Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Shelby, N.C.

The Bridges Family,
Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Shelby, N.C., October 27, 2011

At our most recent event, we celebrated an outstanding, 65-year-old Lexington style barbecue establishment, Bridges Barbecue Lodge of Shelby. Known locally as Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, this famous restaurant is the favorite of evangelist Billy Graham, along with many thousands of barbecue lovers who favor the pork shoulder (as opposed to whole hog) barbecue popularized in the North Carolina piedmont by the descendants of German settlers. Piedmont or Lexington style barbecue generally features a milder sauce than its eastern North Carolina counterpart, and Piedmont “dip” also has a little tomato and sugar added to the vinegar and spice mixture used in the east. Piedmont barbecue can customarily be served chopped or sliced, and the chewy “outside brown meat” is also a special treat. We feasted on chopped and ‘outside brown’ Bridges barbecue, plus chopped, eastern North Carolina-style, whole-hog barbecue from The Pit!

Piedmont barbecue legend Warner Stamey (who later founded Stamey’s in Greensboro) taught the art of cooking Lexington-style barbecue to Red Bridges, who opened his first restaurant in Shelby in 1946, together with his wife, Lyttle Bridges. Red Bridges oversaw the restaurant’s operation (including its 1953 move to the current location on highway 74) for 20 years. Upon his passing, Lyttle — who became widely known as “Mama B” — took over the business and ran it until she was 80 years old, working 12 hours a day. Mama B passed away in 2008, and today, Red and Lyttle’s daughter Debbie runs the business, along with her two children, Natalie Ramsey and Chase Webb.

“Pit cooked barbecue is becoming a lost art. We are one of the few places left that slow cooks pork over hickory all night long,” says Debbie Bridges. “This is the way we have done it for 65 years and the way we will do it for years to come.”

North Carolina’s reputation as a center of great American barbecue owes much to both the spicier eastern whole-hog tradition and the Piedmont pork shoulder style of barbecue, and the friendly, family rivalry between the adherents of the two versions is one of the notable idiosyncrasies of our barbecue heritage. It was a pleasure to honor Debbie Bridges and her children and to sample some of the scrumptious offerings from Bridges Barbecue Lodge, a truly iconic Piedmont barbecue restaurant.