Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sonny Conrad — Barbecue Center: When You Dip I Dip We Dip.

Sonny Conrad at his restaurant the Barbecue Center in Lexington, NC. (Photo by Denny Culbert/ The Barbecue Bus)

In Lexington, North Carolina barbecue eaters don’t squirt on sauce, they dip in dip.
At the Barbecue Center, as elsewhere around here, it’s a simple seasoning done right: vinegar-heavy, with ketchup, sugar, salt, and pepper. Throughout town, the self-proclaimed “Barbecue Capital of the World,” dip is kept heated in glass coffee pots, used as a bath for dunking hushpuppies, and mixed into the local “red slaw,” named for both its color and as a challenge to the white, mayonnaise-y stuff.

At the Barbecue Center, dip and red slaw appear alongside every sandwich and plate; it’s best ordered “brown,” a blend of hickory coal-crisp exterior skin and soft, smoky-grey white shoulder meat. In 1955, a teenage Sonny Conrad began working curb service here (40 percent of its customers still eat barbecue inside their automobiles). By 1969, Conrad would take a waitress, Nancy, for a wife and own the Barbecue Center for himself.

With his family urging him to retire, Conrad continues to oversee the weekly production of 100 gallons each of dip and red slaw. At the Barbecue Center, red slaw is a vegetable and dip transcends mere condiment status. Conrad tells a story about a customer whose operation left him with a jaw wired shut. The boy’s father brought him a pint of dip, stuck and straw in the crimson red liquid, and told him to drink deep.

- Rien Fertel/ The Barbecue Bus

- Photography by Denny Culbert/ The Barbecue Bus

Each hush puppy at Barbecue Center is cut by hand into the fryer.
Red Slaw.



Barbecue Center
900 North Main Street
Lexington, NC 27292

(336) 248-4633

Hours of Operation:
Mon-Thurs 6:00 am - 9:00 pm
Fri - Sat 6:00 am - 9:30 pm
Closed Sunday


  1. You write that Lexington is the self-proclaimed “Barbecue Capital of the World". It's unfortunate that in your sojourn you didn't learn that this is simply not true.

    Lexington isn't the barbecue capitol of the world due to self proclamation, but because of it's inate and demonstative ability to cook pig (the only real form of barbecue) better than any other place in the world.

  2. Just a minor technical note. In your caption you have "Cheer Wine". It is one word, not two. See their website at http://www.cheerwine.com/


  3. It was a mouth watering recipe tried it while i was managing business operations assignment. I am a foodie so it helped me fresh up my mind.