Beyond Bacon & BBQ: 11 Foods Associated With North Carolina

Red Hot Dogs

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dana Hanson, the NC State Extension Meat Specialist and an associate professor in NC State’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences. In addition to working with local and regional food companies, Hanson also develops extension programs and teaches classes such as NC State BBQ Camp, Charcuterie School, Muscle Foods and Food Preservation. This post is part of our NC Knowledge List series, which taps into NC State’s expertise on all things North Carolina.

Agriculture is an important segment of our economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates North Carolina livestock, poultry and food products at $8 billion each year. These meat products not only have a positive impact on the state economy, but they taste great – and provide an affordable, safe and wholesome source of nutrition for a growing population.

A rich and diverse food culture thrives across North Carolina, from Avon to Andrews. Culinary specialties are woven into the fabric of our southern foodways. Collectively, when we think of North Carolina meat products, pork BBQ comes to mind. BBQ, from east to west, is held in high regard, but there are many unique meat products that deserve recognition.

Air-Dried Country Sausage

Air-Dried Country Sausage

This style of sausage is rooted in eastern North Carolina tobacco country. This specifically refers to areas east of Raleigh, or the magical geographic dividing line of I-95. Air dried sausage goes back to the days of the on-farm “hog killin’,” where folks would gather in the cool fall weather to process a pig (or two or three or six) in order to provide meat for the family. Meat that was not consumed fresh or salted down to make country ham or bacon was often made into a number of different styles of sausage.

Sausage is made with meat trimmings (small cuts of meat that are not suitable to be used as chops or roasts) that are blended with salt and a secret blend of spices. Air dried sausage is then allowed to mature and dry for a nearly a week. This final step changes the texture and flavor compared to traditional fresh pork sausage.

The unique flavor development in this regional favorite is due to exposure to air. Food chemists call this process lipid oxidation or rancidity. Air dried sausage lovers just call it great. Large chunks of this link sausage are often fried dark brown and crispy. It is a feature item on proper southern-style lunch buffets (find it at Eddie’s Café in Newton Grove). This sausage can be served up for breakfast or, best of all, as the meat between a piece of white bread with a big squirt of yellow mustard.

Air-dried country sausage is found at most retail grocery markets in the eastern part of the state.

Mac’s General Merchandise Country Sausage & Meats, Dunn, NC
Bass Farms Sausage, Spring Hope, NC: www.bassfarmsausage.com
Carlie C’s IGA Grocery Stores across the state: www.carliecs.com
Acre Station Meat Farm, Pinetown, NC: www.acrestationmeatfarm.com

C-Loaf

C-Loaf

This one is straight out of Bizarre Foods. Just like “C” is for cookie, the “C” in this case is for chitlins. Chits are a hog’s large intestine. These gastrointestinal delicacies are deep cleaned, then boiled or deep fried, before being served with spicy pepper vinegar and hot sauce. (There is nothing Texas Pete can’t make even better!) Historically, to make C-loaf, chits are cooked in water, chopped, spiced, and allowed to cool. When you are ready to eat, reheat the loaf, which will make its own gravy, and serve over rice. Again, don’t forget to add copious amounts of hot sauce.

Interestingly, demand for chitlins has driven production costs to the point where lower priced raw materials are now needed. As a result, hog stomachs are commonly used to make C-loaf. So why isn’t it called S-loaf, you may ask? There are just some questions that are best left unanswered.

In most public circles, C-loaf will not be considered gourmet. There is just something about the lower GI tract of swine that gets little respect. If you suspect a food adventure hero lives deep within your soul, C-loaf might be your gateway to fame. Who knows? You might become the next Andrew Zimmern.

