Exploring the Lawrence Barbecue Experience

Welcome back, BBQ aficionados and pitmaster enthusiasts! Today, we dive into the smoky world of Lawrence Barbecue, nestled among a collection of shipping containers in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Join me as we uncover Lawrence Barbecue’s rich history, savor the flavors, and bask in the warmth of its hospitality.

Listen to the complete Low  & Slow Barbecue Show conversation with Lawrence Barbecue founder Jake Wood in this podcast. Keep reading for highlights and a taste of what you’ll find at Jake’s “Barbecue Paradise.”

First, let’s discuss how you can get two tickets to that paradise and help a good cause in the process.

Lawrence Barbecue welcomes website visitors to Barbecue Paradise.
Visitors find this greeting at the Lawrence Barbecue webpage.

Gettin’ Piggy With It to Support #BBQforACause

Gettin’ Piggy With It welcomes barbecue fans – and other food lovers! – to Raleigh in support of the Frankie Lemmon School. Hosted by Lawrence Barbecue and Trophy Brewing Company, the event raised $100,000 during its 2023 inaugural installment. The 2024 edition, held May 18-19, aims higher.

Gettin’ Piggy with Lawrence Barbecue and the Pitmasters

A star-studded line-up of pitmasters prepares the charity event to top last year’s total. Foodies finding their way to Maywood Hall May 19 will enjoy samples prepared by people from across the nation. Here’s just a few:

  • Leonard Botello IV from Truth BBQ in Houston, Texas.
  • Logan Sandoval from Zef BBQ in Simi Valley, CA.
  • Cody Sperry from HooDoo Brown Barbecue in Ridgefield, CT.
  • Ashleigh Shanti from Good Hot Fish in Asheville.
  • Matt Register from Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland.
  • Shuai Wang & Brandon Olsen from King BBQ in Charleston, SC.
  • Sam Jones from Sam Jones BBQ in Raleigh.
  • Rashad & Saadia Smith from Smith’s Smokehouse and Smoothies in Wake Forest.
  • Jon and Kelly Kirkman from Jon G’s Barbecue in Peachland.
  • Lewis Donald from Sweet Lew’s BBQ in Charlotte.

That’s just the start of the list. You’ll also meet pitmasters from Shepard’s Barbecue, Mike D’s Barbecue, Longleaf Swine, Fork Grove Barbecue, Old Colony Smokehouse, and others. There are other options for food, beverages, and dessert, too. Here’s the full list of participants.

DO NOT wait to buy tickets. Supply is limited, so get yours while you can at this ticket link.

Now let’s talk about the host pitmaster and founder of Lawrence Barbecue.

Gettin' Piggy With It supporting Frankie Lemmon School May 18-19 in Raleigh.
Gettin’ Piggy With It is May 18-19 and hosted by Trophy Brewing and Lawrence Barbecue to benefit the Frankie Lemmon School. (Photo from the event’s Instagram page)

Meet Jake Wood: From Fine Dining to Flame-Kissed Fare

Jake’s culinary adventure started in Apex, NC, amidst family gatherings and holiday feasts. Inspired by uncles and granddads – “legends” – standing around the fire, his barbecue passion ignited at an early age.

“Growing up, family gatherings, family reunions [were] typically every year the night before Thanksgiving. It was whole hog on the pit. It was burlap sacks with oysters,” he says. “That didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but it was always something that stuck with me into my older years, especially once I started cooking for a living.

“It was a memory that I tapped into in the sense of just how food can create a memory and an emotion for you,” he continues, “which is a big reason I am doing what I do – cooking for folks.”

After early stints in fine dining – including chef de cuisine at contemporary Southern-style restaurant 18 Seaboard – Jake’s vision for Lawrence Barbecue started taking shape. By 2019, he was ready to pay homage to his maternal lineage – the Lawrences – and the guiding principles instilled by his grandparents. Lawrence Barbecue was born.

“Lawrence is just a celebration of who they are, what they’ve done for our family and a hope that we can educate folks on some of those cool things, delicious bites, and core memories that we have,” he says, adding he wants to keep the Lawrence name alive.

“I think that I’ve arrived in a place in life where I really understand what’s truly important,” he says, “and we’re just working hard to make sure that we are protecting those things.”

