Restaurant Profile: Big Mike’s BBQ

Beef brisket and chopped pork served with savory scratch-made sides keep customers coming back time and again.
Beef brisket and chopped pork served with savory scratch-made sides keep customers coming back time and again.
A patio provides copious outdoor seating.
A patio provides copious outdoor seating.
Baby back ribs cook for more than four hours.
Baby back ribs cook for more than four hours.
The vibe at Big Mike's is laid back and fun.
The vibe at Big Mike's is laid back and fun.

It’s been more than 10 years since Mike Markham walked away from his job as a financial planner and bought a mobile red barn from which he could sling first-rate barbecue. The food truck ultimately led to Markham opening two brick-and-mortar locations: the mothership on Maynard Road in Cary and the sister eatery at Beaver Creek Crossings in Apex.

These days Markham continues to churn out tasty smoked meats and homemade side items from spaces he has expanded. Fittingly, the food has resonated so well that Big Mike’s BBQ earned the 2022 Maggy Award for Best Barbecue.

Markham fondly recalls growing up in Concord, NC, and every Christmas Eve would involve enjoying barbecue.

Owner Mike Markham knows low-and-slow is the only way to go when it comes to making great BBQ.

“My grandfather would pick up a cooked pork shoulder, and he would make barbecue sauce and slaw so we could enjoy a nice tradition each year,” Markham said on a recent Friday visit prior to lunch service.

Markham’s affinity for smoked pork grew even stronger when he was a student at NC State, now his alma mater.

“One of my best friend’s dad would cook a pig for the tailgate before football games, and we would help him,” he said. “It was always a great time.”

At Big Mike’s, a variety of beer is served on tap.

Markham, who considers himself a pit master but “far from a chef,” employs a low-and-slow cooking approach when smoking pasture-raised pork, Texas-style brisket, baby back pork ribs and beer-brined chicken. The result? Satisfying, fork-tender proteins that melt in your mouth.

“We use a mix of oak and hickory wood for cooking,” said Markham, adding that he also uses a secret house-made rub that took him more than 200 tries to perfect. “I call our house rub Version 201.”

Superb starters at Big Mike’s include Redneck Nachos comprising Fritos, pork, molasses-infused baked beans and blue cheese slaw; The Big Pretzel with beer cheese and whole-grain mustard; and habit-forming buffalo chicken egg rolls. Order the smoked chicken wings with dry rub, zesty mayo- and dry-rub-based booty sauce.

The fork-tender proteins will melt in your mouth.

For the main course, choose a one-, two- or three-meat platter, which will arrive at your table on a metal tray lined with butcher paper. Platters include any of nearly a dozen scratch-made side items such as smoked Gouda mac ’n’ cheese, country-braised collard greens and the transcendent house-specialty warm smoked potato salad.

“For the potato salad, we use a 50/50 mix of Duke’s mayo and sour cream along with cheese that melts on the fresh, warm potatoes,” Markham revealed. “We sell a ton of it.”

Consider going all in and choose the popular Big Mike’s platter piled with chopped pork and chicken, sliced brisket, smoked sausage, wings, two sides and cornbread. Be sure to add some house-specialty vinegar sauce or sweet and tangy sauce from the requisite squeeze bottles on your table.

Don’t miss the Sweet N Tangy sauce, available in squeeze bottles on the tables and bottles for purchase.

If you’re in the mood for a smaller portion or something different than typical barbecue fare, choose a grilled pimento cheese or a smoked chicken salad sandwich with a side of kale slaw or the seasonal veggie. A chopped kale salad includes shredded carrots, fried sweet potatoes and white balsamic vinaigrette.

Daily specials are available, including $3 tacos on Tuesdays, burnt ends on Wednesdays and Saturdays and bacon-wrapped meatloaf on Thursdays. Kids 12 and under eat free on Mondays.

Top off the meal with a traditional banana pudding or the “baconana” variety topped with bacon, of course.

Two friends enjoy chopped pork plates and sides at lunchtime.

An attached bottle shop offers a wide-ranging selection of approximately 100 craft beers in bottles and cans. Thanks to a nifty in-house chiller, any of these becomes frosty in just over a minute. At the Cary location, nine locally sourced craft brews are accessible on tap, while the Apex site has 16.

Markham shared that he plans to open South Line Brewing Co. on Old Apex Road in Cary later this year.

“I will be partnering with Conrad Hardy, who has worked with Ruckus Pizza, and our head brewer will be Scott Craddock of Raleigh Brewing Company,” said Markham.

The dry-rubbed smoked chicken wings are always on point.

Service at Big Mike’s, which features a laid-back, come-as-you-are vibe, is friendly and efficient.

Closed Sundays at the Cary location, Big Mike’s is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner at the Apex spot. Full-service dine-in, takeout and catering are offered. Outdoor seating is available at both locations.

Smokin' Good

The secret to tender, lip-smacking-good barbecue is to cook it at a low temperature for an extended time. At Big Mike’s, here’s how long some of the proteins stay in the smoker.

Baby back ribs: 4 1/2 hours
Beef brisket: 14-16 hours
Pork: 10-12 hours (14 hours for butts)

Big Mike’s BBQ
1222 NW Maynard Road, Cary
(919) 799-2023
2045 Creekside Landing Drive, Apex
(919) 338-2591

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