Tuesday, August 28

Barbecue Mentors, Vol. 2: Warner Stamey

From the sauce-splattered keyboard of guest blogger Robert Moss. 

Two weeks ago we looked at Henry Perry, the “barbecue king” of Kansas City. This week, we turn to Warner Stamey, arguably North Carolina's most influential barbecue mentor.

Born in 1911, Stamey got started in the business in 1927 when, as a high-school student, he began working part-time at Jess Swicegood’s barbecue stand in Lexington. Three years later, he moved to Shelby, where, following the methods he learned at Swicegood’s, he sold barbecue near the courthouse from a tent with a sawdust floor.

Warner Stamey

Two Shelby residents, Alston Bridges (Stamey’s brother-in-law) and Red Bridges (no relation), got their start working with Stamey, and they later branched out and opened their own restaurants, Alston Bridges Barbecue and Bridges Barbecue Lodge, both of which are now considered legendary Piedmont North Carolina barbecue restaurants.

But Stamey was hardly done. In 1938 he returned to Lexington and bought out Swicegood’s operations for 300 dollars. There, he taught Wayne Monk, another legendary North Carolina barbecue man, who went on to open Lexington Barbecue. Stamey ended his barbecue wanderings in Greensboro, where he opened Stamey’s on High Point Road in 1953, which he eventually handed off to his sons Charles and Keith.

In addition to spreading the Lexington style of barbecue—pork shoulder chopped fine and served with a vinegar-based “dip” with just a touch of ketchup—Stamey is credited with introducing hushpuppies, which are now one of the signature side dishes at barbecue joints across the Tarheel state.
Chip Stamey, grandson of Warner Stamey. Photo by Denny Culbert, 2011

Though the original building was replaced in 1979, Stamey’s is still in operation in Greensboro, where owner Chip Stamey cooks pork shoulders in brick pits over hardwood hickory coals, just they way his grandfather Warner Stamey did back in the 1930s.

Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper, is the author of Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. You can follow him on Twitter at @mossr.