Lawrence Food Company Mastermind Jake Wood services smoked birria tacos with avacado salsa and consomme dipping sauce during the 2024 Carolina BBQ Festival.
Lawrence Barbecue founder Jake Wood serves his signature smoked brisket quesabirria with avacado salsa and consomme dipping sauce during the Carolina BBQ Festival in Charlotte. (Photo by Chigger Willard).

What is Lawrence Barbecue?

To Jake and those who visit, Lawrence Barbecue is “paradise.”

Located at 900 Park Office Drive Suite 120 in Durham’s Boxyard RTP, Lawrence Barbecue is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Breakfast is available Saturdays from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., and it is only accessible through online ordering during business hours.

“You can smell us from the parking lot,” Jake says. “We love that. We’re kind of chumming the waters. We’re all wood fire, and we usually have two to three burning out here at any time we’re open.”

The restaurant occupies a 24-foot by 40-foot combination of shipping containers.

“And it’s a really unique concept,” he says. “Folks line up at our cabana window. You come up; you order from the menu that’s down below on a big magnet board. Within 5 to 6 minutes depending on what you order, you’re hearing your name called out on a megaphone.”

On rainy, cold days, you can place orders inside, Jake says, where Lawrence Barbecue merchandise and beverages are available. Meanwhile, on sunny days, 350-400 seats in Boxyard create a “big old picnic set-up,” while a stage offers space for live music and DJs to provide a soundtrack.

Before you visit, check out the Lawrence Barbecue Instagram page because the business occasionally closes for private events. Catering options include delivery orders and a chef-attended buffet, which is perfect for weddings, holiday parties, corporate affairs, and other special events.

Lawrence Barbecue: More Than Great BBQ

What sets Lawrence Barbecue apart?

“Our brisket’s a big seller,” Jake says, adding that a year ago pitmaster Ethan Barbee brought his Texas experience to step up the game a notch. “I think it’s better than it’s ever been, honestly, which is scary because it’s always, I think, been good.”

So that’s a big mover but so is the macaroni and cheese with Voodoo crumble.

“We’ve sold a million sides of those. I’m not even exaggerating,” he says. “It’s just a really simple three-cheese macaroni that we tie together and make pretty much all in a minute … so it’s always fresh. It’s always hot. And we top it off with some wonderful Louisiana Zapp’s Voodoo chips.”

Of course, the Lawrence Barbecue menu is filled with other traditional favorites – smoked meats and wings, familiar sides, and desserts. Find daily features on the menu at the ordering counter and chalkboard. The features are where the Lawrence team really steps outside the usual box.

North Carolina Turf and Surf on the Half Shell

Speaking of outside the box …

“We’ve got oysters that our friends down in Topsail Sound grow. They are the best on earth,” Jake says.

Oysters at a barbecue joint? Why?

“Quite frankly, because I wanted to,” he explains. “Barbecue, oysters, and beverages, that’s what we do. And the oysters are my favorite thing to eat. If I had one thing that I had to choose to eat for the rest of my life, it would be raw oysters. … So we have a tiny little raw bar built into our lives.”

Beside the Lawrence Barbecue grill sits a shucker’s well where two weekly bushels are delivered fresh from the coast – usually within 24 hours of leaving the water. You can order them raw with a rose mignonette or grilled in “secret BBQ butter” and topped with cotija cheese.

“Pork barbecue and fresh North Carolina oysters, it doesn’t really get much better than that,” Jake says. “That one item sets us apart from every other barbecue restaurant in America, I believe, and it’s something that we will always have, and we want to elaborate on.”

Future aspirations include a full raw bar incorporated into a larger spot.

“We want you to be able to come in and actually have a true raw bar experience while still making sense in a smokehouse setting, because, why not?” he continues. “That, to me, is North Carolina’s surf and turf.”

The Lawrence Food Company: A Culinary Collective

But wait, there’s more.

Lawrence Barbecue isn’t the only gem in Jake’s culinary crown. Lawrence Food Company’s boxyard venue boasts a lineup of offerings. Two doors down, Leroy’s Taco Shop awaits. Upstairs, the rooftop tiki bar Lagoon crafts creative cocktails. Each venture reflects Jake’s flair for bringing the “vibe.”

Lagoon Bar and the Revival of Leisure

“It’s an extension of our food program,” Jake says of the “leisure” bar with beverages that cut through the fatty mouth feel of the raw oysters and barbecue. “And it’s just in a very non-pretentious, comfortable way.”

With no background in bartending – beyond beverage enjoyment – Jake aimed to open a door for the right person.

