Let me cut to the bottom line: Vernon, Mr. Griffin, grew up cooking and has made his living as an adult as a
haute cuisine chef for others and himself and thankfully for us, has a true talent for cooking 'cue the real, traditional Eastern N.C. way (though he claims that is has a Western-NC influence, if it does I can't find it) and as important as his skills at "the pit" and in the kitchen, takes an enormous amount of pride in what he serves to his customers (as do all great chefs) and knows that he's judged on every single sandwich or barbecue plate every time by every single customer and it is pride, no, more than that, it is his mission to make every bite not just a satisfying one but a truly memorable one and durn'd if he doesn't do it. Only once have I rated a new establishment "4-pig" best-of-the-best right out of the gate (that was Smokey Bones) without having a years-long track record of consistently superb fare and I don't hesitate to say one iota that Vernon Griffin and Falls River Smokehouse deserve it.

His pork 'cue is a true, very traditional Eastern-NC-Style cooked with real hickory wood inside a "very unique cooker" (see photos at the bottom of this review) of his own "design" but guess what, it not only works but works as well or better than any other way of 12-hour-plus slow-cooking the meat in any other style of cooker. It is not chopped at all, a knife or cleaver doesn't touch it, is pulled-pork but is so finely and well, am running out of adjectives , just perfectly pulled into smallish shreds as to make picking up the right amount on your fork a no-brainer, just stab and eat and eat well, friend, eat it well. The sauce is very light vinegar-based and of course, being the traditionalist that he is, while he does offer his own house red pepper sauce he also has bottles of Texas Pete handy for those who prefer a slightly more mild sauce. The meat itself is groomed to remove all fat globules and all burned pieces and anything else that you wouldn't want to put into your mouth let alone chew and the result is a very consistent blend of short and long pulled pieces to make just chowing down quite enjoyable.

His Texas-style beef barbecue is slow-cooked over live hickory coals just like his pork and served thinly sliced without sauce on it so you can add his own dark brown house sauce for the beef as you wish and together (or separately for that matter) they are equal to very best I've ever eaten in Texas or anywhere else for that matter (and yes, his brisket is better to me than the local Q-Shack establishment as much as I like theirs when I'm in Durham) . Not wanting to bore you with thesaurus words in trying to describe how superlative both his beef-critter and pork-critter 'cues are, let's just say the quality of both defines what it means to be best-of-the-best.

The one thing that might surprise you considering how truly "old guard" Falls River Smokehouse is, is that they don't offer hushpuppies. When I asked Vernon about this, about why he doesn't, he replied honestly that it was a matter of "insurance", that if they had a deep-fat fryer in his kitchen his insurance rates would be 25% more than what he's paying now. What he offers in its stead is a very traditional "cracklin' cornbread" muffin and keeping in mind I don't normally like "cracklings" (cooked fat nodules from the skin of the hog) in anything I eat, his muffins are and without any hyperbole equal to my dearly departed Grandmother Craig's that she made literally for decades and raised eleven hungry children on and which I have the fondest memories of when we would go visit her and Granddaddy/Rev. Major Craig in their ancestral home in Wilkes County N.C. in the high Appalachian Mountains and Vernon's cornbread (muffins) are so close to those memories as to bring forth a truly emotional response.

 

That's what barbecue of any sort is, anyway . . . it's not food, it's not culture, it's not religion and it's not an excuse for your cardiologist to fuss at you . . . barbeque is always about touching deeply emotional places within our soul of hearth and home and family and memories of happy times with all of the above by use of the touchstone of multiple sensory inputs to wellspring forth a safe place we can always return to and it's special places like Falls River Smokehouse that are the vehicle for that.


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