Lexington #1, also called Honey Monks or Lexington Barbecue, is the most famous barbecue restaurant in Lexington. Wayne Monk opened Lexington #1 the day after Thanksgiving in 1962, and they’ve been smoking ever since.
I ordered a barbecue tray, which comes with slaw on one side and hickory smoked shoulder on the other. Another basket holds your hush puppies. That would become my order at all of the places.
I ordered brown, coarse chopped because the traditional minced is a little too fine for my Tennessee blood. The meat was well smoked, though a little tougher (there are trade offs for the smoke flavor) and the vinegar sauce added the distinctive flavor that the region in known for.
The barbecue was very good, but I wasn’t ready to hand over the crown for best in Lexington just yet. In fact, this was my second time to Lexington #1, and each time I found it good, but not necessarily great. Chris agreed with me, noting that he was pretty close to stuffed.
The friendly wait staff kept coming by routinely, and I’m guessing that’s probably because we were the only males under the age of 50 in the place. When our waitress dropped off the check, I explained to her about my trip, and I asked her recommendation on another place in town.
That’s when things got weird. She froze, looked at me like I was absolutely nucking futs, and said “well, I …I don’t know…I mean, I’ve never….I’ve never eaten anywhere else. It was as if she was part of some type of religious cult and I had just asked her to consider that some people believed in something different.
She awkwardly excused herself and went up to the counter, where she called several coworkers over to discuss the blasphemy that she had just heard at her table. Chris got a good picture of the group huddled at the counter, each person looking over to get a view of the pagans who had asked where they could find false idols to worship.
Finally, the man in charge of the restaurant gave a “I’ll take care of this” look and started walking our way to try and show us the light. He turned out to be Rick Monk, the son of founder Wayne. Rick was really a nice man, and our conversation took the tone of a father/son discussion where the father’s advice falls on deaf ears. After trying to steer us away from other places, Rick realized in the end that we had to learn our lesson the hard way, so he reluctantly suggested Speedy’s, the Barbecue Center or Smiley’s, which apparently used to be Southern Barbecue. He gave these recommendations with the caveat that he couldn’t guarantee they’d be good because he didn’t know anyone that had eaten there, but that they all still used the traditional pit method.
We made our way to the parking lot, and as we did I poked my head around to see if I could get a look at the pits. A nice young guy that was in charge of takeout orders asked if I’d like to get a tour, and he led me and Chris inside to one of the pitmasters who was busy chopping the pork that had just been pulled off the shoulder.
I stood in awe as he effortlessly separated out the meat to get it ready for the kitchen. He showed us the giant pits with what seemed like hundreds of shoulders smoking for the next day. There is a big firebox in the middle where they put the hickory logs, and once they burn down he shovels the hot coals underneath the pits to smoke the shoulders. These pits were similar to the old fashioned ones used in Texas. Huge pits with lids on a pulley system smoking enormous quantities of meat.
The smell in the pit room was amazing. Pork, hickory and smoke. Simple, but delicious.