This Slow Cooker North Carolina Barbecue recipe replicates the flavor of pit-cooked pork, especially when you pair it with a homemade Eastern-style barbecue sauce or Lexington-style barbecue sauce. You’ll find recipes for Eastern style and Lexington style sauces, plus printable labels for the homemade sauces.
Sometimes I feel like I’m living in enemy territory.
In North Carolina, a culinary divide runs through the middle of the state, putting the eastern half at odds with the western half when it comes to barbecue.
If you grew up in the eastern part of the state, like I did, then chances are you are a devotee of so-called “Eastern style barbecue,” a tender pork dish made from the whole hog, pit cooked and served with a hot, salty vinegar sauce.
People from the western counties, like my husband, prefer Lexington or western style ‘cue, coarsely chopped roasted pork shoulder, served with a thin tart-sweet ketchup-based sauce that locals call “dip.”
Where we live now is right on the dividing line of the east-west barbecue debate. So, I can’t get my favorite Eastern-style barbecue without hopping in the car and taking a drive. Unless I make it at home.
Which is just what I did this weekend for Sunday dinner. I whipped up a traditional North Carolina barbecue dinner with cole slaw and hushpuppies with homemade Eastern-style and Lexington-style sauces, so everybody left the table happy. I’ve included the recipes both North Carolina barbecue sauces at the end of this post, plus I’ve included printable labels for the sauces.
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Since I don’t have a barbecue pit in my backyard or the hours it takes to slow cook pork over hickory wood, I picked up a Smithfield golden rotisserie flavor marinated pork tenderloin at Walmart. Talk about a tasty time-saver.
Smithfield Marinated Pork is perfectly seasoned and expertly marinated, so all I had to do was throw it into my Crock-Pot on low for about seven hours. At the end of the cooking time, it was falling-apart tender. I used a fork to shred it, though I probably should have chopped it to make it more like authentic North Carolina barbecue.
The tenderloin was perfect right out of the slow cooker, but we were craving a traditional North Carolina barbecue feast, so I whipped up separate batches of Lexington-style barbecue and Eastern-style barbecue sauce to drizzle over our pulled pork.
These barbecue sauces aren’t what you’re used to buying in the store. They’re both thin and pack more tang than sweetness.
For the Lexington-style sauce, you can add more ketchup to make the sauce slightly thicker and sweeter. My husband actually prefers a higher ketchup-to-vinegar ratio than this recipe calls for. Just experiment, adjusting the vinegar, ketchup and spices, until you achieve the perfect “dip.”
And don’t drench your pork in these sauces. Just drizzle. A little goes a long way.
In fairness to both sauces, my husband and I sampled both. And we each had a clear favorite.
True to our roots, he liked the Lexington-style sauce the best, and I liked the Eastern style sauce the best.
They were both tasty, but he’s wrong about which is the best!
But you don’t have to take my word for it. You ought to make your own easy slow cooker North Carolina Barbecue feast using Smithfield Marinated Pork, available in seven different flavors.
While you’re at the store, pick up some hushpuppy mix and a coleslaw kit from the produce section to round out the quick-and-easy meal.
You may also want to serve your North Carolina barbecue with Brunswick stew, like all the best ‘cue joints in the eastern part of the state do. Baked beans are another good side option, especially if you’re feeding a crowd.
Of course, my husband would tell you that hushpuppies, French fries and red slaw are the only proper accompaniments for North Carolina barbecue. Again, he’s wrong, but that’s a North Carolina culinary debate for another day.
This dinner proved that a meal doesn’t have to be 100 percent homemade or require hours of prep work to be delicious.
North Carolina Barbecue Sauce Labels
Grab these free printable labels for the Eastern style and Lexington style barbecue sauces.
Where do you stand on the North Carolina barbecue debate? Are you with me in my love of Eastern-style barbecue or are you against me?
Eastern Style North Carolina Barbecue Sauce
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes or 1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper to taste
- 1 Tablespoon hot pepper sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients together in a large mason jar and shake to mix.
To allow the flavors to combine fully, refrigerate for a day or two before serving.
Shake before serving.
Store in refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Lexington Style North Carolina Barbecue Sauce
- 1½ cups cider vinegar
- 10 Tablespoons to ½ cup ketchup
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Pinch of crushed hot red pepper flakes
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup water
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients. Simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer to a mason jar or squeeze bottle and serve a small amount of sauce over pork and other barbecued meats.
Store in refrigerator.
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