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Johnson Family Barbecue

Posted by DID 22 Jan 2013 52 Comments

So I’m a bit of a reverse snob when it comes to BBQ joints. I prefer cinder block and wood paneling. If there are tablecloths I want them to be the plastic checkered variety. I want the pig paraphernalia to be un-ironic and I want to hear the distinctive sound of cleaver on cutting board. I want the banana pudding to be proudly displayed in a Pyrex dish up front on the counter. And perhaps most importantly, I want my sauce to be vinegar based.

Johnson Family Barbecue, open just over a month, delivers on all these fronts and more. Located on HWY 98 towards Wake Forest, Johnson Family Barbecue is on the end of a gas station strip. Their pig cookers are under a make-shift carport and the sweet aroma of smoking pig hits you the minute you step out of the car. Run by a husband/wife team, it’s a tiny, six table space but still very warm and welcoming.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Johnson Family Barbecue serves a variety of biscuits (country ham, sausage), sandwiches (burgers, hot dogs, chicken) and of course, BBQ. On a Saturday afternoon, the handful of tables were sadly all empty. The owner said they do a big breakfast business with the commuters and usually have a dinner crowd. She recommended the BBQ plate and the fried chicken. They are making everything but the sandwich buns in house.

The chopped BBQ was juicy hunks of smoky meat with bits of the ever desirable skin and very little gristle and fat. The fried chicken was good – crispy peppered skin, juicy flavorful meat – but didn’t really hold a candle to the BBQ. Our chosen sides were the baked beans, string beans, Brunswick stew and slaw. The string beans, slaw and stew were all solid, but the baked beans were the winner – rich with the sweetness of molasses balanced with a punch of spicy peppers. The banana pudding is $1.50 for a small Styrofoam cup full and rivaled the pudding of any Southern grandmother with homemade custard, just too ripe bananas, vanilla wafers and the coveted slightly browned meringue.

Johnson Family Barbecue is a classic North Carolina BBQ joint serving quality grub in an unpretentious atmosphere. It’s worth seeking out the next time that craving for the pig hits.

Johnson Family Barbecue
5021-A Wake Forest Hwy, Durham, NC.
(919) 397-5693
Mon-Sat 6 am – 7 pm
Sun 9 am – 5 pm

52 Comments »

  • JessicA said:

    Thank you for keeping us informed. I think we’ll be heading there this weekend.

    [Reply]

  • Brent said:

    I will never go here again. Tried once after looking up their hours of operation and finding out that they were closed upon arrival (arrived at 6pm when their hours listed 7pm closing time). The sign on the window also said they should have been open, so we knocked on the door and was greeted by a lady who didn’t seem to care that we were inconvenienced by driving there and dismissed us. She was rude and never even apologized, even when we pointed to the Hours of Operation sign right next to her. Two of the people with me had even driven from out of town to have dinner there! She made us feel as if it was OUR fault for driving there when they were closed, when it wasn’t.

    Later that evening Johnson Family Barbecue posted a Facebook post on their page that referenced our visit and was completely rude and disrespectful to us and all current and future customers. I responded on their facebook wall, expressing my feelings on their post and it was deleted shortly after. Their post:
    “peeps….we are a start-up restaurant with very little experience in the food industry….we can cook some things fairly well and are selling food at what a lot of our customers say is too cheap…..that being said…..we try to maintain hours of 6 am till 7 pm monday through sat and 9 till 5 on sunday….sooo, don’t show up at 6 o’clock on sunday while we are trying to clean up expecting service….and, I WILL NOT put out bbq that has been overly reheated or has been cooked too long ago…….so……please bear with us (or not :) Wayne Johnson”

    Some other people, equally disgusted that Johnson Family Barbeque would direct a message like that to customers, expressed their concern. In return, the owner, Wayne Johnson told this to the world and my friend Erin:

    Her post:
    Very little experience in the food industry? Clearly I’d add public relations and customer service to the list while you’re at it. Your post is ridiculous.

