Eastern NC Whole Hog Tour: Sam Jones BBQ – Winterville, 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!

Part I – B’s Barbecue

Part II – Skylight Inn

Sam Jones BBQ – Winterville

Address: 715 W Fire Tower Rd, Winterville, NC 28590
Order: Two meat combo with collards and potato salad (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: In Pitt County, there seem to only be a couple of barbecue options on Sundays. B’s Barbecue, Skylight Inn, and Bum’s Restaurant are all closed to give those family-run operations a day of rest (though of course the prep for the next week surely begins). Parker’s Barbecue has a few Greenville-area locations and is open 10-8:30 seven days a week, but is a gas-cooked barbecue that may actually be better known for its fried chicken. For true ‘cue, wood-smoked barbecue, your main option is Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, between Ayden and Greenville. You may recall that the Monk family had previously checked out the Raleigh outpost of Sam Jones BBQ last year, with great results.

While I was still very much on the whole hog train, Sam Jones BBQ gave the family a few more options to order something else besides barbecue (I know, I know). It also has a full bar with local beer options on tap including the Sam Jones BBQ Eager Clever Kölsch, a beer made in honor of Sam Jones by Pitt Street Brewing in Greenville that complements barbecue.

Compared with the barbecue I had just the day before at Skylight Inn, although Sam Jones BBQ’s whole hog was very good it somewhat paled in comparison. The chop was coarser, the cracklins weren’t quite as crisp, and the barbecue portion was a little lacking. Still, it was very good barbecue and one that I’d recommend to anyone.

On my third barbecue restaurant in Pitt County, I finally tried the pit chicken that seems to be the second barbecue item at each restaurant. We’re on record here in rarely ordering poultry at barbecue restaurants (although I’m starting to change my mind about turkey) and while this “slow-cooked chicken” was rather good I wouldn’t necessarily order next time

I switched it up as far as sides went and went with collards and potato salad.The collards were Mrs. Monk approved – she’s contemplated starting a “Collards Sisters” blog so she’s clearly an expert – and the potato salad was a nice changeup from the slaw I’d had a couple times in the past 24 hours.

The original Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville knocks it out of the park, and seem to be doing well, as evidenced by the near-constant line out the door throughout our Sunday lunch visit. While there are clearly better options for barbecue nearby (which in this case means transcendent), I would happily eat at a Sam Jones BBQ were it in my hometown. Speaking of which: any plans to open a store in Charlotte, Sam?

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Sam Jones BBQ – Raleigh, NC

Name: Sam Jones BBQ
Date: 10/16/21
Address: 502 W Lenoir St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Order: Jones Family Original BBQ Tray (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Long time readers know that Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC has been on my to-do list for years and sadly it still remains on my to-do list in 2021. Regardless of the fact that I am not in that part of NC pretty much ever, I’ve thankfully been able to try the Jones family barbecue a couple of times in Charlotte over the years. The first time was at Midwood Smokehouse in 2013 when Sam Jones smoked a hog for a Midwood Smokehouse Sunday Supper even that also included an airing of the SFA documentary on Skylight Inn. The second time was at Free Range Brewing Pig Picking in 2017 that doubled as a viewing party for his Order/Fire documentary. Both times, the whole hog was life changing.

Since then, Sam Jones opened his first namesake restaurant in Winterville before opening a second location in Raleigh late last year. It was to be part of Raleigh’s supposed barbecue boom that was short-circuited by the pandemic. Thankfully Sam Jones BBQ persevered along with Prime Barbecue, Longleaf Swine, and Lawrence Barbecue.

After visiting the NC State campus with Lady Monk and the Monkettes, we made the short trip downtown to Lenoir Street. Though the lot for the restaurant is not very big, we found street parking right in front of the restaurant fairly easily. We waited in a short line and ordered at the front and not before too long a Jones Family Original BBQ Tray was placed in front of me.

