My barbeque expertise is in Texas, not North Carolina, which means historically I’m all about brisket not pork, but I love good pig parts when I can get them, and this weekend opportunity knocked like shave-and-a-haircut to Roger Rabbit. We sampled baby back ribs, pulled pork, and a variety of sides from the regionally famous 12 Bones and from Luella’s, another well-regarded local joint.
(how did that lime get in there?) Here are our results from the taste test.
Ribs: essentially a tie, both half-racks were meaty and juicy; 12 Bones were a bit longer, thinner, curvier, and more blackened at the ends, and maybe just a bit juicier; if I had to pick one I would pick 12 Bones but Luella’s ribs are plenty good. 12 Bones are also less expensive ($10 vs. $12.95 including two sides per each order).
Pulled/chopped pork: Luella’s was good but dry, with vinegary overtones, and chopped too fine for my taste. 12 Bones was the winner here with big juicy chunks o’ pig.
Collard greens: veggies were, surprisingly, the biggest differentiator between the restaurants; 12 Bones collards were bright, vibrant green with pork flavor despite little evident bacon, well-balanced bacon-vinegar goodness; Luella’s greens were maybe a bit overcooked, washed-out color, big chunks of bacon but less pork flavor.
Coleslaw: 12 Bones slaw was exemplary, tangy, vinegary, mustard seeds, all slaw should aspire to this level of quality; Luella’s was no better than KFC.
Mac’n’cheese: biggest disappointment overall, both were pale, bland, and not particularly creamy, clearly an afterthought.
Beans: Luella’s served up some good looking mixed bean salad but it didn’t have much flavor, more ketchupy than anything despite any visible evidence of ketchup; 12 Bones was more standard baked beans styley but still nothing special; no real winner here, as both paled in comparison to your better Texas bbq joint sides of beans (e.g. Kreutz Market).
Bonus Starch: because mac/cheese and various potato options are never enough, we get cornbread from 12 Bones and hush puppies from Luella’s; both good; the cornbread was moist and delicately corny, a fine example of the genre; the hush puppies were a little on the heavy side, but hey, hush puppies, tasty.
Overall, a clear win for top-ranked 12 Bones. If I found myself at Luella’s again I would stick to ribs and hush puppies. If I find myself in Asheville again, I will go straight to 12 Bones. That said, we found several other excellent eating options this weekend, more about which in a day or so.