    Johnson Family Barbeque’s response:
    “hey Erin and the rest……do you think I give a damn what you think about anything? we opened a little bbq joint for the hell of it and “making it” is not important to me. I’m really not interested in getting into a internet war with you or your opinion for that matter…..If you feel the need to speak to me face to face I’m up at the restaurant most days and Wayne’s barber and style in Raleigh most of the other time…..In your miserable little life you may have to suck up to people on a constant basis………I don’t…….and I’m probably the easiest son of a bitch in Raleigh to find if you object to yet another of my posts…..oh, in case I forgot to mention…….kiss my ass……that PR enough for ya?”

    I can’t express enough how much I will never give this place my business. What a shame.

    [Reply]

    Sydneygirl replies on September 16th, 2013 at 2:35 pm:

    AGAIN? SERIOUSLY!!!! Get a life Brent…

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  • Stokes said:

    I am absolutely appalled that anyone would think they could successfully run a business by telling future customers to “go to hell.” Yes, that is a direct quote. Wayne Johnson is still blasting people on their Facebook page. There is absolutely no way I would ever patronize any business at which he is employed or owns and I have shared all of this with my friends, many of who me live in the Durham area. This man is a poor representation of NC and Durham.

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  • Lux said:

    I too am appalled at how rude the owner would be to others. He really does not care about serving the customer. He is not a good representation of Raleigh or Durham. There are already a handful of great BBQ joints and I will not be going to his new place.

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  • Kid Stardust said:

    You guys are appalled that there’s a redneck asshole doing business in NC? Are you new here or something?

    [Reply]

  • judas_escargot said:

    I think ya’ll are making a big deal outta nothing here. If the place happens to be closed early when you go, just walk to the gas station next door and buy you a egg salad sandwich or something. If you were really in mood for some cue, maybe throw a couple Slim Jims in there too. Crisis averted.

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  • Bob said:

    Went there a couple Sats. ago around 5pm and they were out of just about any of the good things one would want to order. And yes, these 2 hobo looking folks are VERY unprofessional. Got a pound of Que togo and at home it weighed LESS than 3/4 lb.and FULL of gristle!!
    Now how can you make that big a mistake weighing something out unless you are trying to be dishonest? The meat wasn’t packed into the container..it was lightly fluffed in there. LESS than 3/4 lb. and cost $9.00….NINE DOLLARS PEOPLE!!??

    I’ve seen camp sites with better kitchen setups than this litte hobo dump….

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  • Kuzbad said:

    I would really love to see the IP addresses of Stokes, Brent, Lux, and Bob! Would have also loved to be a fly on the wall to see what really happened when “Brent” found out a BBQ joint was closed at 6pm on a Sunday! I personally don’t see anything wrong with the Johnsons’ original FB post, though the followups do seem tobew a bit over the line! One of those things–anyone who has to deal with customers (be it retail, restaurant, phone, etc) is going to have moments where they want to say everything Wayne said (and more!), but it’s generally a better idea not to actually say it! Hell hath no fury like a cook / foodie (take your pick) scorned…

    For what it’s worth, we got take out from here about two weeks ago. First off–Backyard BBQ is generally our favorite for both BBQ and sides. Johnson’s BBQ was quite good. I prefer pulled, but this was good (not amazing, but good). Hush puppies were great (!), banana pudding was very good. The slaw was also a big hit. Brunswick stew was only moderate (it’s the only thing I wouldn’t get again). Reddog hotdog for the kid who won’t eat BBQ! Got there around lunchtime, had to wait around 10-15 minutes for the takeout. Portions were ample and the cost was not bad at all. No complaints about service!

    We would visit again.

    [Reply]

    Brent replies on February 26th, 2013 at 12:55 pm:

    The interaction at the restaurant happened exactly as described. Just because other people have seen this post and commented, doesn’t mean that they are really one person posing as others, hoping to start a conspiracy. That’s ridiculous. Is it far fetched that maybe other people also think that bad customer service was received? I think not, because most people have a certain standard for how they want to be treated.

    As a business owner, it is your job to make the customer happy. If you’re not doing that on even the most basic of levels, then you are running a bad business. They were rude, didn’t take ownership of their mistake, then posted a sassy response regarding our visit on facebook. No, that’s not OK in any way, shape or form.

    I previously worked in retail for 9 years as a customer service team lead. Had I ever said the things mentioned on facebook to a customer, I would have been fired instantly. The owner told a customer to kiss his ass! That’s not a bit over the line…that IS over the line.