Which I quickly turned into this to mimic what they do at Skylight Inn:

By now, everyone knows about the legendary whole hog with crispy bits of skin chopped in the way that the Jones family does it. The pork at Sam Jones BBQ in Raleigh lives up to that standard, although the skin could have been just a tad crispier. Just a minor nitpick in otherwise flawless whole hog barbecue.

Going in, I had wondered most about the corn bread. Theirs is a denser, non-sweet version that likely won’t ever be my favorite version of cornmeal served with barbecue. However, I can respect that its serving a different purpose than the sweeter corn meal in the hush puppies I’m used to in the Piedmont.

The mayo-based coleslaw was sweet and paired nicely with the cue and some Texas Pete.

It’s looking like 2022 will be the year I am able to finally make my pilgrimage to Ayden and I’ll likely stop by the original Sam Jones BBQ in nearby Winterville as well. Sam Jones BBQ’s outpost in Raleigh only made me anticipate that upcoming trip even more.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

The Oak Texas BBQ & Catering – Nashville, TN (food truck)

Name: The Oak Texas BBQ & Catering
Order: 3 meat combo (brisket, beef hot link, bacon brisket) + cilantro slaw
Pricing: $$

Speedy: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – ordering brisket outside of Texas is a dangerous proposition. However, a few places have opened my eyes to the possibility of awesome brisket outside of Texas, and one in particular made me a believer in food trucks. So when I found out The Oak Texas BBQ was going to be outside my new favorite brewery in Nashville (shout out, Crazy Gnome), I knew I had to try. 

Monk: It’s been a fun ride watching Speedy walk back his original declaration of never having brisket outside of Texas.  

Speedy: I showed up just after noon to a small line, and I quickly got excited seeing the two large Texas style offset smokers burning large chunks of wood. By the look (and smell) of things, I was in for a treat.

Of course, I went with all three meats offered, plus the cilantro slaw on the side (skipping the cheese grits). It wasn’t long before this delicious Texas trio was delivered to my picnic table and I was able to dig in. Of course I started with the brisket. I asked for a mix of fatty and lean and was given two generous slices of brisket. The brisket was cooked perfectly, had sufficient moisture, and a wonderful, peppery bark. It didn’t quite melt in my mouth in the same way that the best brisket does, but it was definitely a brisket to be remembered. Martin’s has officially been unseated as the best brisket I’ve had in Tennessee. 

Monk: Wow, that’s high praise, as Martin’s was fantastic when we tried a couple years back and declared that it was just a slight notch below the best in Texas.

Speedy: Next up was the beef hot link. The hot link had good flavor but could have used a little more snap in the casing, and maybe a touch more heat. I enjoyed it, but it was a distant third place in terms of meats for me. 

Finally, saving the best for last, was the “bacon brisket” aka smoked pork belly. My goodness was this delicious. Surrounded by the same peppery bark as the brisket, but with that great pork flavor, this was the best barbecued meat I’d had in months. Really, really phenomenal stuff and a must order. 

Monk: I smoked a pork belly a few months back in a similar manner (in addition to pork belly burnt ends) and freakin’ loved it. I still haven’t smoked a second one yet, so I need to do that soon so I don’t make myself a liar.

Speedy: The cilantro slaw was nice and crunchy, but could have used a little more vinegar zing. However, it was worth ordering. 

Monk: The Oak sounds fantastic and definitely worth a stop next time I’m in Nashville. Will they be a regular food truck at Crazy Gnome (which I also want to check out)?

Speedy: Great question, Monk. I know they have plans to be back on September 26, but don’t know otherwise. I’m definitely hopeful that it becomes a regular occurrence. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 5 hogs (at Crazy Gnome)
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Beef Hot Link – 3 hogs
“Bacon Brisket” – 5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Little Miss BBQ – Phoenix, AZ

Name: Little Miss BBQ
Date: 3/7/20
Address: 4301 E University Dr Phoenix, AZ 85034
Order: 1 beef rib, 3/4lb brisket, 1/4 lb pork, ¼ pound turkey (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: A weekend trip to Phoenix had me searching out the city’s best barbecue spot to find. We ended up choosing Little Miss BBQ largely thanks to a spring training guide by sportswriter Keith Law, claiming that it was the best brisket he’s had outside of Austin – high praise indeed. 

