Family-run barbecue restaurant puts healthy twist on a classic dish

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CASTLE HAYNE — In a small strip mall on a quiet stretch of North College Road, Charlie’s Turkey Q is serving a healthy variation on Eastern North Carolina-style pulled pork.

The restaurant, which opened quietly in November, is not the latest attempt by a corporate chain to cash in on an increasingly health-conscious public; Charlie Carr – the restaurant’s namesake and creator of its signature dish – has been barbecuing turkey for decades.

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Charlie’s turkey Q sandwich.

Charlie Carr said that he initially cooked turkey because Joyce Carr, his wife and current business partner, did not eat pork.

“But people really liked it,” Joyce Carr said, “he’d cook it for the neighbors, for the church, for everybody.”

Joyce Carr said her husband tried cooking turkey many different ways before deciding to try the bird in the style of pulled pork.

“He tried smoking it, roasting it, all that. Finally it came to him,” she said. “He said, ‘if it works for pork, it’ll probably work for turkey.”

Although the Carrs declined to reveal the secrets of their family recipe, Joyce Carr would tell Port City Daily that both their turkey and pork are slow cooked.

“Very slow cooked,” Joyce Carr said. “We’re closed on Monday just so we can cook it all day long.”

Both the pork and turkey, once cooked, are pulled with the vinegar-based sauce that is the signature of Eastern North Carolina barbecue. The sauce, which is Charlie Carr’s own recipe, is available for sale at the restaurant.

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Tasha Sanders, the Carr’s daughter and President of Carr Family Foods, said, “Well, dad came up with the recipe, my mother fine tuned it.”

“Charlie invented it, and we use his special sauce,” Joyce Carr added, “I just perfected it.”

Joyce Carr, who runs a mental healthcare facility in Willard, N.C., said she initially wanted to prepare her husband’s turkey recipe for grocery store resale.

“We just wanted to share our food with people. And, you know, it’s much healthier – we only use the breast – and people are more concerned about their diet,” she said. “People want healthy food but they still want good food. The reaction we’ve been getting has been great. People love it. I don’t even think they always know that it is good for them. And we do sell pork, too, just in case they aren’t feeling as healthy that particular day.”

The Carr family purchased the Castle Hayne spot but are still negotiating a deal to find a commercial co-packer for their barbecue products. In the meantime, they decided to open a restaurant.

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Left to Right: Tasha Sanders (President), Joyce Carr and Charlie Carr

The restaurant is run by the family: Charlie and Joyce Carr and their children Charlie Jr. and Tasha (Sanders). The Carr family has lived in North Carolina for generations; the elder Charlie and his wife were farmers in the rural area outside of Wallace for more than 20 years.

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Charlie’s Turkey Q offers a range of traditional sides, including: fries, chips, coleslaw, mac & cheese, potato salad and butter beans. They do not currently cater, but Sanders said “we’d have no problem feeding 10 or 20 people in our dining room or for take-out.”

Charlie’s Turkey Q is located at 5212 North College Road in Castle Hayne. They can be reached at (910) 623-1453 (for pick-up orders) and at carrfamilyfoods@gmail.com. They’re open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sanders, who is  a Gulf War Veteran, offers a 10 percent discount to all members of the armed forces to honor their service.