By Nikki Miller-Ka Special to Go Triad Jun 28, 2018

N.C. is a top producer of turkeys to the entire U.S., and turkey is consistently in the top five commodities list according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture. Hogs may have been the No. 1 cash crop in the past, but turkey has surpassed it. And Hickory Tree Turkey BBQ in Greensboro has taken the Herculean task of popularizing this versatile poultry, head-on.

Dipped and dripped with a traditional Eastern style barbecue sauce, whole turkeys are smoked for six hours, hand-pulled and chopped just like pork barbecue. And that’s where the similarities end.

I was introduced to Hickory Tree Turkey through its food truck a number of years ago. Serving up chopped sandwiches and turkey wings, I was curious about the big, black truck. Expecting the meat to be similar to sawdust covered in ketchup, one forkful made me abandon all doubts.

The physical location is on Randleman Road in the Randleman Shopping Plaza. A great, big painted plywood board painted bright green with “TURKEY BBQ” on it let’s you know you’re in the right place. A take-out counter with a few chairs to sit in while you wait crowd the small space. A handwritten chalkboard and multimedia flat screens display the menu. The enthusiastic, friendly staff greet you, offer suggestions and freely tell you their opinions about their favorite menu items, when asked. The hospitality made me want to order the entire menu, but I refrained, save for a few choice items.

The best thing on the menu is the Crack-N-Cheese. Food described as being “crack” usually means it’s addicting and unforgettable. A play off the words “mac and cheese,” this side item is so luxurious, flavor-packed and decadent, it could be eaten as a meal all on its own and is absolutely unforgettable. Tender curls of elbow macaroni are covered in a cheddar cheese bath, topped with bits and strips of the signature pulled turkey barbecue that has been tossed with the house vinegar dressing and crowned with turkey skin cracklings. The skin from the smoked turkeys is crisped up a little more to render the fat and create a savory, crunchy shell. Similar to Texas barbecue burnt ends, the crunch of the skin combined with the dark char of the smoker is tempered by a generous drizzle of the house barbecue sauce.

Tomato-based with a underlying twinge of sweetness and upfront kick from black pepper and a few other spices, the deep flavor of the sauce covers the cracklings, seeps into the turkey bits, lands on the macaroni and each bite is different from the previous.

The spice level is medium, but die-hard pepper-heads will want to shake a few more dashes of hot sauce on this mini mountain of food.

The next-best menu item is the Jalapeño Turkey Dip. Similar to a chopped meat spread mixed with mayo, the dip is like a mixture between pimento cheese and a turkey spread with diced pickled jalapeños. Satisfying with crackers, turkey cracklings, on bread or spread on top of a turkey hot dog, it’s perfect for a snack.

Disney amusement parks and renaissance fairs aren’t the only places you can get giant turkey legs (or wings). Big, fat and juicy legs and wings are an absolute must.

If you’re not completely sold on the turkey barbecue idea, there are chicken wings, catfish nuggets and even turkey livers and gizzards that can be combined to make an original combination meal.

Turning the North Carolina barbecue world on its pig ear, Hickory Tree Turkey BBQ is here to stay.