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.

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

Friday Find: Tales from the Pit interviews Sam Jones and Michael Letchworth

Sam Jones is as entertaining as ever, and its good to hear from his friend and business partner Michael Letchworth on how he got into the barbecue game.

Having grown up in a family whose history in barbecue could be traced back to the 1800’s, whole hog cooking was something that had always been a part of Sam Jones’ world. Despite being reluctant to make barbecue a career as young man, Sam returned to the business full time when his grandfather Pete Jones, founder of Skylight Inn, became ill.

Sam navigated Skylight Inn through tough times after Pete’s death and helped make the business thrive and prosper. Sam has a strong business mind and wanted to create a restaurant of his own, still focused on whole hog cooked the traditional way over wood burned down to coals, but something that would stand on its own and not be seen as a carbon copy of the now famous Skylight Inn.

Together with his longtime friend and business partner Michael Letchworth, they opened Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, North Carolina in the fall of 2015. Check out part one of our interview with Sam and Michael where we discuss the history of Skylight Inn and its unique way of cooking and serving whole hog, and how the mindset of not being afraid to ask questions and to learn lead to the eventual creation of better processes for running a successful business and brand.

Part 2:

Friday Find: “Sam Jones: BBQ Gospel”

A short feature on Sam Jones, Skylight Inn, and his recently resurrected family barbecue pit from My Home, NC

Everyone has an opinion of their favorite North Carolina barbeque and what method or sauce is best. There are families who have been cooking BBQ for generations. Sam Jones cut his teeth at his granddaddy’s legendary restaurant, Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, NC. Now he is hard at work keeping his family’s legacy alive for a new generation of whole hog enthusiasts. My Home, NC talks to him about his restaurant Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville and his love for traveling the world preaching and teaching the finer points of the Jones family’s BBQ gospel at cooking events.