Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q is a bit of a trek for most folks but, SPOILER ALERT: It’s worth it. It’s a small, modest building off NC-50 in the southern Wake County community of Willow Spring. There’s not much around this area but the locals sure know about Stephenson’s as we could barely find a parking spot.
Stephenson’s began in 1958 when hog farmer Paul Stephenson decided to start cooking and selling his pork. The meat is cooked over coals for hours overnight and then chopped the next morning. We arrived around 12pm on a Tuesday a few days before Christmas. The place was packed…
Walking in, it’s a ‘seat yourself’ situation and we were lucky to find one table available in a side room. There is a bit of BBQ memorabilia on the walls but they are mostly bare. There was a nice Christmas tree set up in our room though. The room we were in had a full glass wall, which we were sitting next to. It did get quite hot with the sun beating on us (it was 70F that day). The tables are adorned with the typical Texas Pete, house made vinegar sauce, salt, pepper, sugar and also, something i’d never seen at a restaurant, a pitcher of sweet tea. Yes… complimentary sweet tea on the table with crushed ice brought out by the waitstaff. Our order also came with a basket of hushpuppies.
I ordered the small chopped pork play with slaw and corn for $7.25. It’s a good portion of chopped pork with decent portions of the sides. It was a plenty big lunch for me especially with the hushpuppies.
The pork was great, sauced just the right amount from the kitchen and also had a good smoke flavor. It was pretty chunky and contained pieces of bark mixed in, which I like. I didn’t really think it needed sauce but I tried some of the house vinegar sauce which complimented the meat nicely. The slaw was very crisp and sweet. It was in a thin dressing that was slightly creamy, but mostly sweet and liquidy. It was good and taking a bite of pork with the slaw wasn’t much short of perfection. Corn was sweet and lightly buttered… good but nothing special.
The hushpuppies were wonderful. Very fresh, nice and crispy on the outside while remaining soft on the inside. They were a good size too, about a 1-2 biter. They were great on their own but also did an exceptional job soaking up slaw, bbq sauce, ketchup or hot sauce. They were awesome and props for offering them in a complementary basket. Also, the tea was very good. The complementary pitcher and crushed ice was an amazing plus! Never seen that before. Not to mention, we also had a pitcher of water brought to our table for easy refills.
I got a chance to try the BBQ chicken and french fries as well. The fries seemed homemade and were very good. They weren’t that crispy but they were fresh and a good size. “They remind me of what my mother used to make” -my dad.
I found the bbq chicken a bit lacking in flavor. I’m used to having sweet, sticky bbq chicken but here there was less sauce and flavor than I’m used to. The actual meat was very tender and melted in your mouth. I felt like the exterior could’ve used a bit more sauce and crispiness.
Overall it was another great BBQ experience. Amazing pork, traditional menu offerings, large variety of sides, great prices and excellent service. The restaurant was absolutely packed and we were in the “greenhouse” room so it got kinda hot in there, but can’t hold that against them. The food was great and it just about put me to sleep right after, that’s how you know you’ve eaten some real comfort food. I’d love to go back and try some fried chicken or ribs and some other sides! Definitely worthy of its NC BBQ Trail designation, would highly recommend.
Restaurant: Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q
Location: 11964 NC-50, Willow Spring, NC 27592
Overall Rating: 4.5/5