    I am glad you had a good experience there, but I haven’t even gotten as far as tasting the food. Why would I want to keep attempting to go back to a place who has a owner who is disrespectful to his customers? It was a huge bummer to us, because I’m always on the lookout for a new BBQ joint and I had such high hopes for the place. Oh well.

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    Kuzbad replies on February 26th, 2013 at 3:03 pm:

    Brent,

    I definitely get it. If you were turned off, don’t go there. I would never suggest that somebody eat somewhere they don’t want to, where they were treated badly, or where they feel uncomfortable. Ditto if you think it’s a “hobo dump.” The facebook/blog vendetta seems a bit odd. It looks like the FB posts have since been deleted, but given what was posted here, I honestly don’t see a problem with the original Johnson BBQ post. Was it really that offensive to you?

    I agree that saying “kiss my ass” or what not is unprofessional. Good advice for anyone is to keep in mind that BOTH sides of the conversation are human beings too.

    [Reply]

    gryphon replies on February 28th, 2013 at 7:27 am:

    “I definitely get it. If you were turned off, don’t go there.”

    Brent covered that in the first sentence when he wrote:

    “I will never go here again.”

    The facebook post maybe isn’t offensive, but all I got out of that post was that the owner is inexperienced and petulant. Someone needs an internet timeout for his own sake, if that’s what he’s going to post on his business FB page.

  • Ed said:

    I have to say that I’m much more likely to try this place given what the owner posted.

    On the one hand, we have some food critiques that feel OK about throwing around personal insults like ‘hobo looking’, along with advice on PR and how to work in the service industry.

    On the other side we have someone who appears to lack sufficient profit motive to swallow his pride, and dislikes being told how to run his business. Sounds like some of my favorite people.

    Now I’ve wasted 20 minutes on a pointless internet comment. Damn.

    [Reply]

    judas_escargot replies on March 1st, 2013 at 7:39 am:

    Bad location, overpriced food, spotty service, closed by the time you get there… so it’s like a food truck, right? I think most people here would say “awesome!”

    [Reply]

    Tooth replies on March 1st, 2013 at 4:38 pm:

    +1!! Judas, I think you hit the nail on the head with that one.

    [Reply]

    Sydneygirl replies on September 16th, 2013 at 2:37 pm:

    DITTO…

  • Sant said:

    The smart thing to do is to call them before heading over there to see what they have or are out of and at what time they plan on closing. Problem solved. Given day to day variability in demand and the fact that BBQ can’t be made quickly, like say, Chinese stir fry, some supply issues are to be expected, especially for a new start up.

    [Reply]

  • becky said:

    As a manager of a local restaurant and someone who has been here before, I would definitely recommend giving this place a try. The BBQ is delicious. I also enjoyed the banana pudding. It is indeed a small very casual place with little seating but the employees were friendly when I was there. The way they handled Brent was not the best example of customer service but as he said, it is his right not to go back and spend his money there. As a manager, I have certainly seen the time I wanted to say at least as much as they did. However, one person’s experience on what could have been a bad day should not keep everyone else from going. Try it out, form your own opinion. And if you choose not to, you are the one missing out in my opinion. And the comment about how the owners look was totally out of line. How they look has NOTHING to do with their food tastes. That should never be a determining factor in whether you choose to eat there. That being said, try it…I almost guarantee you will like it. :)

    [Reply]

    bob replies on March 28th, 2013 at 12:47 pm:

    How a business owner looks has EVERYTHING to do with it..are you that stupid?
    Would you take your children to an ice cream shop that is ran by a man that looks like a child molester? How bout taking a young girl to a hairdresser that looks like a pimp? Get real sister!! Sheesh….

    [Reply]

    judas_escargot replies on March 28th, 2013 at 1:22 pm:

    PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT Physical aspects to look for if you suspect your local ice cream shop owner is a child molester: 1)white male 2)mustache 3)curly hair 4)dark sunglasses 5)hooded jacket

    Warning, this man may also be the infamous “unabomber”. Please exercise caution and do not let your child eat any ice cream sandwiches or open any packages.

    [Reply]

    bob replies on March 30th, 2013 at 12:16 pm:

    Thank you for that concerned citizen! ;-)

  • Bobby said:

    Its surely worth a try. If you dont like it … never go back. Some wont and some will ..its like that everwhere. Some people even complained about Jesus Christ when he walked the earth. So go find out for yourself…. It would be an adventure!

