On The Barbecue Trail

This North Carolina three-day itinerary offers a delicious detour during your holiday travel.

Most readers of Cooking Light will agree that one of the best reasons to travel is to enjoy great food. Take, for example, this three-day driving tour, which guides you to some of North Carolina's best traditional wood-smoked barbecue restaurants, as compiled by the North Carolina Barbecue Society. Along the way be sure to take some time to shop for holiday gifts, visit museums, and explore the outdoors while the weather is still sunny, with moderate daytime temperatures and cool nights.

The Barbecue Trail reflects a growing trend of travel that's focused on particular foods. Self-guided food trails provide edible experiences of the regional delicacies and agricultural products that make America so deliciously diverse. They also offer a taste of an area's culture and history with off-the-beaten-path activities and attractions.

Follow our suggested path through North Carolina, or plot a course of your own, tasting the foods of your home state as you travel during the holiday season. One of the best things about road trips―there's always something new to be savored around the next bend.

Day 1: Explore the Triangle: Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

Fly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and drive 14 miles southeast to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (919-733-7450), in downtown Raleigh. Four floors of exhibits include an ocean ecology wing where whale skeletons are suspended overhead, a prehistoric section where the only fossilized dinosaur heart in existence is on display, and a miniature rain forest where vividly colored butterflies flutter among visitors.

When you're ready to eat, head southwest three miles to the State Farmers' Market for jars of pickled okra, jams, and rich sweet potato butter, a local specialty. Across the lot at the State Farmers' Market Restaurant (919-755-1550), overall-clad staff serve collard greens alongside their chopped pork barbecue doused with a zingy vinegar-based sauce, a style that's popular here and points east.

The North Carolina Museum of Art (919-839-6262) is five miles west of the market. Although the museum's permanent collection indoors spans works from ancient Egypt to modern America, the most interesting finds are outside. Four paths wind through the museum's 164-acre park and sculpture gallery, which features environmental art like Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, a rustic building with a small opening in the rooftop that creates a camera-obscura projection of the sky and treetops onto the walls and floor of the structure.

Continue 31 miles west to Pittsboro on picturesque Highway 64 across Jordan Lake (919-542-1154), where bald eagles swooping overhead are mirrored on the surface of the glassy water. About eight miles past the lake, the Fearrington House Restaurant (919-542-2121) features elegant multicourse dinners of carefully procured local ingredients. Executive Chef Graham Fox grows his own micro-greens and picks figs from trees in the neighborhood. Dishes like roasted venison with goat cheese–grits soufflé and peppercorn gastrique upgrade the notion of "country cooking."

Where to stay: A short walk from the restaurant through gardens full of crimson dahlias and late-blooming clematis, the Fearrington House Inn (from $250; 919-542-2121) offers luxurious rooms with tasteful antiques, plush featherbeds, and homemade truffles upon turndown.



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