Monk: That’s high praise! Searching for good barbecue in Phoenix seemed like a bit of a fool’s errand (Rudy had a really bad experience in Sedona two hours north, for instance), but any praise that high is worth dispatching a Barbecue Bro to investigate.

Speedy: My friend James and I arrived at Little Miss BBQ around 10:30 AM, ahead of their 11 AM opening. We were around 60th in line (a good sign). The building itself wasn’t much to look at, but there was a decent amount of outdoor seating and there were a lot of people milling around, though no line, per se. We quickly learned that upon arriving, you’re handed a ticket to hold your place in line, and they start lining people up in order around 10:45. There’s plenty of water available, but unfortunately, no beer. Still, it was a very organized affair. While waiting in line, just looking at the impressive Camelback offset smokers got me hungry, and I knew these guys meant business.

Workers come through the line explaining how the process works (essentially a Texas joint where meat is sliced in front of you), and expecting it to take 90 seconds per person in line (bummer). They also handed out samples of their house made pork/beef/jalapeno sausage, a nice touch. The sausage had really good flavor, and the jalapeno flavor was evident, but with the volume of meat we were about to consume, we decided against ordering a link. The 90 seconds per person ended up being about right, so it was around 12:30 before we made it to the front of the line.

After ordering enough meat to feed a small army, we were ready to dig in. The first thing I tried was the brisket, which was impressive indeed. We chose fatty brisket, and it was really nice and moist. My only complaint is it could have used a little more pepper to create more of a bark, but this was still a top ten brisket of my life. A step below Franklin, Pecan Lodge, La Barbecue, and Killen’s, but impressive none-the-less. 

Monk: Wow, top 10 brisket for you, Speedy, is impressive, as you are definitely our Senior Brisket Correspondent at this point. 

Speedy: I am often a tough critic on pulled pork, but these guys did a nice job on that as well. It was definitely more similar to the pulled pork I’ve had in Texas, as the butt was wrapped during the cook to retain more of the natural juices. This certainly helps keeping it from drying out, and enhances the flavor, but also gives the pork a greasier feel, making it difficult to eat in large quantities. 

Historically, I’ve been mostly anti-poultry at ‘cue joints, but some recent excellent smoked turkey has changed that, and Little Miss BBQ is only going to add to that. The turkey was cooked perfectly, moist with great flavor. It passed the pull test easily and was seasoned well, and definitely worth ordering.

Monk: I’m also coming around more and more on smoked turkey at barbecue joints and think its worth considering more often in my barbecue travels. 

Speedy: Saving the best for last was the beef rib. Goodness gracious. The flavor of the meat itself was outstanding, and the quality of the cut was apparent. It was perfectly seasoned to create the peppery bark that I have learned to love. This, to me, was a must get item at Little Miss BBQ. Make sure you’re there for a weekend, as the beef rib is only available Friday and Saturday. At $22 per pound (ours came in at 1.1 pounds), the price was more reasonable than I’d seen elsewhere as well.

Overall, this was the only ‘cue joint I tried in Phoenix, but you’d be hard pressed to find any place anywhere that tops it. This was also the second longest I’d ever waited in line for barbecue (behind Franklin’s) and I do think it was worth the wait. I think the line could have moved faster if the slicers had been a little more efficient. Don’t get me wrong – they were good and knew what they were doing, but took some time to talk to customers, which, though a nice touch, adds 15-30 seconds per person. So if you’re going to visit Little Miss BBQ, and you should, it’s worth getting there a bit early.

Ratings:
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Turkey – 5 hogs
Beef Rib – 5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs

Little Miss BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato