The Humble Pig takes barbecue to the Deep South
By Greg Cox
Review originally published 7/14/2016
When Ross McCarthy got laid off from his job as a machine tool salesman in 2011, he and his wife, Jessica, decided to quit the rat race and start a food truck. The Humble Pig (the name was the suggestion of the couple’s then-eight-year-old daughter, Natalie, who was reading the book at the time) hit the road in the summer of 2012.
It was a bold decision, especially since the local food truck trend was just starting to get cranked up. But clearly, courage is not something that is in short supply in the McCarthy family. Here in the heart of North Carolina barbecue country, they decided to start up a food truck specializing in barbecue as it’s practiced in the Deep South.
No, not South Carolina. Deeper. We’re talking Georgia, where the sauce is thick and tangy-sweet. And Alabama, home of that mayonnaise-based aberration, white sauce. Those are the styles that Ross McCarthy – a Georgia boy who attended the University of Alabama – has been cooking in his back yard since he was a teenager.
Judging by the lines that form wherever the truck is parked, lots of folks – even whole-hog-and-vinegar-sauce purists – can appreciate McCarthy’s distinctive take on smoked meats (all of which are locally raised, even if the barbecue style comes from further afield). Pork butts, beef brisket and smoked chicken wings – cooked low and slow over a mix of mostly fruit woods for a milder smoky infusion than that imparted by the hickory that’s common in these parts – are the foundation of an offering that’s rooted in the South but, true to food truck tradition, freely borrows from other cultures.
The Pow Chow taco is a best-seller, and rightly so: coarsely chopped pork (with a few of those crusty brown bits from the outside if you’re lucky) tossed in white sauce, topped with freshly made cucumber-onion relish and a garnishing squiggle of Sriracha, served on a rustically thick soft corn tortilla.
A sandwich called Pulp Fiction is another walk on the wild side: brisket confit topped with pimento cheese, piled so generously on a sturdy Kaiser roll that the sandwich is as tall as it is big around.
Traditionalists can get their fix in the form of a plate or sandwich – thick slabs of brisket, pulled pork, or half-and-half. The brisket can be dry, but the pork is succulent even without sauce. For those who opt to sauce, three squeeze bottles are at your disposal: Butt, Kiickin’ Butt (sweet and spicy variations on the Georgia style), and N.C. Vinegar (a nod to local tastes).
You can add a couple of sides to your plate or sandwich for $3. Sweet potato fries, dusted in brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom, get rave reviews but weren’t on offer when I was there. Beer-battered crinkle cut fries were on the mark, though, and an obviously freshly made cucumber-and-onion salad delivered the bright-and-crunchy goods.
The chalkboard menu doesn’t mention that you can get a single chicken wing as a side, but by all means you should try one. I did, and the result – a whole wing, subtly smoky and crisp-skinned under a light glaze of Sriracha-laced white sauce – left me with no doubt that next time, I’m getting a full order of the wings. Maybe I’ll even get an extra wing on the side.
The Humble Pig
Prices: plates $9-12, tacos $6 (two for $12, including one side), whole wings 5 for $11.