Oh Carolina

Missing Some Barbeque

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Over the course of the past 40 or so years, I’ve spent a lot of time in North Carolina. At least, that is, a lot of time for an Ohioan.

I had (and still do have) family there and we’d visit them at home, at their farm, or meet up with them at the beach.  I don’t get back to see them enough.

Several good friends from college grew up there – both in and around Chapel Hill and in the mountains surrounding Asheville and Boone.  We’d take road trips down over long weekends, and occasionally get together in those first few years after leaving school.  I’ve lost touch with many of them, though sometimes social media lets me know where they are now and mostly what their kids are doing these days.

Then, for a few strange and wonderful years, because of my strange - and occasionally wonderful - line of work at the time, I lived In Chapel Hill.  I loved it there, even if the summers were warmer than I would have preferred.  Sometime in late March I took the roof and doors off the old jeep that was my daily driver and didn’t bother putting them back on until Halloween.  I worked entirely too much, but in between those 18 hour days, I got to enjoy the incredible food scene the area had to offer – from the stunning produce at farm stands and community markets to some of the most innovative and delicious restaurants you’ll find anywhere.  I still keep in touch with friends from that time.  It wasn’t all fun and games, but I definitely left that job with some lifelong friends.

And then there was the barbeque.

When I was a kid, barbeque was one of two things:  chicken pieces covered in a sticky red sauce and half burnt on the grill, or shredded beef covered in essentially the same sticky red sauce and slapped on a roll.

I don’t actually remember the first time I had North Carolina barbeque, or which of the several regional styles it was.  It was probably something approximating Lexington style – because my cousin lived in the Greensboro area.  I do know that the BBQ I grew to love in my time in Chapel Hill was sort of an amalgam of the two great traditions:  Lexington style and Eastern North Carolina style.

 Shoulders slow smoked over hardwood dressed with just a simple vinegar and chili sauce, sometimes on a sandwich, sometimes a plate or platter.

I miss the food, but perhaps more than anything I miss the ritual – a group of friends gathered around an old picnic table in a parking lot, or crowded into a back room with a plastic check tablecloth.  Just for a few moments not entirely consumed with work.  In fact, usually strangely quiet because we had a different focus.  Eating barbeque is serious business.


Spicy Bread and Butter Refrigerator Pickles

The meat may be the important part, but anyone who likes any style of barbeque knows it’s the sides that make it a meal, and the sides that help cut through that rich delicious smoked pork fat are important.  These pickles are easy to make, and though they require a little advanced planning because of time resting in the refrigerator, they’re well worth it.  Spicy and vinegary, they’re a perfect balance to the smoked pork – but they’re also great on a charcuterie board, piled onto a pimento cheese sandwich, or just as a snack straight out of whatever container you’ve put them to rest in.

This is the second time I’ve included some version of these in this newsletter. That’s because i make them a lot. I often make them as whole cucumbers because I like the way they look and it gives me a lot more flexibility in presentation, but slicing them first allows them to pickle faster, and it is generally more traditional.

1 lb pickling cucumbers
2/3 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced fresh baby dill
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp red chili flake
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp whole mustard seeds
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp whole cloves
pinch of ground tumeric

Wash the cucumbers and allow them to soak in cool water for 1 hour.  You can either leave them whole or slice them.  Sliced cucumbers will pickle much faster.  I leave them whole because I like the way they look.

Add the white vinegar, 1 1/3 cup of water, turmeric, garlic, sugar, salt, chili flake, peppercorns mustard seed, allspice, and cloves to a pot over medium heat. 

Bring to a low boil and cook for 2 minutes.

Place the dill and cucumbers in glass jars or other non-reactive containers with a lid.

Pour the pickling liquid over the cucumbers.

Allow to cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least 3 days and up to 1 week for the mixture to fully penetrate the fruit.

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This is about as simple a coleslaw as you can get, except for the addition of celery seed.  I’ve been kind of blasé about celery seed for a while, but lately I’ve found it adds a little something to a number of dishes – and it especially adds something to dishes where smoke is one of the component flavors.  It does manage to get stuck in your teeth though, which really is kinda creepy – also whoever decided “let’s use the exceptionally tiny weird flea like seeds of this stuff as a seasoning” was either a genius or one seriously sloppy cook.

2 cups finely shredded or chopped white cabbage
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp celery seed

Place the shredded cabbage in a large glass or other non-reactive bowl.  Scatter with the sugar and salt and toss well.

