As any barbecue troller knows, the places that look like the least are the ones you hear about most.
B's Barbecue has such a loyal following in Greenville, N.C., that it has its own street - B's Barbecue Road. But although I've managed to visit most of the major 'cue spots in North and South Carolina, B's had eluded me. I stopped there on one barbecue trip years ago: Just my luck, the giant fan that keeps the open-air cookhouse liveable had broken down, so they had shut down early.
I've heard that kind of thing happens a lot. They only make so much barbecue, and when it's gone, it's gone.
On Thursday, I finished up with an assignment near Greenville just before lunch and decided to try my luck again. This time, I pulled up to find cars crammed in the parking lot and along the road (yes, that would be B's Barbecue Road), and smoke puffing from the screen windows in the cookhouse.
B's is about the same inside as you'd expect from the outside. Floors slope, chairs creak, tables are covered with mismatched oil cloth. But it's a friendly place, and all that wear comes honest, from years and years of loyal East Carolina University fans. B's returns the favor with plenty of love for the Pirates.
As for the food, it's dished up steam-table style. You find chicken so rarely in N.C. barbecue places that I went with the combo plate, with slaw, green beans and cornsticks. The chicken was excellent, smoked slowly until it was falling off the bone, with good, chewy skin and sauce with just a touch of sweet. The barbecue was exactly what I expect: Moist, Eastern-style pork, chopped fine, with that pit-cooked flavor that comes from fat dripping on coals.
I should have skipped the green beans and asked to double up on slaw, which was milky with just a little sweetness. But I got plenty of cornsticks: Long and thin to give the maximum crust, they were crunchy with a corn-grittiness that tasted like a stick of grits. (Yes, non-grits fans, some of us like the taste of grits.)
I was glad to finally add B's to my barbecue roster. Maybe I'll find my way back when they're open again someday. Maybe.
B's Barbecue, 751 B's Barbecue Road, Greenville, NC.