T.L. Herring, Wilson, NC: www.tlherring.com
Lewis Sausage, Burgaw, NC: www.lewissausage.com
Bass Farms Sausage, Spring Hope, NC: www.bassfarmsausage.com
Nahunta Pork Center, Raleigh, NC and Pikeville, NC: www.nahuntapork.com
Neese’s Country Sausage, Greensboro, NC: www.neesesausage.com

Country Ham

Country Ham

Dry cured ham is as much a part of American food heritage as apple pie. Since colonial days, country ham has been a staple food in the Southeast. Historical records tell the story of colonial meat packing businesses being built along the banks of Pagan River in the town of Smithfield, VA. Pigs thrived in the Tidewater region, supplying the meat that was cured and sold locally as well as back in England. Packers in the Tidewater region of Virginia and North Carolina are still known for producing great country ham.

Today most ham is sold pre-sliced ready for the skillet. The key to success when preparing this product is knowing when to quit. Country hams do not like to be overcooked and dried out. Lightly fry it, pair it up with a ripe summer ‘mater, slap it on a warm biscuit…and breakfast is served. Support American food heritage, try country ham from this list of North Carolina cure masters.

Westwater Country Hams, Warsaw, NC
Nahunta Pork Center, Raleigh, NC and Pikeville, NC: www.nahuntapork.com
Wayco Country Hams, Goldsboro, NC: www.waycohams.com
Johnston County Country Hams, Smithfield, NC: www.countrycuredhams.com
Philips Brother’s Country Ham, Asheboro, NC: www.phillipsbrotherscountryham.com
Thomas Brothers Foods, Asheboro, NC: www.thomasbrothersham.com
Sugar Grove Country Hams / May’s Meats, Taylorsville, NC: www.sugargroveham.com
A.B. Vannoy Country Ham, West Jefferson, NC: www.abvannoyhams.com
Hobe’s Country Ham, North Wilkesboro, NC: www.hobescountryham.com
Suncrest Farms Country Hams, Wilkesboro, NC: www.suncrestfarmscountryham.net
Goodnight Brothers Country Ham, Boone, NC: www.goodnightbrothers.com

Fresh Country Sausage

Fresh Country Sausage

More fresh pork breakfast sausage is consumed in the southeastern U.S., than any other market in the country. Mild or spicy hot, country pork sausage was destined to be paired with a piping hot buttermilk biscuit. If you have driven past a Bojangles’ on your morning commute, you understand the marriage of these two quintessentially North Carolinian staple foods.

At the most simplistic level country sausage is made from pork trimming blended with salt, black pepper and sage. You may find variations with additional spices or formulas that include red pepper or cayenne to kick up the heat, but pepper and sage are standard issue. Pattie or links – it’s all good.

If you are short on patience and can’t wait in line at the Bojangles’, dust off grandma’s biscuit recipe and cook up some sausage at home. Fresh country sausage is found at nearly all retail meat markets and local butcher shops across the state.

Wells Pork and Beef, Burgaw, NC: www.wellsporkandbeef.com
Bass Farms Sausage, Spring Hope, NC: www.bassfarmsausage.com
Nahunta Pork Center, Raleigh, NC and Pikeville, NC: www.nahuntapork.com
Morty-Pride Sausage, Fayetteville, NC: www.mortypride.com
Pender Packing, Rocky Point, NC: www.penderpacking.com
Neese’s Country Sausage, Greensboro, NC: www.neesesausage.com
Frank Corriher Country Sausage, China Grove, NC

Liver Pudding

Liver Pudding

Liver pudding and liver mush are closely related, in fact they may even attend the same family reunion. However, suggesting they are meaty equals would invoke an online debate that would crash the internet!

Basic ingredients include pork liver and pork trimmings cooked in water. After simmering for a period of time, the meat is removed from this rich stock and sent through a grinder. Cornmeal is added back to the stock to make a thick porridge. The ground meat along with spices are blended back to form the pudding. Liver pudding often uses a coarsely ground cornmeal to produce its characteristic texture and mouthfeel. Hot pudding is allowed to cool prior to being cut into blocks. An alternative form is linked pudding, which is stuffed into a natural hog casing prior to packaging.

Scrapple is a cousin seated at the same table. It is made in a similar fashion but may use wheat flour, oatmeal or buckwheat. Scrapple is traditionally found in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. More variations of liver pudding exist. In South Carolina, pudding often includes rice as the cereal component. Further advanced study of liver-influenced meat wonderment include jadernice, leberwurst, leverpostej, and boudin. Before you graduate to this level, try liver pudding.