Allow to rest 10-15 minutes for the salt and sugar to wilt the cabbage slightly and draw out some of the moisture.

In a non-reactive bowl, mix the mayonnaise, cider vinegar, and celery seed.

Pour the dressing over the cabbage, mix well to coat, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using.

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OTT Macaroni and Cheese with Garlic Breadcrumbs

I used to make macaroni and cheese with a bechamel – slowly cooked butter and flour and milk – and eggs, and a long process involving an oven and … it was a pain in the butt and even after years of playing around and trying different recipes, it always seemed like it was going to be a little hit or miss on whether it’d be a wondrous cheesy dish or a strangely bouncy crumbly embarrassment.  It made me miss the ease of the boxed stuff – you know, the one those funny Canadians lads sing about.

These days, I cheat.  I use a natural food additive that allows me to easily melt all sorts of cheeses into a smooth sauce without messing around with flour and milk.  Sodium Citrate is easily found online, and possibly in some of your better food shops.  It is a concentrated version of the same stuff found in certain fruity wines, the same that makes fondue work, and lets you blend nearly any cheese into a smooth sauce.  Here, I’ve used just cheddar, parm, and mozzarella – but the thing that makes it OTT (over the top) is that you can use pretty much any combination of cheeses you want.  Smoked cheeses can be particularly fun.

1 lb uncooked macaroni
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded low moisture mozzarella
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup water
2 tsp sodium citrate
1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

½ cup breadcrumbs
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp ground black pepper
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne

Cook the macaroni according to the package directions.

Add 1 cup of water and 2 tsp sodium citrate to a thick bottomed pan.

Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring.

Once the sodium citrate is dissolved, slowly add the cheeses, whisking constantly as you add them so that they integrate and emulsify with the water (alternately, you can use a stick blender for this task).

Whisk in the Dijon mustard and cayenne pepper.

Fold the cheese sauce and pasta together to completely coat the pasta.

In a separate pan, melt the butter.

Once the butter has stopped foaming, add the breadcrumbs, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cayenne, black pepper, and garlic powder. 

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until the breadcrumbs are deeply toasted.

To serve, top the hot mac & cheese with an additional sprinkling of cheese and a generous scattering of the toasted breadcrumbs.

Wilted Green Beans with Sausage and Peanuts

Hi. This is the weird one. 

There’s usually a weird one.  

Sometimes the weird one works.

Green beans, sausage, onions, a touch of vinegar ... all slowly cooked together until the onions taste like sausage and beans and the beans taste like sausage and onions and then we’ll just put some peanut butter in there and … WHAT?  Peanut Butter? 

Yeah. Trust me.  It’s the weird one.

But it works.

1 lb fresh green beans
¼ lb country sausage
1 tbsp cider vinegar
½ cup sliced white onion
1 tsp peanut butter
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts for garnish

Clean and trim the green beans.

Add the sausage to a pot over medium heat and cook through until you can crumble it.

Add sliced onions and cook just until softened.

Add the green beans, black pepper, cider vinegar and enough water to cover.

Bring to a simmer and cook until the beans are very soft.

Drain all but a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid and stir in the peanut butter.

Serve topped with crushed peanuts.

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Fried dough.  Is there a fried dough that isn’t awesome?  I mean, sure, sometimes doughnuts are disappointing, but they’re not disappointing because they’re fried dough, they’re disappointing in the same way  movies that are almost good are disappointing.  They’re just not living up to their potential.

If they’re on the menu, I’m basically incapable of not ordering hushpuppies.  I love the crunch, and the richness that corn batter acquires when it’s cooked in fat.  They’re like corn bread that’s all crust, but fried, and bite sized.  What’s not to love about that?

This is a pretty simple recipe, though I put a little cheddar cheese in to add some moisture and a bit of flavor.  You can fancy it up with some jalapeno (as I did in the ones pictured here) or bacon or both if you like, but there’s something to be said for the unadorned contrast between the crisp crust and the soft interior that’s maybe best enjoyed without inclusion.  I think of it as letting them live up to their potential.

1 cup yellow corn meal
½ cup AP flour
2 eggs
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp melted butter
1/4-½ cup whole milk or buttermilk
½  tsp kosher salt

Oil for frying

 Set up your fryer, a dutch oven, or other heavy pot, and bring the oil to 305°F.

Add the corn meal, AP flour, salt, and baking powder to a large bowl.

