were missing almost all of what Lexington Barbecue offered that makes it great: Focus, attention to detail, commitment, and the very serious commitment to a great food and business culture that Wayne Monk and Lexington Barbecue lives every minute of every day.

Our experience with East Carolina barbecue was not a fair way to judge East Carolina barbecue, but it was a most excellent way to compare a man and his business.

Check out Lexington Barbecue for yourself here:

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Lexington Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Posted in BBQ Joints on by kevin - Comments (5)

5 Comments »

  1. Fantastic read,
    I am going to NC in January, I hope I can stop by to have a taste.

    Comment by Wilfred Reinke aka @OshawaOgre — December 7, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  2. wow, what a wonderful story! I really enjoyed reading it!

    Comment by Hanneke Eerden — December 7, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  3. Aww man… gotta go!!

    Comment by Devon — December 7, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

  4. I highly recommend Lexington #1! I had the privilege of eating there not too long ago. The ‘cue is good, and the people there are even better!

    Comment by Wayne Brown — February 27, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

  5. I am coming I promise.

    Comment by Sam B. Monk — September 28, 2011 @ 6:44 am

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