    [Reply]

  • wayne johnson said:

    custom Harley Dyna, corvettes and mustang, Rolexs, homes paid for, unlimited credit cards, Creed colognes, gold and silver investments and a extremely successful biz in Raleigh……yep, sounds like hobos to me….please don’t bother to respond or visit our little bbq joint….your opinion would hardly matter

    [Reply]

    misterpleiades replies on April 4th, 2013 at 2:13 pm:

    From your list of luxuries, we can tell that you are indeed a man of refinement and good taste–of that there is no doubt. Just curious though, does your restaurant have any facilities in-house, or does it share a bathroom with the gas station that it is located next door to? If so, is it one of those ones out back that you have to get the key for first? Thanks in advance

    [Reply]

    bob replies on April 19th, 2013 at 11:07 am:

    It’s out back but ya don’t need a key for it….just follow the scent of Creed colonge! ;-0

    [Reply]

  • wayne johnson said:

    opps…..one more thing Brent…..in your glowing description of yourself you neglected to include you are a useless pussy that tries to pick fights with defenseless women…..you are a little worm that crawls out of your little wormhole now and then to see if your status in life has improved……well…..it has not and my invitation to discuss this matter face to face still stands because of the grief you caused my wife on the aforementioned night in question when you were treated so rudely (btw, I heard a completely different story)well, anywho, go back to seeing who has the best Italian ice in town and my contact information remains the same……oh,and,BOB, btw, I’d like to extend the invitation to meet face-to-face to you to discuss my hoboness since it seems to be a concern to you……and Stokes….I was in NC before you ever heard of it so don’t question my “representation” well, again, nice chatting with you clowns but I gotta run, can’t overcook the hobo stew……some dumbass might feel the need to critique it on the net

    [Reply]

    9/9 replies on April 4th, 2013 at 10:49 pm:

    Well, that pretty much crosses this place off my list of dining options.

    [Reply]

    Amy replies on April 18th, 2013 at 11:51 pm:

    Wow, Wayne, I was all set to believe Brett was overreacting and check out the BBQ, but, well, ever heard the phrase “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”? Yeah, you should have stuck with that. This is Durham, but it’s still NC, so if you can’t be hipster you at least need to be nice.

    [Reply]

  • bob said:

    I bet that shack don’t make it through the summer without the ‘lil hobo taking at least one trip downtown to the lock up. Why don’t you just shoot somebody an get it over with Bo! Jeeez-uz!!

    [Reply]

    Kruzin replies on November 23rd, 2013 at 6:37 pm:

    WRONG AGAIN BOB!!! Not only has the owners stayed outta jail, they have INCREASED their sales by 300% since grand launch! There are also plans to open 2 more locations in 2014. Having opened several businesses, there are always challenges in the beginning. Brents comments were totally un-called for. He must work for the competition and they are getting scared…lol…. BTW, LOVED the pig mascot standing by the road directing folks to the establishment! It’s the small things that make a biz successful. Continued success JFB!!!!

    [Reply]

  • wayne johnson said:

    hey bob, actually we have restrooms inside. We just tell the dumbasses it’s out back when they are there just to use them. BTW, how did you know about the out back thing? Also, I kinda doubt you would recognize any of the Creed scents……not sure Wal-Mart carries them

    [Reply]

    Sydneygirl replies on September 16th, 2013 at 2:38 pm:

    You go Wayne!!!!

    [Reply]

  • Gary Fontenot said:

    Mr. Johnson’s responses are my favorite thing about this website these days.
    If his BBQ has HALF as much flavor as his responses… I can’t wait to get out there and find out!!!

    [Reply]

    bob replies on May 11th, 2013 at 11:54 am:

    I would give Mr. Johnson’s Hobo stew a try if I were you Gary. Even though he has those big cookers out back the Que don’t have any smoke flavor on it; oh, an they short ya on it too. At least Bryd’s smoke less BBQ(?)joint piles on the meat!

    [Reply]

  • Taylor said:

    Hm- interesting posts. My husband and I went here per carpe durham’s recommendation and the BBQ was the best I’ve had around here (sorry, Allen & sons). The woman who rang us up was incredibly nice and with southern charm abounding- I guess that was Mrs. Johnson. I have very highly recommended it since– it ain’t fancy, but who wants that in a BBQ joint?

