Eastern NC Whole Hog Tour: Skylight Inn – Ayden, NC

As the old saying goes, more often than not a person’s favorite barbecue is what he or she was raised on. Here at Barbecue Bros, it should be no secret that we are Lexington-style barbecue fans (sometimes known as Piedmont- or Western-style barbecue). Each of the three of us were raised in High Point, NC, just under 20 miles up I-85 from the Barbecue Capital of NC.

However, despite the two warring styles of barbecue in the state, I have never harbored any ill-will to my whole hog compatriots to the east. While I’ve spent many a tank of gas exploring all the Lexington-style joints in the western Piedmont of NC, I’ve bemoaned for years the fact that I just simply haven’t had a ton of reasons to spend much time in the eastern part of the state where whole hog and a vinegar pepper sauce reign supreme. 

Thankfully, the oldest Monkette’s gymnastics competition travels recently took the whole Monk family to Greenville, NC for USAG State Championships. We even stayed in an AirBnB in Ayden. Finally, I had a reason to be in Pitt County for a couple days. I hoped to make the most of being in the heart of whole hog country!

Last week in part I of my eastern NC whole hog tour I checked out out B’s Barbecue. This week, it’s a big one: Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden.

Skylight Inn – Ayden

Address: 4618 Lee St, Ayden, NC 28513
Order: Barbecue tray with cornbread and slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: After breakfast at B’s Barbecue, I went with the Monk family and in-laws to meet old family friends at Skylight Inn in Ayden. Truth be told, despite my excitement over finally trying B’s the main event of the weekend was finally making it to Skylight Inn. This Jones family restaurant has been open since 1947 and is truly one of the cathedrals of NC barbecue, regardless of style.

Thousands of people make the pilgrimage every day, and here are hundreds of videos on YouTube documenting some of those journeys. When Daniel Vaughn was named Barbecue Editor at Texas Monthly in 2013, one of the first work trips he made was to NC and to Skylight Inn specifically. I even briefly entertained the thought of making the journey east to Skylight Inn for my official 40th birthday celebration earlier this year. Its that revered.

Despite having had similar style pork at Sam Jones BBQ last year in Raleigh as well as whole hog smoked by Sam Jones at Midwood Smokehouse in 2013 and Free Range Brewing Pig Picking in 2017, something about the whole hog at Skylight Inn just tasted better. Perhaps it was the thrill of finally being in this hallowed building with the sounds of hog being chopped on a wood block right behind the registers, but the cracklins seemed crispier and the pork seemed fresher. It was truly life-changing whole hog. 

I can appreciate what the Jones family does with their cornbread, but it will never be my favorite. I actually don’t mind the denser texture, but I always wish it was a tad bit sweeter. However, I will still get it anytime I’m in one of their restaurants. As per usual, the mayo-based slaw was standard and inoffensive.

Was Skylight Inn everything I expected coming in? The answer is a resounding yes. Would I go back again? Again, a resounding yes. My only regret here is that we lingered at Skylight Inn a little too long which prevented me getting to the other Ayden classic barbecue joint Bum’s Restaurant (owned by a cousin) before they closed at 2pm on Saturday. Otherwise, the meal and experience at Skylight Inn was pretty much flawless. I can’t wait to make it back.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

Eastern NC Whole Hog Tour: B’s Barbecue – Greenville, NC

As the old saying goes, more often than not a person’s favorite barbecue is what he or she was raised on. Here at Barbecue Bros, it should be no secret that we are Lexington-style barbecue fans (sometimes known as Piedmont- or Western-style barbecue). Each of the three of us were raised in High Point, NC, just under 20 miles up I-85 from the Barbecue Capital of NC.

However, despite the two warring styles of barbecue in the state, I have never harbored any ill-will to my whole hog compatriots to the east. While I’ve spent many a tank of gas exploring all the Lexington-style joints in the western Piedmont of NC, I’ve bemoaned for years the fact that I just simply haven’t had a ton of reasons to spend much time in the eastern part of the state where whole hog and a vinegar pepper sauce reign supreme. 

Thankfully, the oldest Monkette’s gymnastics competition travels recently took the whole Monk family to Greenville, NC for USAG State Championships. We even stayed in an AirBnB in Ayden. Finally, I had a reason to be in Pitt County for a couple days. I hoped to make the most of being in the heart of whole hog country!

