Barbecue is gospel in North Carolina. Barbecue is two truths in the form of vinegary eastern style and ketchup-mopped Lexington style. Here, barbecue, barbeque and BBQ are interchangeable nouns, not verbs. Barbecue is a personal experience. Ask three people which style is best, and you’ll get three answers. This time, I’m going to assert Kernersville as a neutral battleground with the ability to satisfy any barbecue palate.
One of the few common denominators is that North Carolina barbecue is pork. In Pork We Trust. In pork shoulder, Lexington style trusts. I think Lexington style is the best barbecue. It’s been said that the first barbecue style you try is the kind you think is best. I agree. And repeat customers of Clarks Barbecue feel the same way.
Clarks has been serving Lexington-style pit-cooked barbecue, ribs and chicken for nearly 25 years. It’s easy to find between Interstate 40 and Interstate 40 Business. As an unwritten rule, if the sign outside has a pig on it, it is going to be good. There are four pigs on Clarks sign and one more on the front door.
A modest combination of booths and tables crowd the dining room. Not much in the way of decor graces the walls. A few artificial plants and a lone flat-screen TV near the front counter brighten up the place. Patio seating is available as well.
For years, I’ve seen the smoke billowing out of smokestacks on top the building and a parking lot always full of cars. Ready to embark on my own personal barbecue journey, I visited Clarks a number of times alone, with family and with friends, and each time was different than the last. I am reticent to admit this, but my first visit to Clarks was not the best. I was not indoctrinated to the ins and outs of not missing out on menu items. Every menu item I attempted to order was unavailable. Our server shared a few tips to make our next time much better. I am happy to pass these tips on to you: People line up early and often to get the coveted smoked meats. The barbecue chicken is only sold Friday and Saturday and is always sold out by 3 p.m. Ribs are only sold Thursday through Saturday, and they, too, sell out early.
During lunch one day, a customer walked in and ordered 25 barbecued chicken halves, and shortly after that, there was no more to be had. I learned my lesson and arrived at 11 a.m. to make sure I did not miss out on ribs or chicken on subsequent visits.
The chicken is smoky and juicy. You can choose from white or dark meat, and both surprised me with the clean, smoky flavor and juicy, tender meat. The ribs have eluded me each time, but they are definitely on my bucket list. There are only four sides listed on the menu, but there’s a list of nearly 15 vegetables on a chalkboard, including fried okra, green beans, potato salad, and macaroni and cheese.I was not aware of the breakfast menu until I was on my way out the door. Served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., you can choose from pancakes, waffles, omelets or make-your-own biscuit platter with your choice of egg, gravy and a list of several breakfast meats including bacon, liver mush and bologna.
Out of the three types of pit barbecue — sliced, chopped or course-chopped — my favorite is the chopped barbecue plate. Wood-smoked and chopped with a mixture of white pork shoulder meat and outside skin, this becomes Lexington-style barbecue once paired with the classic thin, vinegary Piedmont dip sauce. It is served with red barbecue slaw (cabbage slaw tinged red with vinegar and ketchup) or white slaw (cabbage slaw seasoned with vinegar and sugar), fries (crinkle-cut) and hush puppies (crispy, golden brown rings of cornmeal batter).
The barbecue plate, tray and sandwich can be ordered chopped, sliced or course-chopped with bits of smoked skin, called bark. The sliced option is presented with fat, smoky, juicy slices of lean pork stacked high with fries and your choice of side. Sandwiches are made with seeded buns and your choice of pit-cooked pork.
Other excellent meal options include hamburger steak smothered with brown gravy alongside a side salad and choice of side, or foot-long hot dogs served on grilled buns, Carolina style (chili, onions, slaw, mustard).
Banana pudding and peach cobbler help fill in the spaces of your stomach not devoted to barbecue.
Go to Clarks Barbecue, and go often. I hope the elusive ribs will not escape you.