    [Reply]

  • Lee said:

    Wayne Johnson is my HERO

    [Reply]

    Bob replies on August 17th, 2013 at 9:53 am:

    The dude is a ZERO man and must be very bored out there in the sticks where his hobo camp is rented. So sad…

    [Reply]

  • ernesto said:

    I went to Johnson Family BBQ for the first time for lunch today. I had a bbq plate w slaw, brunswick stew and hushpuppies. I thought everything was delicious. Excellent cue, celery seeds in the slaw, very meaty stew and tasty hushpuppies. I want to go back to try the fried chicken and beef brisket. The owners and staff were all very friendly and checked up on me several times to make sure I was enjoying my lunch.

    [Reply]

  • ERD82 said:

    I don’t go often to Johnson Family because it’s more than twice the distance from my house than Byrds but I’ve had a fine experience there with the caveat that they might be out of something.

    I very much disagree regarding the existence of a ‘handful’ of good BBQ places around Durham. Unless that hand is really small, that’s just not the case.

    Bullock’s is a bloated shell of its former self whose food has been worse than mediocre since at least 1990. It’s just a tourist attraction that caters to students, their families and ‘BBQ tourists’. Bullocks is the only place around here serving BBQ that uses a microwave more than a smoker (other than maybe the Cheesecake Factory).

    Further Bullocks is even worse than the similarly wretched Cue Shack because it seems like at least the Cue Shack realizes it is a gimmick and doesn’t pretend otherwise.

    Even in Chapel Hill things aren’t any better. The Pig is a good restaurant but the BBQ is one of the worst things on the menu. Allen & Son is good if you like a very particular and somewhat polarizing type of BBQ.

    Byrds is to me the best unless you drive to Raleigh, Greensboro, Smithfield, Reidsville or maybe Burlington (Hursey’s seems to have taken the same downward path as Bullocks the past 10-15 years). That said, I’ve often been to Byrds and they’ve run out of food and at least twice it was inexplicably closed during the evening hours before it was supposed to close.

    Franklin BBQ in Austin, TX used to run out of food every day when they just had a trailer. You had to get in line 1.5-2 hours before opening just to get the chance to eat their brisket. B’s BBQ in Greenville is almost impossible to get unless you get there at a time when it would make more sense to eat a late breakfast than a BBQ lunch.

    It’s actually a really bad thing for a BBQ place to cook a ton of pork in the morning and then just serve off of it for the rest of the day (hello, Bullocks, talking about you here).

    Finally I’ve never had much trouble with service at Johnson Family at all. And who gives a s**t if anyone there looks like a hobo or whatever as long as it is clean and sanitary (which it definitely seems to be). The only place in Durham I can recall the waitstaff looking so gross that it made me pause was that terrible 24 hour diner that was on Hillsborough Road for like 8 months back in 2009.

    [Reply]

    judas_escargot replies on October 19th, 2013 at 9:15 am:

    >Allen & Son is good if you like a very particular and somewhat polarizing type of BBQ.

    As in one of the two types NC is known for?

    [Reply]

    ERD82 replies on October 22nd, 2013 at 2:59 pm:

    I’m not sure of the assertion here — are you saying Allen & Son is indicative of eastern NC style?

    If so, I respectfully disagree — the pork coming from Allen & Son is far different than any of the eastern style BBQ I’ve tried (B’s, Skylight Inn, White Swan, Holt Lake, Wilber’s, Clyde Coopers, Vernon Griffin’s unfortunately closed Falls River Smokehouse). Allen & Son has managed to garner a fair bit of attention in Serious Eats, GQ etc but compared to the places listed above it is quite different and, sorry, polarizing.

    [Reply]

    judas_escargot replies on October 22nd, 2013 at 5:25 pm:

    Allen and Son is pretty much considered by everyone to be in the “eastern NC style”; I don’t think this is really up for debate and I hope that’s not where we’re starting from.

    Regarding whether or not you think it’s the quintessential eastern cue or even a good example of it is something I’m certainly willing to entertain a differing opinion about. Your statement that I originally quoted seemed ambiguous, but I can see how my response was probably equally open to interpretation given your response.