B’s Barbecue – Greenville

Address: 751 State Rd 1204, Greenville, NC 27858
Order: Barbecue diner with potatoes and slaw, dozen corn sticks
Pricing: $

Monk: My first stop of the weekend would be B’s Barbecue in western Greenville off State Road 43. If you are fortunate (or depending on your viewpoint, unfortunate enough) to have East Carolina University (ECU) fans in your life, you will have undoubtedly heard about the fabled B’s when it comes to comparing barbecue bonafides.

B’s is now owned by three sisters, the daughters of Bill “B” McLawhorn. They are Judy, Donna, and Tammy and their mother Peggy also worked with them before her retirement a few years back. Bill passed away in 2016 but had stepped away from the business in the early 2000s. Another thing they inherited from their father was B’s unique way of smoking their hogs; they smoke over only charcoal briquettes (bags of Kingsford, if I’m not mistaken). That’s right, no hardwood oak or hickory coals. That decision was apparently made after a few smokehouse fires a few years back. Based on my experience, I have a feeling the locals could care less. Neither could I.

Open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 9 until sold out (or 2:30, whichever comes first) and without any indoor dining, you will almost certainly wait in a line. Particularly if ECU has a home football game on a Saturday. But this is no central Texas-style line; it moves fairly quickly and efficiently. Arriving right at 9am on a Saturday, I was 11th or so in line and got my food within 40 minutes. Part of that is because B’s has a pretty limited menu: barbecue, chicken, bread (corn sticks) and sides of slaw, potatoes, or green beans. So really, you should know your order by the time you get up there.

Being a chilly and overcast morning, instead of eating on the picnic tables outside I opted to sneak some bites in the car before making my way back to our AirBnb. The chopped whole hog pork was flavorful if not overly smoky. It was also leaner than the other whole hog I’d have later that weekend. Regardless, this barbecue fully lived up to my lofty expectations.

The cornsticks at B’s (called “bread” on the menu board) were the first corn sticks I’ve personally had and was my favorite cornmeal of the weekend. I bought an extra dozen and took them home to the family. The slaw was about what I’d expect but I did enjoy the potatoes, a simple side that’s not really found in the Piedmont.

At the time of this excellent Our State article from 2016 by Jeremy Markovich, the three sisters were all in their 50s and only saw it continuing for maybe another 10 years. If that math holds, then we may only be talking about a few more years of B’s Barbecue. I fully intend to make it back at least once or twice more in case it comes to that.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall – Atlanta, GA

Name: Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall
Date: 4/14/22
Address: 684 John Wesley Dobbs Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312
Order: Pulled pork tray with ribs and chicken wings, BBQ chips, chilled street corn, “BBQ fries”, and fried okra (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: Our most loyal readers will recall that I spent a year living in Atlanta. While there, I graced Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall with my presence 5 or 6 times, but I never knew they had barbecue. In fact, I never ate anything there at all. So imagine my surprise when on a return trip, there was ‘cue on the menu. And I had the entire Monk clan in tow to boot!

Monk: I’m assuming there was a change in the menu since you left Atlanta to become our Senior Tennessee Correspondent because on the day we visited (in town for the wedding of friend of the blog and Yelper HOFer TDB) the smell of smoke was evident as soon as we got out of our car and also wafted throughout the gravel patio set up with biergarten-style tables and firepits. 

Food and drinks are ordered cafeteria-style in the mode of a Texas joint, and the line moves pretty quickly. Unfortunately, at dinner on a Thursday night they were out of brisket so we made do with the available meats that Speedy could tolerate.

Speedy: Easily the star of the show was the St. Louis style ribs. Meaty, tender, and well-seasoned, they had good flavor and texture, but lacked any extra “oomph” that I’m generally looking for that could come from an extra kick; the perfect application of smoke or a sweet glaze. So while perfectly enjoyable, and something I’d order again, I don’t think they will be winning any Memphis in May awards any time soon.

Monk: We always order pork when its available, but as soon as I brought the tray to the table I knew this pork wasn’t going to cut it for us North Carolinians. It came pre-sauced and if there was any smoke to be found, it was certainly masked by the thick, overly-sweet sauce.

Speedy: The wings, like the ribs, were solid if unspectacular. Smoked then fried, these wings were tender and had good flavor, but I didn’t feel compelled to write home about them. Called “Nashville Wings” on the menu, I didn’t taste traditional hot chicken seasoning (I have become an expert), so I’m not sure what that’s about. Still, worth ordering a round for sharing.