Clear Run Farms, Harrells, NC (country store at the crossroads of Hwy 421 & Hwy 41…worth the drive!)
Neese’s Sausage, Greensboro, NC: www.neesesausage.com
Pender Packing, Rocky Point, NC: www.penderpacking.com

Liver Mush

Liver Mush

Regional North Carolina cuisine at its finest. You have heard the old saying, it is all about location, well it’s a similar story for this product: west of Salisbury and I-85 you will find liver mush; down east it is liver pudding. This western Carolina breakfast favorite is made by first water cooking lean pork meat and liver. These fine ground meats are then combined with fine ground corn meal, wheat flour and spiced like country sausage. Pan fried to be eaten alone or put on a bun, liver mush has a fiercely loyal following.

Don’t forget about the annual Liver Mush Festival in Marion held every year in June or the Liver Mush Festival in Shelby scheduled in October. If you can’t wait for either party, look for liver mush at retail markets in the western half of the state.

Hunter’s Liver Mush, Marion, NC
Jenkin’s Liver Mush, Shelby, NC
Mack’s Liver Mush, Shelby, NC
Neese’s Sausage, Greensboro, NC: www.neesesausage.com

Red Hot Dogs

Hot dogs have been around for a long time. History suggests that they were developed in Germany around the late 1600s. Just like most foods, they were brought to America by European settlers and since their arrival they have enjoyed a lofty perch within our food culture.

A red hot dog (like those shown at the top of the page) first came to eastern North Carolina in 1941. If you were raised up in a community east of I-95, it is treason to consider eating anything else.

You may find red dogs in other parts of the country, including South Carolina, Georgia and even as far west as Nebraska. For a true North Carolina experience, grill these bright red beauties just long enough to develop some delicious charring, and serve them up on a steamed bun ordered “all the way.” This will often get you chili, cole slaw, onions and yellow mustard. Keep the ketchup for your fries.

Carolina Packers, Smithfield, NC: www.carolinapackers.com
Steven’s Sausage, Smithfield, NC: www.stevens-sausage.com
Harvin Choice Meats, Sumter, SC: www.harvinmeats.com

Red Hots

Red Hots

A hot dog or frankfurter is sometimes referred to at a red hot. This one is a little different. Red hots are short stout links made to be hot and spicy.

Red hots have gained fame as an inexpensive, flavorful sausage. They have found their way to countless tables across the South for almost 100 years!

Enjoy them like a hot dog, then cool down with some Cheerwine.

Carolina Packers, Smithfield, NC: www.carolinapackers.com
Lewis Sausage, Burgaw, NC: www.lewissausage.com
Carolina Pride, Greenwood, SC: www.carolinapride.com

Seasoning Meat

Seasoning Meats

A pot of greens is nothing without seasoning meats. Savory rich pot licker owes its soul to the salty, smoky flavor packed within seasoning meats. Smoked pork neck bones, hocks and fatback have brought that extra bit of goodness to pots of vegetables since…well, forever. The salt, meaty goodness and fat work magic as they simmer.

To the cooks that say, “Oh, I will just use chicken bouillon”… let’s all send them a collective “bless your heart!”

Smoked meats are found across the state. Look for these products, which are always ready to go to work in your recipes.

T.L. Herring, Wilson, NC: www.tlherring.com
Wells Pork and Beef, Burgaw, NC: www.wellsporkandbeef.com
Villari Foods, Warsaw, NC: www.villarifood.com
Smithfield Packing, Smithfield, VA: www.smithfieldfoods.com
Morty-Pride Sausage, Fayetteville, NC: www.mortypride.com

Souse

Souse

Pass the Meat Jell-O…yes, please! Souse gets a bad rap for its similarity to Nana’s pineapple lime Jell-O (minus the pineapple and the lime). Souse is jelled meat made with water-cooked pork, tongues, cheeks, ears and/or snouts. These head meats are blended with vinegar, for some added zip, and seasoned with salt, pepper, pickle relish and/or pickled peppers.

