Picking up the Picnic: On the road with Wyatt Dickson, as he buys the cookers for his new barbecue joint | Food
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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Picking up the Picnic: On the road with Wyatt Dickson, as he buys the cookers for his new barbecue joint

Posted by on Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 9:04 AM

Barbecue man Wyatt Dickson stands in an aisle at Tractor Supply in Hillsborough. He’s searching for the right pintle hitch so that he can haul a 12,000-pound trailer to Elm City, a little hamlet outside of Wilson. There, he will retrieve the two 2,500-pound BBQ smokers of which he’s dreamed. His highly anticipated new Durham barbecue joint, Picnic, opens at the beginning of February, and it's time to install the centerpieces. First, he has to get them.

Today, Dickson is behind schedule and not even sure the store has the hitch—the first small snafu of the day's many.

“Turkey nuts!” he mutters to himself. He’s burly and jowly and bearded, his voice a matter-of-fact blend of Southern manners and gristle.

He finally finds what he needs. Four bolts and some maneuvering later, he attaches the hitch and trailer, and we’re off.

Dickson's Chevy Silverado 2500HD Diesel is white and flecked with mud. The engine thrums. The floorboard is home to tool bags, a box of Pig Whistle BBQ Sauce and paperwork for Picnic, including an FBI background check and a fingerprint form for a liquor license.

On the dashboard, there's a red trucker cap stitched with “MAKE BARBECUE GREAT AGAIN,” a sarcastic homage to Donald Trump. Dickson doesn’t think we can make America great again, but we can improve local life. This attitude, he says, fuels Picnic’s sustainability ethic: Source local, humanely raised hogs and barbecue them in environmentally friendly smokers.


We take our time moving down the highway, and the ride is smooth. NPR chatter provides the background to our conversations about Hillary Clinton, bad bluegrass, big agriculture, UNC’s frat scene, law school, the life he imagined and the one he actually lives, divorce and his parent’s political legacy. (His mother was a democratic representative from Fayetteville; his father was a judge).

Beyond the construction and hurry on the interstates, we exit down N.C. 97 toward Elm City. Naked oak stands and scrubby pines line the land. Brush and vines reclaim the grey bones of sunken farmhouses. We pass fields of brittle cotton stalks and green cover crops in tiny rows, the plants seeming to flicker against the blanched January landscape. Family graveyards, one-room white churches and pre-fabricated homes blur past the window.

About two hours later, the truck pulls into BQ Grills on U.S. Highway 301. We dismount. Dickson navigates the machine-shop maze to a gravel lot in the back, where he greets grill-maker and BQ owner Melvin Whitman and a shop hand. And there they are: two black barbecuing behemoths, double-doored, tripled-shelved, overbuilt and eco-friendly, with blowers and iPad controls. They are the stealth bombers of pulled-piggery.

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