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

Linkdown: 4/20/22

Featured

Monk: After Rodney Scott and Adrian Miller made some long overdue contributions to black barbecue books last year, we have a couple of new entries in 2022. Matt Horn of the acclaimed Horn Barbecue in Oakland released his new barbecue book (with Adrian Miller giving the foreword) on April 12. In addition to the recipes of what he calls “West Coast Barbecue,” Horn recounts his barbecue journey and how it echoes “the glorious lineage of African American barbecue in the US.”

Coincidentally, Kevin Bludso also released his barbecue book on April 12. Bludso similarly recaps his journey, which has taken him from Compton, CA to the small Texas town of Corsicana.

Rodney Scott’s cookbook last year was the first in decades from a black pitmaster, and we have two more this year from an old veteran and an up-and-coming Michelin-starred chef. Let’s keep it going.

Native News

The Kings of Q Barbecue Festival, named in honor of Latham “Bum” Dennis of Bum’s Restaurant and the late Pete Jones of Skylight Inn, returns next month to Ayden after 2 years off

Longleaf Swine is targeting an August opening for their long-awaited brick and mortar in Raleigh

The Pedalin’ Pig in Banner Elk is featured by Spectrum News

Jon G’s is back at Triple C today

Brisket and Bubbles from The NC F&B Podcast is back June 4 in Raleigh

Non-Native News

Matt Horn gets a writeup in the New York Times

You Grill Girl! is Austin’s first female focused grilling event

Brantley Creek BBQ & Co gives Odessa, TX a legit barbecue destination joint

Bryan Curtis of The Press Box recaps a visit to Goldee’s in Ft. Worth in the first 10 minutes of this episode. “Dude, it was amazing.”

Friday Find: Food YouTuber Mark Wiens Travels to Eastern NC for Whole Hog

Monk: Bangkok-based food YouTuber Mark Wiens visits 5 whole hog restaurants in eastern NC in this supersized video. The visits to Skylight Inn (where he meets with Sam Jones) and B’s Barbecue are of particular interest to me as I’ll be making stops there soon.

Description: NORTH CAROLINA, USA – Welcome to North Carolina, one of the capitals of Barbecue, in the world. Today I’m taking you on an ultimate BBQ tour of Eastern North Carolina which is famous for whole hog barbecue! During this food tour we’re going to 5 of the best restaurants in North Carolina, for Eastern style bbq.

The Skylight Inn, Ayden, North Carolina (https://goo.gl/maps/Wj3t9yRDw464Edmp7) – First stop is The Skylight Inn, easily one of the most well known bbq restaurants in North Carolina, in the United States. They do things the right way, whole hog, slow cooked over smoking coals. One of the best things about The Skylight Inn is when the whole hogs are ready they chop them up, with a ratio of meat, fat, and crispy skin, into an insanely juicy chopped bbq tray. It’s truly a life-changing bbq experience.

Bum’s Restaurant (https://goo.gl/maps/yfWPbidoykXLAtGe8) – Just down the road from The Skylight Inn you’ll find Bum’s Restaurant, another long time bbq restaurant. Along with whole hog bbq, they also have plenty of other southern US foods and great sides. They do their bbq quite differently, instead of being chopped its much more shredded.

B’s Barbecue (https://goo.gl/maps/AgiGLpQPSwhdWDgb7) – Greenville, North Carolina – Next we drove out to B’s Barbecue, a local favorite. I had really wanted to try the chicken bbq, but unfortunately they had already sold out. We barely made it in time to get some whole hog, but luckily we did. It was delicious and so were all the sides.

Grady’s Barbecue (https://goo.gl/maps/1tTj9qgL2guawpK48) Dudley, North Carolina – Another amazing and one of the best bbq restaurants to try in North Carolina is in the small town of Dudley. Again, they do things the right way, slow cooked over coals, the entire pig. Along with the pork, their other dishes, including smoked turkey and bbq chicken, and all the sides were outstanding.

Wilber’s Barbecue (https://goo.gl/maps/6SKdDphpu1mEhcUH6) Goldsboro, North Carolina – Finally to complete this North Carolina bbq tour, we’re eating at Wilber’s Barbecue which is a fantastic family restaurant. Their food and service is fantastic. Also, one bonus about the bbq here is that you can order the leftover or picnic bbq ribs, which are delicious and fun to eat.

When you’re in North Carolina, BBQ is something you must eat, it’s a huge part of the local culture, and I hope you can try some of these best Barbecue restaurants!

Linkdown: 1/5/22

ICYMI, Kevin’s BBQ Joints rounded up from over 120 barbecue personalities what made barbecue so special to them. We were honored that Kevin asked us to be a part of this fantastic project. While some folks focused on their earliest barbecue memories, both Rudy and I focused our answers on bites that broadened our barbecue horizons from more than just the chopped pork they grew up on in NC. Definitely worth a read.

Native News

Ayden, NC (home to Skylight Inn and Bum’s) unveils new marketing campaign: “‘Que Marks the Spot”

Noble Smoke is the only barbecue restaurant on Charlotte Magazine’s annual list of the 50 best restaurants in Charlotte

Grady’s is closed until late January for their well-deserved “winter rest”

Lawrence Barbecue as well as Lewis Barbecue in Charleston gets some love from Eater Carolinas contributors on this “Best Restaurant Meal of 2021” post

Thankfully, Pik-N-Pig’s closure will only be temporary and they aim to reopen ths year

Huli Sue’s BBQ and Grill in Asheville serves a “Hawaiian influenced take on Texas barbecue along with some other island-esque plates”

ICYMI, the Jon G’s Barbecue x Salud Beer Shop/Salud Cerveceria pizza collaboration is happening now

Non-Native News

Barbecue options in Birmingham

Blake’s BBQ photo progress update from late December

From Lifehacker: “With my Weber, I smoked a little, grilled a lot, and learned even more—and I’d like to share my favorite dishes (and lessons) with you now, in no particular order. This is what my grill taught me over the past year.”

From last month, RIP John Mueller