Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Carolina Chopped Barbecue

When I was growing up, my grandparents (who are from North Carolina) ran a family barbecue joint (more like a shack) right near their home in South Jersey.  It was only open in the summer and only open Thursday-Saturday.  I could tell you so many stories about that place and I have so many fond memories of "the pit".  We always served ribs, chicken, corn, potato salad, and green beans, but on certain days my pop pop (my dad's father, not the pop pop who made the delicious homemade rolls) would make "Carolina Chop" (chopped barbecue).  At the time, I didn't appreciate the deliciousness of this North Carolina delicacy, I just knew that the customers asked for it all the time, even after my grandfather passed away in 2003.

Now I get it.  My husband and I spent a weekend in Durham, NC in January.  We visited family, ate good food, shopped, slept late, and watched reality television.  One of the highlights of the trip was visiting The Pit in Raleigh.  I'm not saying it's the best barbecue joint ever (although it was pretty great and I loved the semi-upscale casual atmosphere), but I did get to meet the "pitmaster" (who was on Throwdown with Bobby Flay) and I had some really good chopped barbecue.  It reminded me of pop pop.  It made me happy and sad.  So I looked all over for a recipe with moist meat and that vinegary, sweet, spicy sauce. 

Hangin' with the Pitmaster

Hangin' with pop pop (back in the day)

Anyway, barbecue always makes me think of pop pop.  Good times.  So I came across this recipe on use real butter and it looked very similar to our way of making chopped barbecue.  It's a cold day in March, so I wasn't trying to crank up the smoker, although cooking outdoors gives it that authentic flavor.  I also had a work/school/physical therapy schedule that kept me out 14 hours today, so the Crock Pot would just have to do.  Guess what?  It worked!  I can't wait to try this recipe the authentic way (on a smoker).

So if you've never tasted chopped barbecue, you may think this just looks like a sloppy heap of shredded meat.  Believe me, it's not.  It's made with pork shoulder or pork butt (yes, the cheap, fatty cut that I used in Spicy Pork and Red Bean Chili).  It's kinda spicy, but not enough to distract you from the full, slow-cooked flavor of that moist pork.  The sauce has a vinegar kick, but it's offset by the sweetness of the brown sugar and the smokiness of the paprika and cumin.  Best part?  This was so easy and better than the versions we've ordered at local restaurants.

You can find the recipe here, but I made some changes:

You really only need half of the amount of dry rub.  I made the full amount and saved half for a future recipe.

I cooked mine in a Crock Pot with 1/2 cup water for 10 hours.

I served my chopped barbecue on fresh, soft potato rolls.  

If you're not into spicy food, cut some of the cayenne or crushed red pepper out of the sauce.

I loved the simplicity of this recipe.  I made enough rub for two batches, so next time I make this, I can skip the step of mixing the spices (which causes a lot of sneezing).  I cooked the sauce the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  I let the meat marinate overnight, then spent 10 minutes the next morning searing the meat before dropping it in the Crock Pot for 10 hours.  When I came home, I pulled the fat and bones away from the meat, and shredded the soft, moist pork.  I poured on the sauce and dinner was ready.

Of course, I don't need to tell you that pork shoulder and pork butt aren't necessarily health food.  I've tried making this recipe with pork loin, but it's much too lean to do this justice.  The texture turns out dry.  You can't beat the fact that pork shoulder is cheap (.99/lb.) and it tastes better.  I'll just enjoy it in small quantities. 

Shout out to Jen at use real butter for sharing this fantastic recipe.  It made my day.


  1. Seriously, every recipe I see here I always think, " i have to try this! " we love bbq and that looks full of flavor. i love vinegar, and always get excited when i taste it. but i have a confession, being newly married, i have next to 0 spices. We use salt and pepper here, and I believe I have some minced garlic. I wanted to make something the other day that had a few spices in it too...I need to stock up on spices/herbs! they're on the expensive side of grocery shopping.

    Any suggestions on which ones you think are essential?

    And, just thought I'd ask. My husband loves LOVES sloppy joes, do you have a good recipe for that too?

    Love this blog. :)

  2. Thanks, megara! Please try this recipe. It's really easy and affordable (if you have a well stocked spice rack). I'll do a future post on essential spices.

    Sloppy joes? Wow... I haven't had one in many years. I don't have a recipe, but who knows? It may end up on here someday.

    Keep the requests coming! I need inspiration.

  3. Its a damn shame what has happened to black america food I live in New Jersey and I have traveled all over United States, no where can you buy chopped North Carolina eastern style BBQ my family came from Kinston NC YET NO ONE EVEN TRIES TO PUT A QUALITY PRODUCT ON THE MARKET ONE DAY ON THE WATER FRONT IN NORFOLK VA SOME GUY WIFE CAME ON THE PIER WITH A BAG OF CHOPPED BBB SANDWICHES WHEN THE LONGSHOREMEN TASTED THEM AND SAID THEY WERE THE REAL DEAL SHE SOLD OUT IN THIRTY MINUTES


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