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The Smoking Musket Tailgate Menu: Tennessee in Charlotte

Tailgate season kicks into full gear on Saturday as the Mountaineers travel to the Queen City.

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NCAA Football: Iowa State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Football is back, which means it is officially tailgate season. But more than that, a quiet hope seems to fill the country. For By-Godders across the nation, this year seems more hopeful than others in recent memory, which means we should match the team’s promise on the field with our best efforts in the parking lot.

North Carolina food is very dear to my heart, having grown up going to pig pickins in the eastern part of the state and attending undergrad in the foothills. To honor the game site and the team that we’re playing, let’s plan a menu showcasing the foods from these regions.

Lexington-style Pork Barbecue

North Carolina has two very, very distinct styles of barbecue. Do not confuse them. You will die, or worse, be lectured by a large southern man. To be quite honest, Charlotte does not rank highly on the list of cities in North Carolina where you must eat barbecue. The bbq kind of fits the city’s cookie-cutter culture: sure, they have it, but it’s not special.

Today, you’re going to learn about Lexington-style barbecue, also known as “Piedmont style,” and incorrectly labeled “Western Carolina” style. Basically, Lexington-style pork barbecue takes the original Eastern Carolina style and modernized it a bit. Instead of smoking a whole hog, Lexington uses just the pork shoulder (probably the most forgiving cut of meat) and adds ketchup to the sauce.

As with any good barbecue, you start with a good spice rub. Brown sweet, savory, and a bit of heat keeps the pork shoulder flavorful and moist. Take time to rub and pat the spice into the meat and then wrap it in foil. Let it sit for an hour or overnight.

If you don’t have a smoker, there are a few other ways to cook this meat, but smoking is BEST. You can use a crock pot, set up a grill to cook with indirect heat, or cook over a fire pit. Lexington style traditionally uses oak wood for smoking, but use the chips you prefer.

Ideally, you want pulled pork shoulder to reach 190 degrees internally. And, more ideally, you don’t want the cooking temperature to surpass 250 degrees. Low and slow, folks, low and slow. Once it’s reached that temperature, take the shoulder off the heat and wrap it in foil and let it sit for about 20 minutes (or keep it wrapped until you reach the tailgate). Then, shred it in a tray and cover until ready to serve.

Piedmont Barbecue Sauce

This is the sauce that I personally think is the best barbecue sauce for pork. If you think I’m wrong, you’re probably a Kansas fan. Basically, you take your traditional vinegar and pepper sauce for Eastern Carolina barbecue and add ketchup. It is still very vinegary, but this adds some sweetness that adds a great taste. My personal ratio is ¼ cup of ketchup for each cup of apple cider vinegar. My recipe also calls for brown sugar and hot sauce. I’ve found the best recipe to match the recipe I was given by a man named Charlie.

Cornbread Muffins

Cornbread is a southern staple, but it seems to have a special place in Tennesseans’ hearts. Before it was known as the “Volunteer State,” Tennessee was dubbed the “Hog and Hominy State” due to the abundance of pork and corn the hills produced.

The benefit of making these cornbread muffins is that you can more appropriately porion and easily serve the cornbread to these tailgate guests. This recipe specifically explains how to bake them on a grill.

Mini Moon Pies

Every self-respecting man loves a MoonPie. OK, so they’re actually kinda not great, but they’re a well-known treat often seen in the lunch pail of a worker with an RC Cola—this is a legit meal for many in the South. The sandwich was first made in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1917 for coal miners and other laborers.

The MoonPie is a simple enough creation. Marshmallow filling sandwich between two graham cracker cookies, dunked in chocolate or banana coating. You could make your own graham cracker cookies, or you could try this easy recipe that will give your tailgaters a bite-sized snack.

Simply take a cup of mini marshmallows, microwave them for about 20 seconds, then spread them on the round side of vanilla wafers. Make a sandwich and then drag them in the chocolate coating. Place the mini moon pies on parchment paper and let cool.

The opening game of each season always brings joy to my heart. I know this season is particularly exciting and I truly hope everyone takes time to appreciate the family and friends at your Mountaineer tailgate.

Remember, Mountaineers don’t lose tailgates.