If the barbecue thing doesn’t work out, the Dunlow brothers might ought to consider taking their act of banter between each other on the road.
But with The Meat Up Spot Chef Tyler Smith manning the smoker, it’s quite likely the barbecue thing is going to work out after all.
Their chef was one of the subjects that got brothers Daniel and William Dunlow, co-owners of The Meat Up Spot along with their dad David Dunlow, all worked up Wednesday afternoon, a day before their new barbecue stand featuring a variety of slowly wood-smoked meats sold by the pound opened in the Lake Gaston Food Lion plaza.
On the locally-sourced menu here is pulled pork, Texas brisket, Midwest sausage, Kansas City baby-back ribs, and Bayou chicken halves, to go along with Smith’s scratch-made sauces. They open at 11 a.m. from Thursday through Sunday and close when they sell out.
The Dunlows, of Roanoke Rapids, raved about the talent of Tyler, whose parents pastor the Roanoke Rapids First Pentecostal Holiness Church.
Daniel referred to his first sampling of Tyler's barbecue as “love at first bite,” drawing a hearty laugh from William about his brother’s way with words.
“There’s the title to the story right there,” William said. “'Love at first bite.' You know (Daniel) has had that in his pocket for probably six months now.”
“Can you tell I have other restaurants?” Daniel asked.
“He’s much more polished than I am,” William said of his younger brother. “I assure you that.”
The patriarch wasn’t present for this interview; he was working out in the peanut field. But the brothers credit their business acumen to their father, who they say can sell anything, but has the integrity to match.
“He’s instilled that (integrity) in me, I know,” William said before quipping, “And we’ll see about (Daniel).”
Debra Dunlow is the mom and she and David have a place on the lake in Henrico.
William, 29, is a full-time farmer in Halifax and Northampton counties while Lakeland Theatre alumnus Daniel, 26, operates six restaurants in Manhattan. William went to N.C. State, Daniel studied at New York University and little sister, Elizabeth, a 23-year-old East Carolina University graduate, is in on the business too. While also operating Wedding Rentals NC, Elizabeth is handling catering services for The Meat Up Spot.
The menu changes a bit for special events and can include chicken, steaks and salad. And be on the lookout for turkeys for Thanksgiving.
It might be worth pointing out that Tyler's title is chef de cuisine. The 25-year-old Johnson and Wales University culinary school graduate is much more than a pitmaster, but firing up his Ole Hickory smoker can be like paying homage to primitive cooks of yesteryear.
One of William’s favorite sights so far has been seeing Morehead City native Tyler, the former Hen and the Hog chef in Halifax, lay axe to hickory wood himself.
“Cooking with wood,” Tyler said, “I mean that’s in its most purest, animalistic - that’s man at his very first cook ever. They cooked over wood fire and the smoke penetrated the meat... That’s how you get the most purest, most natural taste, is over wood smoke. I mean you can’t beat it.”
One of the more unique aspects of The Meat Up Spot, at least for this part of the state, is that it’s not Eastern North Carolina-centric. This is not the place for chopped, whole-hog barbecue.
“When you come to us, you’re treating yourself,” Daniel said. “This is not going to grab food. This is going to grab a meal, going to get something to treat yourself; a delicacy you cannot find anywhere around here.
“This is a true menu. A menu is not just what you offer. A menu is the story that you tell. And our menu tells the story of American barbecue done very well by (Tyler).”
The Meat Up Spot also features potato salad and slaw for sides and sweet tea and lemonade to drink.
As for sauces, Tyler’s offerings are Eastern North Carolina vinegar-style, sweet and tangy, mustard-based (South Carolina-style), and hot/spicy.
The barbecue stand is easy to spot, in front of Lake Life Clothing Company and across the street from the Pit Stop. The Dunlow brothers said Lake Life owners Sherry and Kenneth Dail are the only folks so far to earn free barbecue, along with Grandma Dunlow.
What makes The Meat up Spot different? What will people be surprised by?
William Dunlow, who grew up cooking hogs, says that it’s the boldness of the flavor of the barbecue.
The side of the The Meat Up Spot trailer makes an equally bold claim: “NC’s best BBQ.”
Takes some confidence, right?
“Well,” William said. “It’s pretty damn good.”