Monk: With our group we opted mostly for the “shareable” sides and on the whole they about as successful as the meats. Which is to say, a mixed bag. The pre-sauced pork made much more sense on the “BBQ fries,” the okra was fried nicely, the chilled street corn had good flavor, and the BBQ chips were inoffensive.

Speedy: The best part about Ladybird is definitely the huge outdoor space right on the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, which is perfect for people watching. In fact, Ladybird will show up on many “best of Atlanta” lists when discussing where to have a drink on a nice day. Unfortunately, it probably won’t repeat its spot on any best of barbecue lists. While the barbecue at Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall is good enough to get by, true ‘cue lovers are best served looking elsewhere.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Chicken Wings – 3 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Bringle’s Smoking Oasis – Nashville, TN

Name: Bringle’s Smoking Oasis
Date: 2/19/22 and 3/5/22
Address: 4901 Centennial Blvd, Nashville, TN 37209
Order: Beef rib, smoked turkey, beef brisket, pork ribs, collard greens (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: As you dear readers know, Peg Leg Porker has been one of my favorite Nashville joints since I moved here in 2017. The ribs and wings are both some of the best you’ll find in Tennessee, but the menu limits itself to Tennessee style barbecue – basically all pork and chicken. So when owner Carey Bringle announced he was opening a Texas-style barbecue joint, well I was interested. Bringle’s Smoking Oasis opened in December 2021, but I had not had a chance to go try it until a friend visiting gave me the perfect excuse to head over for a Saturday lunch.

First things first – the space is awesome. Bringle’s Smoking Oasis is right in the heart of the Nations – an up-and-coming neighborhood in Nashville – as is walking distance to several breweries and other restaurants. For anyone planning a visit to Nashville, this is a popular Airbnb location, with lots of new “tall/skinny” houses popping up, and several condo complexes. In addition to being in a nice neighborhood, Bringle’s Smoking Oasis has a huge outdoor area with a large bar section. In the summertime, this will be the perfect spot to enjoy an outdoor beverage or two. The inside is small but functional – a cafeteria-style line and around a dozen four-person tables.

The cafeteria-style line works a little backwards, as you first grab dessert (I opted for apple pie), then hot sides, cold sides, and ended with the meat. I was initially planning to order some the brisket, but as I got to the meat station, I saw one lonely beef rib just calling my name. Usually reserved as a Sunday special, I was told that they had a couple extra beef ribs this week and made some for Saturday as well, and there was only one left. So of course, I had to go for it, along with a bit of turkey. Friend of the blog Nate ordered pulled pork, brisket, and pastrami (on recommendation from the slicer), so I knew I’d get to try most of the meats. One small complaint here – as someone who has been to a fair share of ‘cue joints in Texas, the line, in comparison, moved very slow, with the meat station generally slowing things up. Meat slicers in Texas are artists, and move with both grace and quickness. I’m hopeful this process will speed up in the future at the Smoking Oasis, but there was a bit of a backlog at times.

All that said, we were through the line and it was time to eat. I don’t want to bury the lede, so I’ll just say the beef rib was my favorite part of the meal. The cook on the rib was perfect – it was incredibly tender pulling right off the bone, and there was just the right amount of bark outside. There could potentially have been a little bit more seasoning (I’m a pepper fiend), but that’s nit picking. I’m glad I ordered the rib, though in reality it’s probably best to be shared with 3-4 people (the rib weighed in at 1.8 pounds, bone included). My turkey was also very flavorful with great smoke. It was just a tad dry, but I also got the end of the breast, so a cut off a freshly unwrapped cut would likely solve this. The flavor was great and I will be ordering this meat again.

As for the brisket and pastrami, I really feel like I didn’t get enough to judge, so I ended up taking a solo trip back two weeks later for another go. This time I went with brisket and pork ribs. The brisket ended up being better than I remembered, with good flavor and moistness; however, it was not as tender as the top briskets I’ve had and couple probably use a little more bark. Still, a fine effort and a meat I would order again. I expected the ribs to be exactly like the ones at peg leg porker, but they were instead also cooked Texas style. The flavor was excellent, and the meat was tender, so no complaints. Based on memory, I would give a slight nod to Peg Leg ribs because of the rub, but I plan to side by side them in the future. 

Overall, I can’t recommend Bringles Smoking Oasis enough, especially on a nice day where the outdoor space can be utilized. I had high expectations going in, but they were all exceeded and Bringles will be my go to spot to bring visitors and vaults to the top of the Nashville rankings.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Beef rib – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Turkey – 4 hogs
Pork ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs