Barbecue is the lead story in Lexington, North Carolina. Not just any barbecue. Pork shoulders cooked low and slow over hardwood coals, and then chopped, not pulled, and served with signature sides of red slaw, a thin ketchup-and-vinegar sauce called dip, and hush puppies.

Presidents, diplomats, movie stars and more have waited in line at barbecue joints for a tasty helping of smoked pork. Lexington-style barbecue traces its roots to the early 1900s. It’s the reason this small, central North Carolina is known as the Barbecue Capital.

Yet when visitors arrive to this friendly Southern locale, they are delighted to find unexpected curiosities. On your next visit to Lexington, keep an eye out for these five fun favorites.

A candy swirl pig in uptown Lexington, NC

Vying for BBQ capital of the world, Lexington, North Carolina, offers delightful distractions. Photo: Visit Lexington

Pigs Roam the City

Playing along with Lexington’s title as the Barbecue Capital, the Pigs in the City program displays themed versions of the unofficial mascot at businesses throughout town. The project began 20 years ago to honor Lexington’s pork barbecue heritage, while showcasing local artists and encourging pedestrian traffic throughout uptown. It worked.

The Pigs in the City map is the most popular piece of literature handed out at the Lexington Visitor Center. The painted fiberglass pigs are social media stars, showing up in selfies and family photos. In the heart of uptown, you can expect to find a pimento cheese pig outside of Conrad & Hinkle Food Market, which is known for its homemade version of the creamy spread; a peppermint pig standing sentry at The Candy Factory, which sells Red Bird Peppermint Puffs that are made in Lexington; and during the holidays, a set of three caroling pigs greeting Main Street shoppers by the town’s Christmas tree.

Barbecue pit in Lexington, North Carolina

Barbecue lovers make their pilgrimage to the BBQ pits in Lexington, NC. Photo: Jon Eckard

An Accidental Barbecue Museum

During a 2015 renovation of city hall in the center of uptown Lexington, workers encountered an oddly familiar layout of brickwork, tinged black in places, behind a closet wall. A call to a local barbecue restaurant owner, who quickly came over to survey the scene, confirmed that these were the first brick-and-mortar barbecue pits in Lexington, constructed nearly a century earlier.

Renovation work halted and city officials decided to amend building plans to create a mini-museum to barbecue right in the middle of city hall. On weekdays visitors can tour the pits, which resemble the same setup found in the town’s 12 barbecue restaurants operating today. A video describes the barbecue process, and historical photos tell how the practice evolved from a local farmer coming to town and cooking over pits in the ground to provide lunch for court recess, to full-service restaurants feeding hundreds of diners a day. After the discovery, the road beside city hall was renamed Barbecue Alley and includes a Wall of Fame honoring those who have contributed to the barbecue culture.

Elvis Presley tribute show in Lexington, NC

The spirit of the King lives on with Elvis Presley tribute shows in Lexington, NC. Photo: Visit Lexington

The King was Here (and Returns)

A twist of fate brought Elvis Presley to Lexington for a concert in 1956. The YMCA had Eddy Arnold slated to perform, but an illness prevented Arnold from appearing. The Lexington Civitan Club reluctantly agreed to a replacement, which happened to be a brash, young musician named Elvis Presley. His concert drew a sellout crowd of 5,000, with a couple of thousand turned away at the door. Six decades later, a touring Broadway-style show, “Elvis ’56,” also sold out in Lexington.

After another successful Elvis tribute concert in 2019, Lexington decided to host a full-fledged festival – NC Tribute to the King. For three days in late April, Elvis tribute artists of all ages take the stage to honor the King of Rock ’N’ Roll through music. Businesses in uptown Lexington embrace the NC Tribute to the King festival with Elvis-themed menu items, window displays and late-night after parties.

Lexington banana split

YUM! Dig into dessert, like this banana split! What else would you expect from the BBQ capital of the world! Photo: Visit Lexington

One Bodacious Banana Split

Although the Bar-B-Q Center on Main Street is acclaimed for smoked pork, those in the know save room for dessert. Enormous banana splits date to the restaurant’s early days as a dairy bar. Three oversize scoops of ice cream dwarf the plastic boat and sliced banana. These ice cream towers topped with wet walnuts, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and a cherry weigh 3.5 to 4 pounds and easily serve four to six people.

Eating one is a lesson in strategy and balance to avoid tipping the top-heavy construction. The ice cream station is located behind the counter and visible from the dining room, where it’s a novelty to watch waitresses construct the sundaes. During busy summer months, waitresses rotate through the ice cream station hourly to avoid injuring their wrists due to excessive scooping.

Hiker approaches cave opening

Lexington side trip: Trek to a cave where Daniel Boone is said to have slept. Photo: Three Rivers Land Trust

The Cave Where Daniel Boone Bunked

Just west of Lexington, the Yadkin River flows southward, creating the county line between Davidson, of which Lexington is the county seat, and Davie counties. As a boy in the mid-1700s, explorer Daniel Boone hunted and fished along this portion of the Yadkin River. Old property records show the Boones owning land on the western side of the river in Davie County, while local lore maintains the Boones spent time on the Davidson County side.

It is said that Daniel and his family lived for a short while in the cave, now a popular spot for visitors to Boone’s Cave Park. The 110-acre park offers primitive camping, hiking trails, picnic areas and a disc golf course. The North Carolina Daniel Boone Heritage Canoe Trail, which flows by the park, is a 22-mile paddle trail along the Yadkin River with four public access points and historical markers.

More about Lexington, NC, aka, the Barbecue Capital, can be found here.