In North Carolina, barbecue is king. I've seen peoples eyes glaze over as they tell me about their backyard barbecues or their favourite little barbecue roadside shacks. In general, small and local appears to be better when it comes to barbecue, but there appears to be one exception - The Pit in Raleigh.
|The menu at The Pit|
The Pit can hardly be described as a shack. It's situated in a beautifully restored 1930s meatpacking warehouse right in the middle of downtown Raleigh. Despite being large and spacious, queues of diners spill over onto the street outside, patiently waiting for a table in this shrine to barbecue. Young and old, families and couples, The Pit appears to appeal to all in Raleigh.
By the time of writing, I have visited on three separate occasions. On my first visit, I must admit that I felt a little let-down, as the chopped pork didn't live up to the anticipated hype. But then I learned about the different barbecue styles and the selection of better dish choices on subsequent visits has produced much better results.
For your dining information, it's worth understanding some key regional barbecue differences. Broadly speaking, some barbecues are dressed with a vinegar based sauce, while others come with sweeter, tomato based sauces. Depending on your preferences, this can be a major factor in your barbecue enjoyment. Even within the state of North Carolina, there are important variations. Eastern North Carolina involves cooking the whole hog with thin vinegar sauces while Western North Carolina uses only the pork shoulder and thicker sweeter tomato sauces (also known as Lexington barbecue).
On my first visit to The Pit in November 2011, we ordered chopped barbecue (pit-cooked overnight, chopped and seasoned Eastern North Carolina Style) and pulled pork (smoked and pulled from the bone, lightly seasoned and ready to sauce as you would like). Both dishes were very well priced at $11.99 and came with two sides of your choosing. We liked the smoky pulled pork, but didn't really enjoy the chopped barbecue due to the vinegar dressing. But that was a rookie mistake on my part, one that I didn't repeat on subsequent visits.
|Chopped barbecue at The Pit|
|Pulled pork at The Pit|
When I visited in March 2012, it was as part of a group of four. This allowed us to order a selection of dishes, placing them in the middle of the table for all of us to share. A whole rack of baby back ribs ($21.99) were magnificently smoked, with meat falling easily from the bone. Judging by the outstretched hands, this was the favourite dish at the table. The incredibly tender smoked beef brisket ($15.99) was my next favourite, while moist pulled pork and unremarkable BBQ chicken (pit roast on the bone, $13.99) rounded out the meal.
|Baby back ribs with collard greens and mac'n'cheese at The Pit|
Another major plus about The Pit is the wide range of speciality beers available. America supports its microbreweries and craft beers and the menu at The Pit offers plenty of choice. With my new wheat-free diet in full force, I was delighted to find gluten-free options such as Crispin hard cider, which was light and fresh. The wheat free diet meant that I couldn't partake of the basket of light fluffy biscuits (or scones to us Europeans) and crispy hush puppies which arrive at the table once you sit down.
|Crispin cider at The Pit|
Overall, I very much like The Pit. The carnivore who lives within me is sated by the large portions of succulent, juicy, smoked meat. But I've learned the hard way that a lot depends on your order choices. For me it's pulled pork, baby back ribs and brisket all the way. The same logic applies to sides. Sweet potato fries and creamed corn are good, while I can live well without the collard greens and grits.
Reading reviews of The Pit online is an interesting experience, as lots of posters seem to take a delight in slating the place. Apparently for many purists it's too upscale to serve "real" barbecue. Now, I'm a novice in the world of real barbecue, but I do think that with some careful selections that you can have a fine barbecue experience with good beers & cocktails in The Pit.
(For other dining tips, visit the website tvfoodmaps.com. This genius website pulls together information on all venues featured on shows such as Man v Food or Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. To date, I have yet to replicate any of the challenge events, but these shows do act as a guide to regional specialities.)
The Pit, 328 West Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Tel: +1 (919) 980 4500