You can smell the sweet smoke from CarterQue Barbeque & Grilling Co. several blocks before you pull into its always-crowded parking lot in Mount Airy. When you get inside the yellow-walled space decorated with neon beer signs, license plates and a jackalope crossing notice, the scent becomes more nuanced. You can pick up undercurrents of slow-roasted pork, rich molasses and a golden sugariness that turns out to be from the caky, Northern-style corn bread.
These fetching fragrances are like pheromones for your belly, so expect hunger pangs to escalate quickly.
Barbecuing began as a weekend hobby for 37-year-old co-owner Chris Carter, a Mount Airy local. He entered a barbecue competition nearly a decade ago and took second place with his sweet and tangy black raspberry sauce, which is now CarterQue’s claim to condiment fame. Over the next couple of years he kept entering and winning contests, inspiring him to open a part-time barbecue catering service in 2006. A year later, he and his wife, co-owner Jessica Carter, quit their jobs and cut the ribbon on the original location of the restaurant in a former firehouse in Mount Airy that had room for only 30 seats.
That limited space kept pace with demand for only a year, so the Carters moved into their current address in early 2008. They plan to open another location in Frederick this year with an eye to franchise outlets throughout the mid-Atlantic region.