The raging fire that engulfed Winston-Salem’s beloved Mr. Barbecue burned a hole “big enough for three SUVs side by side” and required so much water that it destroyed virtually everything inside the family-owned restaurant. But that wasn’t enough to convince owner Jimmy Carros to stop using wood-burning barbecue pits.
“The thought never really entered my mind,” Carros said.
Mr. Barbecue recently reopened almost two years after the fire. The pandemic didn’t exactly speed up the relaunch, but more than anything, rainy weather slowed down construction, Carros said. Locals eagerly awaited the humble restaurant’s return, with more than 100 people lining up before its doors formally opened last month.
The risk of a business reliant on open flames is obvious. So is the reason for sticking with tradition, Carros said.
“The flavor that you get from the wood-burning pits is not easily matched,” he explained. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I’m not sure I can do it.”
Instead, when Carros made plans to reopen the almost 60-year-old restaurant, he replaced some of the wood fascia board near his barbecue pits with concrete. The Mr. Barbecue team will be more cautious about clearing out ash, too.
“We do our best to be careful,” Carros said, “but it is still an open flame.”
Plenty of barbecue restaurants in North Carolina rely on electric or gas grills for either all or some of the cooking process. That included nearby Hill’s Lexington Barbecue, which permanently closed last year right before the pandemic. Only a few local ’cue spots besides Mr. Barbecue maintain the tradition of cooking pork exclusively over wood-burning pits, including Clark’s in Kernersville, Real Q in Winston-Salem, and Stamey’s in Greensboro, according to The Campaign for Real Barbecue.
In some ways, the new Mr. Barbecue standing on the same Peters Creek Parkway site is better than its predecessor — for one, it boasts a drive thru window. But the addition wasn’t motivated by the pandemic.
“I had previous restaurants, and all but one had a drive-thru,” he said, adding that it’s a big revenue driver. “We’ve always wanted a drive-thru.”
It’s already proving useful. Carros is eager to welcome people to Mr. Barbecue’s indoor dining room, but as he works to staff up the freshly relaunched restaurant, the drive thru offers some much-needed runway.
• Mr. Barbecue [Official]
• Barbecue Is a Noun: The Triad’s Most Authentic Barbecue [Triad City Beat]
• The Campaign for Real Barbecue [Official]