Like a zillion other Tar Heels, my husband is a barbecue fanatic, willing to drive great distances for a quality pulled-pork sandwich. Luckily, he doesn’t need to. Allen and Son is just a few miles from us, on the north side of town.
The simple cinder block building has been around since the ‘50s. Its green, homey dining room feels like a time warp. Longtime waitstaff call customers “honey,” and the dessert menu offers grandma Allen’s old-fashioned pies and cobblers, made from scratch. Keith Allen still cooks his pork over hickory and oak every morning, just as his father did before him.
There’s a second Allen and Son, south of town on 15-501 just before the Haw River Bridge, with a very different personality. A take-out window makes it easy to grab a sandwich along with a banana pudding milkshake to go. The youthful staffers are not so intimate, and the ‘cue isn’t imbued with smoke. It’s actually cooked in ovens.
My husband and his fanatical buddies, including John Shelton Reed, co-author of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, consider this method heresy. “It’s not barbecue,” they protest.
Whatever you want to call the stuff, I’m here to tell you, it’s amazing – fresh as can be, divinely juicy and perfectly seasoned. Longtime manager Jimmy Stubbs gives credit to Keith for the vinegar-based sauce. Besides revealing that his pork comes from the shoulder rather than the whole hog, I couldn’t pry any other trade secrets from him.
My theory is that since the fat can’t drip out onto the coals, it accumulates in the bottom of the pan, resulting in uncommonly moist meat. With an abundance of vinegar sauce mixed in, the meat/fat/sauce ratio is ideal, and the smoke isn’t missed. If this is heresy, call me Martin Luther.
We served this barbecue at a recent patio party along with squash casserole, a favorite collard/white bean dish (courtesy of Highlands Bar and Grill’s chef, Frank Stitt) and Allen and Son South’s coleslaw, which truly is as delicious as its pork.
I couldn’t convince Jimmy to share the slaw recipe, but he says it’s made daily, as is the ‘cue – and freshness makes all the difference. Crunchy grated cabbage moistened with a mayonnaise-based sauce and liberally sprinkled with black pepper – so simple, it makes you wonder why good slaw (that’s neither soggy nor cloyingly sweet) is so hard to come by.
Here’s my attempt to replicate Allen’s delicious coleslaw, the quintessential summer side dish, not only for barbecue, but also for ribs, seafood, or chicken, just about any way you cook them.
Simple Southern Coleslaw
1 cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s 3⁄4 tsp. (or more) black pepper
2 Tbsp. sugar
1⁄2 tsp. celery salt
1⁄2 tsp. dried mustard 3 Tbsp. vinegar
1 head cabbage
1⁄2 tsp. salt
Whisk together mayonnaise, black pepper, sugar, celery salt, dried mustard and vinegar in a small bowl.
Grate the cabbage in a food processor. Place in a colander or sieve and sprinkle with the salt. Let it sit and drain for at least 20 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.
Put the grated cabbage in a large bowl and stir in the sauce. Be careful not to over-sauce. Add more salt and black pepper if needed.
If you prefer a more colorful slaw, grate a carrot or two and a green pepper along with the cabbage. A pinch of horseradish can be a nice touch, too. (Just keep in mind that at Allen and Son, whether north or south, these additions would amount to heresy.)