Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour” Featuring the “Triangle of BBQ”

Monk: Before “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown”, Anthony Bourdain’s first food travelogue show was “A Cook’s Tour” on the Food Network. In the second season, he visited Texas, Kansas City, and NC – which he refers to as “the barbecue triangle” – and explored barbecue culture for what may have been his first time (at least on recorded camera). The NC section (starts at 15:29) visits with Ed Mitchell at his old joint in Wilson to explore eastern NC whole hog barbecue, one of his first barbecue loves.

Description: BBQ is the classic American food that’s featured in Kansas City, Houston, and North Carolina. The #1 food writer and television presenter in the world, and star of Travel Channel and CNN, Anthony Bourdain reinvented the food travel genre. In his groundbreaking first television series, Bourdain travels around the world indulging his taste for local cuisine and eccentric characters. You never know what he’ll say, who he will meet, or what they will have for dinner.

Linkdown: 11/2/22 – The Call Back Later, Anthony Bourdain Edition

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Monk: Two decades ago, Anthony Bourdain and his production team reached out to Ed Mitchell at The Pit in Raleigh to talk about getting on season 2 of his show “A Cook’s Tour.” The only issue was that it was in the middle of a lunch rush. So, Ed Mitchell being a man of the people, he told him to call back because he was busy.

Forbes contributor Leslie Kelly recently caught up with Ed Mitchell and his son Ryan in light of his recent induction into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame earlier this year. In addition to his True Made brand of barbecue sauces, he’s got a book coming in 2023 along with (hopefully) his much-delayed brick and mortar barbecue restaurant in Raleigh, The Preserve BBQ.

Native News

Shepard Barbecue will be on this Friday’s episode of Diner, Drive-In’s, and Dives airing at 9pm on Food Network

More on Phar Mill Brewing & BBQ’s expansion into Concord

Philly Bite Magazine (huh?) weighs in on NC barbecue with a half decent list

Non-Native News

John Tanner’s been making the rounds again, this time in the heartland of the country.

First up, he meets up with BBQ Tourist (and friend of the blog) Ryan Cooper at Porky Butts in Omaha, Nebraska for a platter of some Kansas City barbecue

…he hits up the Boxer Q food truck in Topeka, Kansas for a pork sandwich after a 10k walk

…he visits Chef J BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri for some wonderful by recommendation of Ryan

…back in Maryland, he enjoys Chicago-style rib tips and ribs at Uncle D’s Grill

…finally, he tries out Due South BBQ in Christianburg, Virginia for a pork sammie and the ever-rare side of hushpuppies (in Virginia, at least)

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: 8/31/22

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Monk: Our prolific friend of the blog John Tanner has been at it again making the rounds in eastern NC recently, so let’s follow along in envy to some of the better places from his recent trip.

Wilber’s BBQ in Goldsboro has been back for a couple of years now but in his first dining room meal in some years, John and co. are wowed

Martelle’s Feed House is a restaurant with a buffet that includes great ribs and fantastic barbecue, located in the tiny town of Englehard (pop. 155), a (according to Wikipedia) “fishing community in Lake Landing Township on the mainland of Hyde County, North Carolina” near the Pimlico Sound

John also tried out Old Colony Smokehouse in Edenton, “a fine addition to eastern North Carolina” where they hold onto old traditions but also incorporate new trends

John passes on the buffet at Captain Bob’s Restaurant and Catering in Hertford for a pork plate but immediately regrets that decision

One of the highlights of his trip was a visit to Sid’s Catering in Beaulaville, a small town in southeast North Carolina

Non-Native News

Things are looking dicey for turkeys this Thanksgiving; this is from Heim BBQ

The BBQuest Eater Heat Map

Dispatches from the Tales from the Pits BBQ + Bourbon road trip