Beat the eggs, and mix with milk or butter milk and the melted butter.

Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, folding until completely incorporated.

Fold in the shredded cheese.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, or a large plastic bag with a corner cut off.

Working in batches, pipe 1 -2 inch long pieces of batter into the fry oil, frying until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel or paper bag.

Serve warm.


Smoked Pork Shoulder

I’m not a barbeque master. 

I’m not one of those guys with three different grills and two smokers and a pantry full of rubs and sauces and thermometer apps on their phone.  I’m also – and more importantly – not one of the wise men and women who developed and nurtured, and continue to evolve the traditions that are North Carolina barbeque.  And I do mean wise – wise in that sense where the skills and techniques passed down through generations of pitmasters and cooks starts to approach magic.  There are men and women standing over smoking coals behind a slightly ramshackle building just off the highway that know more about fire, about how wood breaks down under heat and gives up flavors – good and bad – than any food scientist or forester or physicist.

I do however enjoy a day in the yard with friends or family – or these days just some good music, some cold beer, and the smell of a slow smoking piece of good meat.

This is a simple rub I use to smoke pork shoulder.  The better the meat you start with, the better the result – so you can definitely go looking for good local pork.  Sometimes I do.  Sometimes I just  go with grocery store meat and let the smoke and heat work their magic.  It’s still more than good enough.

1 pork shoulder roast
Brown uncoated  butchers paper or aluminium foil
Simple BBQ Rub (below)

Rub the shoulder roast with the rub, working the mixture into any flaps or crevices.

Place the roast in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight.

Smoke with hardwood or fruitwood (hickory, maple, apple, peach …) at 225-250°F for three hours.

Remove the roast from the smoker and wrap tightly in foil or butcher paper, then return to the smoker and cook until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 195°F.

Allow the meat to rest for 20 minutes, then pull into shreds using tongs (or a gloved hand).

Dress generously with vinegar barbeque sauce and serve on plates with all the fixings or on soft rolls with coleslaw.

Simple BBQ Rub

2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp celery seed
½ tsp cayenne pepper

Place all rub ingredients in the container of a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and process until the mixture becomes a fine, fully integrated powder.

Eastern Carolina Style Vinegar Sauce

1 cup cider vinegar
8 large cloves garlic
1 tbsp red chili flake
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp finely ground black pepper
½ tsp dried thyme

Peel, trim, and finely mince the garlic.

Mix all ingredients in a thick bottomed pan.

Bring to a simmer, then immediately remove from the heat.

Allow to cool to room temperature before using.

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PawPaw Pudding

This is the other weird one.  It’s weird because unless you’re from a particular stripe of the eastern Untitled States, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never heard of, let alone encountered, PawPaws. 

It’s also weird because I’m using them to make what would otherwise be banana pudding.

PawPaws are the largest edible fruit native to the U.S.  They grow in the woods of Appalachia from Georgia all the way up into Canada - including right around where I live in Ohio.  Weirdly, given that they grow on the east coast, their flavor and texture are most similar to things we think of as tropical - to me they taste like a combination of banana and pineapple, though other folks may use other comparisons. They’re also exceptionally seasonal, sometimes difficult to find (a lot of the ‘crop’ is foraged rather than raised) and a pain in the butt to peel, seed, and prepare.

They’d be worth it just for their weirdness – but they’re also pretty damned good.

4 ripe pawpaws
1 ½ cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp cornstarch

Mini vanilla wafers

Peel and seed the pawpaws, then chop into small pieces.

Add the pawpaws, the milk, sugar, and 1 cup of the heavy cream to a sauce pot with a heavy bottom.

Bring to a simmer, and cook until the pawpaw flesh is very soft.

Allow to cool slightly, then transfer to the container of a high speed blender.  Process until very smooth.

Add the cornstarch to 2 tbsp of cold water, and mix into a slurry.

Add to the blender container and pulse to mix.

Transfer the mixture back to the pot and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.

Slowly ladle about 1/3 of the fruit mixture into the bowl with the yolks, whisking constantly to avoid the eggs curdling. 

Reverse this procedure, and slowly whisk the egg mixture back into the remaining mixture in the pot.

Return to a low simmer, stirring constantly.

The mixture should be very thick.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Transfer to a lidded container – place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming – and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

To finish, whisk the remaining cream until stiff peaks form.

Alternately layer the vanilla wafers and the pudding mixture. Top with whipped cream and additional wafers as garnish.