Allen & Son (A&S) is a barbecue restaurant located on the northern outskirts of Chapel Hill in Orange County. The type of pork barbecue served there is considered to be Eastern North Carolina style, due to the peppery vinegar-based sauce used to dress the meat. However, unlike other Eastern North Carolina style barbecue restaurants, which roast the entire hog, only pork shoulders are used.
The restaurant has been nationally recognized for the quality of its barbecue, which still uses the traditional method of slow cooking the meat for 8-12 hours in a fire pit over hickory wood coals.
Owner Keith Allen was born in 1951 and raised in Burlington, NC. The son of James and Hazel Allen, he started working at his father’s grill and gas station, Allen’s Amoco, at the age of nine. Several years later his father purchased a drive-in barbecue restaurant in Bynum, NC and Allen graduated from grilling hot dogs and hamburgers at the gas station to cooking pork shoulders.
Allen purchased the restaurant building now housing Allen & Son in 1970 while working as a caterer and landscaper and simultaneously attending college.
Originally called Turner’s Barbecue, Allen changed the name to honor his father. The sauce used to flavor the meat is his father’s recipe. The sauce is known to contain red pepper, vinegar and butter, though Allen keeps the exact recipe a secret.
The fire pit used to cook the meat is behind the restaurant and Allen gathers and chops the hickory wood himself. He starts cooking the meat at 3 am and also makes most of the 16 to 18 desserts available on the menu, using his grandmother’s recipes.
Also available are other traditional barbecue accompaniments, such as cole slaw, hush puppies, and sweetened iced tea (see menu).
The walls of painted cinder block and paneling are decorated with pictures of ducks, quail, a large mouth bass, and mounted deer heads - evidence that Keith Allen is a hunter. Square wooden tables covered in green checkered oilcloth comfortably fit 4 solid slat back chairs. On top of the tables are magic potion bottles of thin, reddish liquid. These are the tart, spicy, and vinegary sauces that give Allen & Son's slow smoke-cooked barbecue the perfect balance.
Hanging on the inside of the back door are two machete-shaped cleavers called “lamb breakers, " a little longer and narrower than the usual barbecue chopping tools. Keith Allen uses these tools to split stacks of large pork shoulder into pyramids of stripped meat.
Behind the building, two large brick barbecue pits are breathing out gray smoke. These two brick workhorses emit the sweet smells that only slabs of meat, burning hickory logs, and charcoal can produce.
The menu provided below is taken from Allmenus.com and is slightly more updated than the menu image found on the right column of this page. The list below is incomplete and may not reflect any recent changes made by Allen & Son. Please check the restaurant for any updates on items and prices.
Sources used in this article:
- Barbecue done in rare form, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2007
- Interview with Keith Allen, Allen & Son Barbecue (Acrobat file), Southern Foodways Alliance, May 31, 2007.
- Review: Allen & Son Barbeque - Chapel Hill by Eat it North Carolina, May 27, 2011.
- NCBS Historic Barbecue Trail website on Excerpts from The Best Tar Heel Barbecue Manteo to Murphy page 182.
- Yelp review site: http://www.yelp.com/biz/allen-and-son-bar-b-que-chapel-hill
- ‘The Pit Master': A look at Chapel Hill's favorite BBQ, video by Claudia Rupcich, Reese News Lab, UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill