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Which Side of the North Carolina Barbecue Battle Are You On?

Our take: Both styles of barbecue pork are delicious.
By Published Aug. 18, 2022

When you’re talking barbecue in North Carolina, you’re talking pork. But that’s just the beginning. Different parts of the state treat pork differently–and the argument for which side of the state does it better is one that runs deep.  

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10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.

What’s the Difference Between Eastern North Carolina–Style and Lexington-Style Barbecue?

Food historian and barbecue expert Robert Moss explained that while the lines have blurred over the years, there are two main styles: one based in eastern North Carolina and one from Lexington, a city in the middle-western part of the state. Both styles use plenty of low, direct heat and lots of smoke, ideally from smoldering hickory logs. But the pitmasters in the eastern part of the state traditionally cook whole hogs on open pits. In and around Lexington, they usually cook hulking, bone-in pork shoulders—often several at a time—in closed brick pits.

Moss explained that in the eastern part of the state, you’re more likely to get finely chopped ‘cue while in Lexington people can choose, “chopped, sliced, or chopped coarse with the option to request outside brown” (aka extra-smoky bark). And while sauces in both parts of the state are tangy, eastern North Carolina sauce should be “salty, fiery, and vinegary.” Lexington-style sauce contains ketchup, which makes it redder, sweeter, and a touch thicker. 

Both styles of pork are delicious on a bun, but if you buy them as a plate, the sides are different. In the eastern part of the state, you’re more likely to find the barbecue served with collards, coleslaw, cornbread, and/or boiled potatoes tossed in barbecue sauce. In the areas surrounding Lexington, the plate is more likely to include hushpuppies, fresh fries, and red slaw (it gets its red color from ketchup). 

North Carolina BarbecueNorth Carolina Barbecue

Eastern-Style and Lexington-Style Barbecue at a Glance


Eastern Style

  • Whole hogs cooked on open pits
  • Finer chop
  • Thinner, fiery, vinegary sauce
  • Best served with collards, coleslaw, cornbread, and/or boiled potatoes


Lexington Style

  • Bone-in pork shoulders cooked on closed brick pits
  • Coarser chop
  • Thicker, slightly sweeter, vinegary sauce
  • Best served with hush puppies, french fries, and red slaw


Here at Cook’s Country we love both. But if you want to see which part of the state you side with, we suggest trying out our recipe for North Carolina Barbecue Pork. It produces a smoke-kissed piece of pork that comes together on a kettle grill using our charcoal snake method. Make both sauces, toss in the pork, and help settle the debate over which part of the state makes the best ‘cue.

Eastern North Carolina–Style Barbecue Sauce

Makes about 2½ cups

Total Time: 8 minutes

One 12-ounce bottle of Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce will yield more than enough for this recipe.

  • 1½ cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


Whisk all ingredients together in bowl.

Lexington-Style Barbecue Sauce

Makes about 2½ cups

Total Time: 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes cooling

  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


Combine all ingredients in small saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl and let cool completely, about 30 minutes.