“We just wanted to give somebody or multiple people an opportunity and a platform to create their own vibe and invest themselves into what we’re doing as a whole,” he says. “Corey [is] doing just that … He gets it. He gets the vibe. He gets where we’re headed, and the drinks he makes are unreal. It really just layers us up in a great way.”

Whether you want a tiki cocktail, top-shelf liquor, Micheladas, Frozen N’icees, or something else, Lagoon Bar has a beverage pairing for your barbecue and oysters. You can visit Tuesdays from 3 to 8 p.m. or Wednesday-Saturday from noon to 8 p.m.

Lawrence Barbecue’s Viral Tacos Fuel Leroy’s Fire

One review can make or break a business. For Lawrence Barbecue, a Raleigh-Durham area influencer’s visit sent a smoked brisket birria taco special into the social stratosphere.

“That’s kind of what started it,” Jake says. “They were a feature that we did here at the shop and quite honestly, it went viral.”

Overnight, scores of followers found Lawrence Barbecue on social, then traveled from near and far for the brisket birria. As views accumulated, so did the attention.

“We ended up having to stop selling the tacos altogether,” Jake says. “Our flat top at the barbecue shop is a flat top for buns. It was never meant for anything other than that. We created a problem. We would sell out. We couldn’t keep up with the demand and the volume.”

Displeasure followed. To avoid rude encounters with disappointed birria seekers, Jake and his team returned to “just barbecue.” A week later, opportunity came knocking and so did space in the Boxyard. Initially, Jake resisted.

“I tried to force it into a, ‘No’, like we don’t have time and bandwidth for that,” he says, “but it all just made too much sense. Now we’re super stoked.”

Fueled by meat from the Lawrence Food Co. smokers, “resident Cajun” Chef Carolina Goodry, leads Leroy’s, an initially unwanted nickname Jake received from his grandfather as a child. Now, like the nickname, Leroy’s Taco Shop is a welcome addition. Carolina is “absolutely killing it.”

“At the end of the day, it was just another opportunity for me to create opportunities for our team and grow our team,” he says.

Leroy’s Taco Shop is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Taco enthusiast enjoys a quesabirria during the Carolina BBQ Festival.
Taco enthusiast Watson Willard enjoys Lawrence Barbecue’s quesabirria during the 2024 Carolina BBQ Festival. (Photo by Chigger Willard).

Recognition and Validation: A Testament to Barbecue Excellence

Lawrence Barbecue isn’t just a local favorite. It’s gaining wider recognition. Accolades from Southern Living Barbecue Editor Robert Moss, the News & Observer, and EATER Carolinas all prove the Lawrence Barbecue “paradise” is undeniable.

Futhermore, you can’t overlook a big stamp of approval from Texas Monthly BBQ Editor Daniel Vaughn, the renowned “barbecue snob.” His visit and subsequent praise add another testament to Lawrence Barbecue’s status as a barbecue destination worth visiting.

Chigger Willard interviews Lawrence BBQ Founder Jake Wood.
Lawrence Barbecue Founder Jake Wood speaks with Chigger Willard during an episode of The Low & Slow Barbecue Show.

Lawrence Barbecue Future: Tradition, Culture and Innovation

As Lawrence Barbecue thrives and evolves, some things remain constant: its dedication to preserving tradition and its unique culture while embracing innovation. Whether you’re enjoying brisket, pork, or wings, or slurping down freshly shucked oysters, each bite at Lawrence Barbecue tells a story of family, community, and a love for great food.

“We are never gonna be a multi-unit, chain-type situation,” Jake says. “So we’ve got to make sure that we protect what we’ve created: the culture, the food program, everything involved – and most importantly, protect the quality of our lives.

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to do what we could to layer our brand,” he continues. “Now it’s time to really lock in on what we are doing here and get ready for that next big opportunity because our goal is to grow Lawrence Barbecue.

“We’ve had a wonderful show of support from the community, but we also haven’t been able to fully show people who we are. Until that happens, we’re hard at work. We’re head down. We’re letting our work speak for us.”

To hear that message, don’t pass up a chance to visit Lawrence Barbecue.

About the Author

Smoked meat barbecue enthusiast, news journalist, and sports radio broadcaster Michael “Chigger” Willard collects a storybook of life captured through the lens of people he encounters. With a perspective seasoned by small town life in the Deep South, he dedicates conversations to uncovering savory nuggets of information, light-hearted moments of humor, and revealing glimpses of humanity.

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