Eastern NC Whole Hog Tour, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Dichotomy of NC Barbecue

A version of this article was recently featured in The Smoke Sheet.

Monk: 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) through and through. Which shouldn’t be surprising since each of the three of us were raised in High Point, NC, just under 20 miles up I-85 from the (often disputed) Barbecue Capital of NC in Lexington.

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, earlier this year I did finally have a reason to be in Pitt County – home to Greenville, Winterville, and Ayden – in eastern North Carolina for a couple days. While my free time was somewhat limited due to the eldest Monkettes gymnastics exploits, I hoped to make the most of being in the heart of whole hog country!

B’s Barbecue – Greenville

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 at B’s Barbecue. Particularly if East Carolina University (ECU) has a home football game. But this is no central Texas-style line; it moves fairly quickly and efficiently. Arriving right at 9am, 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.

The chopped whole hog pork was really flavorful if not overly smoky due to primarily being cooked over charcoal briquettes. 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 were my favorite cornmeal of my trip. They were so good that I bought an extra dozen and took them home to the family. The eastern-style slaw was about what I’d expect but I did enjoy the potatoes, a simple side that’s not really found in the Piedmont.

The three sisters at B’s have made it clear that they won’t be running it forever, so be sure to get there sooner rather than later for some otherworldly whole hog.

Sam Jones BBQ – Winterville

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 on Sundays is Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, between Ayden and Greenville. 

Compared with the barbecue at Skylight Inn, although Sam Jones BBQ’s whole hog was very good it somewhat paled in comparison. The chop was coarser than I prefer, the cracklins mixed into the barbecue weren’t quite as crisp, and the barbecue portion was a little lacking. Still, it was very good barbecue and better than 90% of other barbecue joints in the state..

I also finally tried the pit chicken that seems to be the second barbecue item at each restaurant in Pitt County, and while it didn’t blow me away the leaner poultry was a nice change of pace.

While there are clearly a couple of better options for barbecue nearby (which in this case means truly  transcendent barbecue), 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?

Skylight Inn – Ayden

Finally, the real barbecue reason to make the trip to Pitt County. Truth be told, despite my excitement over finally trying B’s Barbecue the main event of the trip 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 to Skylight Inn every day, and something about the whole hog eaten within the walls of Skylight Inn just tasted better than the Sam Jones barbecue I’ve been fortunate to have tasted at events in Charlotte or at his two restaurants. 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. Not too much more that I can say.

Conclusion

Did I come away from my whole hog experience in Eastern NC forsaking my beloved Lexington-style barbecue in favor of the original style of barbecue in the United States? No, of course not. But while I did already have an awareness and respect for the other style of the Old North State’s barbecue, I came away from this trip with a whole new appreciation and a newfound mission to get back as soon as reasonable to try the other legendary whole hog places I have yet to make it to.

What other places should I visit next time I’m in eastern North Carolina? Leave a comment below.

Linkdown: 4/27/22

Native News

At Port-A-Pit BBQ in Statesville, they serve the public as well as help the community fundraise

BBQ King gets a segment on Spectrum News 1

Old Colony Smokehouse looks like it should be added to my list

The Smoke Pit is one of the recommended places to eat when in Concord just north of Charlotte

The best barbecue places in Eastern NC according to WNCT’s analysis of TripAdvisor data

Get tickets to the Carolina BBQ Festival while you can

Non-Native News

The first in a series of articles from the great Hanna Raskin leading up to the Southern Foodways Alliance Fall Symposium on Barbecue. Can’t wait to read the rest.

John Lewis has brought “border food” to the lowcountry with Rancho Luis

I know nothing about any of these restaurants in NoVa, but here you go

Another national list

The famed Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ celebrated her 87th birthday last Thursday

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: 11/10/21

The Local Palate and writer Jenn Rice detail a pretty action-packed eastern North Carolina barbecue itinerary. The usual suspects are on the list including Barbecue Bros faves Wilber’s Barbecue and Southern Smoke BBQ, but there are plenty of ones I haven’t tried yet. Bookmarking for next Spring.

Native News

A new live-fire cooking restaurant called Cinder is opening in Charlotte from Husk veteran Duke Kroger (who identifies as a pitmaster in his Twitter profile)

Mac’s Speed Shop is closing its Cornelius restaurant but opening a new one in Mooresville

Jon G’s was featured in the Fall 2021 Issue of QC Exclusive

ICYMI last month, Boxyard RTP and Lawrence Barbecue are one of the 12 hottest restaurants in the Triangle

The Smoking Ho takes on North Carolina starting with Buxton Hall #CarHOlinaBBQTrip

Lewis Donald and Sweet Lew’s BBQ raised funds to help the family of a young girl who tragically took her own life at the age of 11

Non-Native News

Heim Barbecue’s Dallas location will be closed for a few weeks after a fire but its Fort Worth locations remain open

Last week’s Georgia barbecue-focused The Smoke Sheet

The SmoKing of Meats is Joe Musungi, who blends Filipino and Texas barbecue

Are barbecue lines a thing of the past?

New-ish barbecue joint Palmira BBQ is one of the stalls at Port of Call