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A pile of ribs next to a bottle of barbecue sauce.
Mike D’s ribs and Spicy BBQ Sauce.
Stacey Sprenz Photography

The ‘Cracker Barrel’ of Barbecue Is Coming to East Durham

Mike D’s BBQ will sell barbecue sauce, grills, and brisket

After almost a decade in the barbecue world, Michael “Mike D” De Los Santos is finally opening his dream smokehouse, restaurant, and retail shop in East Durham. While there’s no shortage of barbecue in the Triangle, De Los Santos’ concept is quite different from what’s currently out there. “It’s like the Cracker Barrel of barbecue,” he says.

In 2020, he opened Mike D’s BBQ Supply & General Store in East Durham, a retail shop with the barbecue enthusiast in mind, selling locally-made custom grills and smokers, grill tools, local North Carolina products, high-quality charcoal, and of course, the award-winning line of Mike D’s signature barbecue sauces and all-purpose dry rubs.

The original retail shop shuttered during the pandemic as a result of supply chain issues. “The standalone barbecue supply store model wasn’t sustainable without also selling food,” he says. “After I closed the business, I was presented an opportunity to combine and do both.”

Barbecue sauce being squeezed onto a pile of ribs.
Mike D’s BBQ sauce
Stacey Sprenz Photography

After reviewing many different brands of sauces on a personal blog, De Los Santos came to the conclusion that his dream sauce didn’t exist. Enter Mike D’s BIG Sauce, a twist on traditional sauces, where smoky and sweet, with a mild kick, was born. It became such a hit that De Los Santos now sells it by the gallon for at-home barbecue and grill enthusiasts. Expect the flavors of traditional barbecue sauce paired with seasonings and spice from De Los Santos’ African American and Latino heritage.

Mike D’s BBQ product line now consists of sauces and dry rubs, which have scored De Los Santos countless awards since 2016, including a Word Champion award for their All-Purpose Rub in the Dry Rub/Fowl category at the 2017 World Hot Sauce Awards — and most recently, first place barbecue sauce for his popular Spicy BBQ sauce in the 2022 NC Specialty Foods Awards Competition.

2022 NC Specialty Foods Awards Competition
Stacey Sprenz Photography

The forthcoming brick-and-mortar (455 South Driver Street) will serve as the next iteration of Mike D’s BBQ. Think of it like a Cracker Barrel-style retail on one side of the building, but instead of country-centric quilts, peg games, and blueberry pancake mix, there will be everything imaginable in the world of barbecue. Fancy a grill? No problem. Others may consider this spot the “Sears of barbecue,” where you can walk out with pulled pork to-go, a mini smoker, and some stellar grill tips. “If you ask me for advice, I’m not going to say no,” De Los Santos says.

The menu will include the expected smoked and perfectly seasoned meats like pulled pork, ribs, chicken, brisket, and turkey. “Turkey is the most underrated meat on the smoker,” he adds, while the brisket is one of his favorite things to smoke. “We will be sourcing most of our meats from First Hand Foods and produce from Happy Dirt, keeping our dollars flowing within the state and via East Durham,” he adds.

“Sides matter,” De Los Santos laughingly says, and is most excited about smoked corn and seeing people’s reactions after taking a first bite and being pleasantly surprised. The baked bean recipe, he notes, is a smoked, three-bean recipe he developed last year. “At pop-ups, people frequently come back to me saying that they want more,” he adds. Plus, it’s a meat-free option for any non-meat eaters out there.

A styrofoam platter with pulled pork, corn, coleslaw, and beans.
A recent Mike D’s pop-up event.
Stacey Sprenz Photography

The building will be divided into two entrances; one directly accessing the retail side for shopping and for to-go orders, and the second for dine-in, which will be super intimate and a place for the community to connect over De Los Santos’ prized ribs and brisket with creamy mac and cheese and potato salad—and discover new, localized North Carolina specialty food products.

“I want to build community through barbecue,” he says. “I’m excited to be back in East Durham,” he adds. “I was there every day for two years — I’m excited to be back and build community with folks there.” Prior to Rofhiwa Book Café, a Black, queer-owned independent bookstore-meets-coffee shop, and Ideal’s Sandwich and Grocery, the area has been a food and beverage desert. With Mike D’s BBQ and not-yet-announced developments in the coming months, the area will serve as East Durham’s predominately Black-owned food and beverage corridor.

Mike D’s BBQ is currently crowdfunding through March in an effort to raise money for its opening in late spring 2023. Follow @mikedsbbq for more information on pop-ups and for an official opening date.

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