Parmalee Explains The Difference Between Eastern & Western North Carolina BBQ

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The members of Parmalee ready to eat at 12 Bones Smokehouse in North Carolina (photo by Kurt Wolff/

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All this week, is taking a Country Jet Set Tour of the American South, traveling to seven cities to see seven different artists in seven consecutive days. And this isn’t any ordinary road trip either, as we’re traveling by private jet! Below is our second installment. Stay tuned for daily updates.

Day Two: Asheville, North Carolina

After meeting Rachel Farley in Nashville, the Country Jet Set Tour continued Tuesday (Oct. 22) in Asheville, a picturesque town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The band we were there to see? North Carolina natives Parmalee, who were playing that night at a local joint called the Showtime Saloon.

We arrived just after lunchtime, and since North Carolina is famous for its barbecue, we figured food was in order. A ten minute drive later and we were seated outside at a local smokehouse called 12 Bones, where Parmalee guitarist Josh McSwain had actually eaten before (his mother lives nearby).

A hard-rocking country quartet, Parmalee features brothers Scott and Matt Thomas, their cousin Barry Knox, and childhood friend Josh McSwain. They formed more than ten years ago, worked nonstop building an audience and honing their sound (along the way they even wrote songs with Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue).

Now they’re finishing an album that’s due in early 2014 (“everything’s recorded” and “we’ve got the songs picked” they told And they’re rising fast on the country charts now, too, thanks to their single “Carolina.”

It turns out, though, that the guys in the band also know quite a bit about barbecue.

“In general, barbecue is a big thing in North Carolina,” said Matt Thomas. As he explained, though, there are different styles in different parts of the state. “On the east coast, we cook the whole hog on a cooker. Mostly it’s chopped, and they use a vinegar-based sauce, some crushed red peppers, and they’ll douse the whole pig with that as they’re cooking it.”

“There’s nothing better than going to a good old pig pickin’,” he said (also called “a hog maw,” added Josh). “It’s always the center of every family or community event, concert, Sunday afternoon…whatever it is, everybody’s cooking a pig.”

Or, as Barry said, chiming in: “You cook the pig first, then the event forms around it.”

Josh, who hails from the western half of the state, spoke more about the differences in styles. “The main difference in eastern and western is the sauce,” he said. “In the west it’s more of a thicker, sweeter sauce. Other than that it’s the same method.”

Although, he continued, “We don’t have parties where we cook the whole pig, round here people will do shoulders. Brisket’s also real big around here.”

“And the slaw’s different,” said Matt. “In eastern North Carolina it’s a mayonnaise-based slaw.” And, said Josh, “in western North Carolina it’s a ketchup-based red slaw.”

The folks at 12 Bones, though, weren’t taking sides: they offered both vinegar and red sauces. But then, what about the mustard sauce we also had on our table? “That’s where the two run together,” said Josh, laughing. “Where the red runs into the clear and it kinda turns yellow.”

Parmalee country jet set 12 bones

Parmalee outside 12 Bones (photo by Kurt Wolff/

The afternoon meal, though, didn’t slow the band down one bit. Later that night they kicked up a storm at the Showtime Saloon, busting through a dozen songs, nearly all from their upcoming album. The crowd sang along with every word of “Carolina,” but they also connected immediately with songs like the easygoing party song “Day Drinking,” the ballad “Barrel of a Shot Glass” and the nostalgic “Back in the Day.” Even though they’d probably never heard it before, people quickly had their hands in the air at the latter song’s lines about “fake IDs” and “small town stars.” Here in the town of Fletcher, 20 miles south of Asheville, those sentiments resonated.

Parmalee country jet set

Matt Thomas (L) and Josh McSwain of Parmalee (photo by Kurt Wolff/

More Country Stories:

Day One on the Country Jet Set Tour with Rachel Farley

Eric Church releases new single “The Outsiders”

Kasey Musgraves talks “Follow Your Arrow”


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