Head meats and skin are rich in a protein called collagen. When heated, the collagen breaks down to form gelatin. (If the wheels are turnin’, you are correct…Nana’s holiday specialty is not vegetarian friendly!) When this spicy and sassy mixture is finished cooking, it is sent to the cooler to set up. Blocks of souse are sold at retail and often used as sandwich meat. It is also eaten cold, cut into small bite size pieces. Try it with a splash of apple cider vinegar and Texas Pete.

Neese’s Sausage, Greensboro, NC: www.neesesausage.com
Lewis Sausage, Burgaw, NC: www.lewissausage.com
T.O Williams, Portsmouth, VA: www.vasausage.com
Harvin Choice Meats, Sumter, SC: www.harvinmeats.com

Tom Thumb

Tom Thumb

Every good food list needs to feature a rare, unique and curious product…enter the Tom Thumb. In some parts of extreme northeast North Carolina, it is referred to as a Dan Doodle. Micro-regional in distribution, you might find a Tom Thumb in retail markets along the I-95 corridor from Roanoke Rapids to about Smithfield. Whether they answer to Tom or Dan, they are both pork sausage stuffed into a hog stomach or large intestine casing. This bulbous sausage is often smoked and hung to dry, akin to air dried country sausage. They are often prepared by boiling, often with collard greens. When the greens are done, you remove the cooked Tom Thumb, slice and serve.

Where can a Tom Thumb be found? It might be easier to locate a Bigfoot. These products are rare, but can be found in most down east meat markets.

Leyden’s Country Store, Belvidere, NC
Nahunta Pork Center, Raleigh, NC and Pikeville, NC: www.nahuntapork.com
Smith’s Red and White, Dortches, NC: www.smithsredandwhite.com
Larry’s Super Market, Raleigh, NC: www.larryssupermarketraleigh.com

Next time you are at the store, look beyond the common steak, chop and roast …reach for North Carolina food heritage. Try something from this list. Heck, try them all!

4 responses on “Beyond Bacon & BBQ: 11 Foods Associated With North Carolina

  1. Pingback: Health is Wealth
  2. Shelton Skinner says:

    Leyden’s Country Store, Belvidere, NC is actually Layden’s

  3. Chuck Smith says:

    My local Carlie C’s (Fayetteville) carries the Tom Thumb. Most all those products above my grandfather made from his annual hog kill in November 50′- 60s. I had worse job as kid. Wake up hogs to get shot with .22 rifle between eyes, pick hair from nose/eyes/ears after pulled from boiling tub, hold washtub with brother to catch all the innards as they plopped in one complete unit from the long belly slit my grandfather performed as hog was hung from hind feet. Ladies inside prepared the sausage casings and made the sausage. Small wooden curing house to hang the salted meat. Later that afternoon big black kettle would cook the fat down to liquid which turn solid white when cooled. Ladled into large tin cans. About all I remember. Eating ham biscuits year round with fresh hen eggs. Grandpa’s sausage tastes like Neese’s. He said they used his father’s recipe. Early 1900’s. Store on Alston Ave. East Durham, NC Wish I could post a pic of his neighborhood store I have. Served the tobacco factory workers including the Haytai (Black) neighborhood on other side of RR tracks Pettigrew Street. The found him murdered on the tracks. My grandfather took over the store until the Depression hit and just couldn’t keep lending the stores wares. Closed up and moved out near the RDU Airport on Brier Creek where his sister had married a moonshiner/tobacco farmer. When my father retired from Navy he moved back to the ‘farm’. Off Mt. Herman Road….Single lane dirt path, tobacco fields and lots of pine trees. Now a shopping mecca and Arnold Palmer golf community. Dang, wish I could post some pics.

  4. Jenn Hensley says:

    I think a better title would be 11 Meats Associated with NC. Foods implies all kinds of food. I don’t eat meat, but I’d be interested in an article that talks about other foods associated with NC. Maybe including sweet potato pie.

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