Lawrence Barbecue Stays Connected to the Past with Duke’s

By: Hannah Lee Leidy

He owns two restaurants (with another on the way) and has trained in top-tier fine dining restaurants. But when it comes to his biggest influences as a chef, Jake Wood reaches back to his roots. The owner of Lawrence Barbecue and Lagoon Bar in Durham grew up shucking oysters, fishing, and hunting alongside his grandfather, who lived down the street. They ate what they caught, often prepared using one of his grandmother’s preserved family recipes. The dishes were rustic, made with simple ingredients readily available on the nearby land. And the meals Wood shared with his family followed him throughout his cooking career. 

Jake Wood of Lawrence Barbecue holds a stack of tacos and Corona
Jake Wood of Lawrence Barbecue

As Wood tried to channel familiar dishes, like stewed potatoes, at the fine dining level, it made him realize how much he wanted to cook such foods modeled upon his family’s recipes and techniques. He opened Lawrence’s Barbecue to share those recipes and traditions with not only restaurant guests but also his employees. “Everything my grandfather taught me about burning a clean fire, chopping wood, and that it’s always whole hog barbecue—there’s so much meaning going into what I’m doing on a daily basis. And being able to share that with my staff is really cool.”

In addition to applying the family cooking practices at Lawrence’s Barbecue, heirloom family recipes also surface as menu items. Wood uses his grandfather’s recipe to make the restaurant’s smoked wings with Leroy’s ’Bama white sauce. And a recent interaction with a woman who said that Lawrence’s deviled egg potato salad tasted just like her mother’s deviled eggs is just one of many experiences that reaffirms the importance Wood puts on preserving and sharing those old recipes. 

The Key Ingredient to Wood’s Success: Duke’s Mayonnaise

Throughout many of the dishes, sides, and daily specials, Duke’s Mayonnaise plays a key ingredient. It’s a practice Wood learned early. “Growing up, it was Duke’s or nothing!” he says. And even though almost everything on Lawrence’s menu is made in house, Wood has proudly kept Duke’s on a shelf in his kitchen for ten years—another familiar element of how his grandparents would do it—“if, for no other reason, it just feels right,” he says. 

Wood learned from his grandparents that there’s nothing he can’t do with Duke’s. To evidence that point, Lawrence Barbecue uses it whenever they want extra richness or acid, as an emulsifier or fat for frying. (So, almost always.)

That could be blending Duke’s with avocado to make a rich spread on a sandwich, cutting it with sour cream to add that signature “twang” to their deviled egg potato salad, or mixing it with fatty salmon belly into a lox spread. “[Duke’s] allows you to turn it into what you want without getting stuck with the process,” Wood says. His favorite use is simply combining Duke’s with chopped herbs and lime and whipping up a quick, creamy dressing loaded with fresh flavors. 

Just in time for tailgating season come two customer-loved featured items from Lawrence. These easy-to-eat handhelds give a nod to Wood’s family’s cooking methods: The AP-brined wings are made with an Alabama-style white sauce—a recipe from Wood’s grandfather that he, yes, also made with Duke’s. The other, a smoked pork belly and heirloom tomato BLT, gets extra richness with an avocado-Duke’s spread. After all, Wood reasons, “What can’t you do with Duke’s?”

We don’t mind.

Recipes from Lawrence Barbecue

AP Brined Wings with Duke's Mayonnaise and cilantro dip

AP-Brined Party Wings with Leroy’s ‘Bama White Sauce

Lawrence Barbecue miniature pork belly BLT Sliders

Pork Belly BLT with Duke’s

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