North Carolina is one of the birthplaces of American barbecue (a tradition with more than one mother), and the Campaign for Real Barbecue was founded in the Tar Heel state.  Thus, it is fitting that the True ‘Cue certification program originated in North Carolina. This page is your gateway to finding restaurants independently certified as serving real, old-school North Carolina barbecue.

To learn more about what defines North Carolina barbecue, and what distinguishes Eastern NC barbecue from Piedmont/Lexington-style, read this article and then go to NCBBQU, or read this book.  You might also consider contacting the Carolina Barbecue League, which has the mission to "promote and protect the Tar Heel State’s time-honored tradition of low and slow barbeque“ and sponsors competitions focusing on “the Artistry of a Pitmaster’s ability to cook perfect meat using traditional methods of cooking and no mechanical or chemical cooking fuels.”  

If you’d like some music to inspire you while you browse, listen to our True ‘Cue NC theme song, “Holy Smoke”, written and performed by Tommy Edwards of Chatham county (used with his generous permission).

To qualify for True ‘Cue NC certification, a restaurant must meet the following criteria:

  1. Be located in North Carolina.

  2. Cook the barbecue using wood coals or charcoal as the sole heat source.

  3. Avoid electricity, gas or any other non-wood heat source for the barbecue other than to ignite the wood, to keep the finished barbecue warm, or to re-heat the finished barbecue.

  4. Serve the barbecue on site at the location where it is cooked (exceptions may exist for food trucks and other mobile purveyors, but a restaurant that serves barbecue cooked by another business does not qualify).

  5. Offer regular business hours, with barbecue available on the menu regularly (at least monthly).

  6. Serve chopped or pulled pork shoulder, Boston butt, hams, or whole hog on the regular menu. Offering additional meats is acceptable -- and irrelevant.

  7. Provide a sauce or dip that is regionally appropriate.

Sadly, we believe there are no more than fifty or so restaurants in North Carolina that serve True ‘Cue (out of many hundreds of barbecue restaurants across the state's 100 counties).  We need your help to change this. Please take THE PLEDGE, steer clear of faux ‘cue when possible, and patronize True ‘Cue NC-certified restaurants.

Cooking Barbecue at Lexington, North Carolina circa 1929

To the best of our knowledge, these restaurants serve barbecue that meets the True ‘Cue NC criteria (some serve barbecued meats or sauces in addition to those specified above but their menus include traditional NC-style barbecue):

Certifications are performed by our volunteer team of True ‘Cue Inspectors.  Restaurants may choose to display the True ‘Cue NC Real Barbecue certification on their premises, but it is not required.  If you think you know a restaurant that meets the True 'Cue NC criteria, let us know.  If you think a place on the list now cooks with gas or electricity, drop us a line at and we’ll check it out (we don’t want to start a flame war, so to speak).  

We believe that these restaurants also serve barbecue that satisfies the True ‘Cue NC criteria, and are working to verify it with a site visit:

We conduct inspections and re-inspections as time, money and cholesterol levels allow.

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