How the humble pig became king of one of Raleigh’s most popular corporate events is a story beginning 150 years ago when the 13 Colonies created a sauce composed of apple cider vinegar, salt, red/black pepper and sugar that typifies Eastern North Carolina barbecue today. That sauce is just one aspect that draws groups to The Pit, an upscale restaurant located downtown in a renovated 1930s meatpacking warehouse.
“Barbecue in North Carolina means pork, either pulled or chopped, which has sauce mixed in,” says Bob Garner, chef, TV personality and author known as the “Minister of Barbecue Culture.” He adds, “No other types of meats or fowl are typically used, although we do serve ribs, brisket, fried chicken, or turkey. Just don’t call it barbecue, or ask for Kansas City or Texas styles. Those are dirty words in our state.”
Garner enjoys regaling groups at The Pit with historical anecdotes and customized videos documenting how politics and tobacco impacted the region’s barbecue.
Two private dining rooms each have a modernized open pit (40/90 max). The group can watch whole pigs being slow cooked over hickory and oak, for which The Pit is known, while they nibble on creative appetizers, such as bruschetta served on thick toasted bread and spread with shredded spinach in a bacon-sherry vinaigrette with goat cheese and house-smoked hog jowls.
Twelve hours after the free-range raised pig’s juices first sizzle onto the hot flames, it can be served whole with a chef slicing it in front of the group. Southern sides with modern twists accompany the selected proteins. The Pit is also known for its rare heirloom variety of collard greens, traditional banana pudding and its version of the classic Brunswick stew, a savory blending of chicken, corn, butter beans, tomatoes and potatoes.
Wait staff who have been trained in the cultural relevance of those regional dishes answer questions such as, “Why aren’t tomatoes used in the sauce?” Answer: Because tomatoes weren’t considered edible until many years later. They eventually became the basis for Western-style North Carolina sauce, which has a sweeter taste.
Alcohol pairings can be arranged. The Pit’s extensive inventory of craft beers and bourbons are handpicked to enhance the smoked and spicy pit selections.