    Kuzbad replies on October 23rd, 2013 at 2:05 am:

    I’m very surprised that you can list so many BBQ restaurants, but you don’t mention Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham? It’s definitely my favorite (though to keep this topical, I enjoyed Johnson Family’s chopped as well). Get there early, because the restaurant got popular sometime within the last 1-2 years and regularly run out of food now.

    What about Hog Heaven? Definitely passable, though I like their sides more than their BBQ.

    Finally, Allen and Son is absolutely, without any doubt or ambiguity, eastern NC style BBQ. I’m with judas_escargot–there’s no way this can be debated.

    Seriously–try Backyard BBQ Pit.

    John replies on October 23rd, 2013 at 11:53 pm:

    I live in Greenville now and have made the trip to B’s. I’ve gone almost once a week every week. No issue with the line there. My advice, don’t go on saturday and it’s not a problem.

    [Reply]

    LBD replies on October 27th, 2013 at 8:57 pm:

    “Further Bullocks is even worse than the similarly wretched Cue Shack because it seems like at least the Cue Shack realizes it is a gimmick and doesn’t pretend otherwise.”

    The Original Q Shack may not be a traditional North Carolina style (East or West) BBQ joint but “wretched” is a bit far fetched. Their pork bbq is probably my least favorite of their offerings but I can’t say I’ve ever had anything that was flat out bad there.

    [Reply]

  • ERD82 said:

    Sorry to cause any consternation. You may like the barbeque at Allen & Son and obviously that’s totally fine, but if you try the places I mentioned in my original post and subsequent response and then eat the pork served at Allen & Son you will taste a difference because it is different.

    Not as polarizing as, say, Short Sugar’s, but still noticeably different. Per my original post, Johnson Family Barbeque (and Byrd’s) tastes more akin to eastern NC barbeque than the stuff that I have tried at the HW 86 Allen & Son (or the 15-501 Allen & Son before it got sold) for the past 30 years.

    [Reply]

    judas_escargot replies on October 23rd, 2013 at 7:02 am:

    That’s certainly a valid opinion, no argument there. I was just curious as to why your criticism of Allen and Son was originally made in such a roundabout way. Right or wrong, most people tend to seem to think that it’s at least *okay* and many just plain love it, so I’m not seeing the “polarizing” aspect of it here.

    I originally thought perhaps you meant polarizing as in the way people tend to love or hate one style of cue vs the other (western vs eastern), but I misunderstood.

    [Reply]

  • John said:

    Just to dispel one myth, Allen and Sons is not strictly eastern NC BBQ. They smoke pork shoulders rather than whole hogs, which is western NC. But they use a vinegar based sauce, which is eastern. This is done because it is equidistant between eastern and western NC. You can look this up on their website, various articles posted on the Internet, or just look at the pork. It’s obviously shoulder as you can see it with the shopped rather than pulled style of the meat.

    [Reply]

  • The Wiz said:

    I have ate here numerous times and never ever had a bad meal. After reading all the comments above it makes me laugh. I like Wayne’s replies basically “screw ‘em all!!” It is his joint and he can state and reply how he wants to on people’s comments. For me it makes it even a better place to go to now and eat! He isnt conforming to the rest of this pussified nation!! If you dont like it, then dont come get top notch BBQ and Ribs, leaves more for the rest of us!! Cook on Wayne!!!

    [Reply]

  • judas_escargot said:

    Hate to raise the dead and all, but I finally bit the bullet and checked this place out today. Had the barbecue pork sandwich; cue was moist and had a nice smoke flavor. Slaw was a bit coarsely cut for my taste, but that’s my personal preference on texture. Sandwich came with some potato chips–they could stand to be replaced with something a bit more substantive or maybe just trim the price and leave them out altogether.

    The folks working there seemed about as nice as they could be, very friendly. “Unpretentious”, as the C-D review states. All in all, one of the few bright spots on NC 98 for food.

    [Reply]

  • Chris said:

    IMO – Johnson’s BBQ is a place Guy and triple D would love to visit. I had some on the way home tonight and good as always. Call ahead if you want fried chicken so they can have it ready. Being native to the south, I rank this in the top 10 BBQ joints across the SE.

    [Reply]

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