BBQ Jew’s View: (The Original) Parker’s Barbecue

2514  US Highway 301 South, Wilson, NC
(252) 237-0972
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B
Porky Says: “A tarnished shrine for barbecue fundamentalists.”

The Original
(The Original) Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson used to just be known as Parker’s Barbecue, and to most people it still is.  But a restaurant named Parker’s Barbecue in nearby Greenville, started by relatives of the founders of Parker’s in Wilson–who had sold to non-Parker family owners in the 1980s–gave (The Original) Parker’s reason to want to differentiate itself.  Hence the parentheses, and the confusing lineage.  But (The Original) Parker’s food is the opposite of parenthetical and far from confusing–it is straightforward, honest to goodness classic Eastern North Carolina barbecue… with one major caveat: they no longer cook on wood-fired pits.

Sticking to the Basics
There are two famous barbecue joints in Wilson.  One of them is as close to an amusement park as an old fashioned NC barbecue joint gets.  The other one is (The Original) Parker’s.  From the simple wide white ranch style building that has housed the restaurant in its current location since its founding in 1946 to the food to the waitstaff, Parker’s is all business.  The waitstaff is entirely male–hard working, always hustling, white apron- and white paper hat-wearing young white males.  The decor is sparse and simple–real wood paneling, tables lined up one after another, a few aging newspaper articles about the joint on the wall, etc.

Between the decor and the waitstaff, when you walk in the front door at Parker’s it’s easy to think you have entered a time warp back to the 1950s.   A basic menu and stark–even by BBQ joint standards–presentation of the food does nothing to make you think you’ve reentered the 21st century.  But why bother to live in 2011 when the barbecue was so good a half century ago?  Parker’s delivers on what it silently promises–good, straightforward Eastern-style barbecue and sides.

In my opinion, Parker’s whole hog, wood-cooked barbecue is not as jaw droppingly succulent as places like Grady’s and the Skylight Inn.  Parker’s pork is quintessential Eastern-style ‘cue: chopped fine, tender, lightly sauced and leaning toward the dry side due to the large amount of leaner meat from the hams.  It includes flecks of skin, though Parker’s is “cleaner” than places like those mentioned above.  I personally think Parker’s is a bit too dry and clean, and machine-chopped too finely, but it’s good ‘cue and seems pointless to criticize a place like Parker’s that delivers exactly the type of high quality barbecue it sets out to deliver.  (Well, except that they dropped cooking over wood pits in recent years, which is a major affront to history and tradition, and deserves criticism in my fundamentalist BBQ holy book.) To counter the dryness, I added quite a bit of the straight-ahead simple vinegar/hot pepper sauce (picture Texas Pete cut with a little more vinegar and your right on).  Another strategy is to mix the pork with the terrific, slightly mustardy but sweet yellow slaw.  The slaw matches the pork perfectly.  You’ll also be pleased by the plump, sweet hush puppies and dense, classic cornsticks.

If you want to upgrade from the “barbecue plate” of pork, puppies/cornsticks and slaw to the “barbecue dinner”, you’ll get to add a few selections  from among a small group of traditional Eastern-style sides: barbecue boiled potatoes, string beans, Brunswick stew and french fries.  If you order a combination dinner, you can sample Parker’s highly regarded fried chicken.  Or for a couple of bucks more you can order “family style” and get all you can eat ‘cue and sides, plus a couple of pieces of chicken.  Barbecue chicken, fried shrimp, chicken livers and a few other dishes plus desserts round out the menu.

Long live (The Original).  And maybe someday they’ll revive the wood pits?  A man can dream…

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13 Responses

  1. Be aware that Parkers does not accept credit or debit cards. Its strictly a cash establishment. I found this out the hard way and had to borrow a little from my friend to cover my family’s fine dining.

  2. I really liked Parker’s when I visited many years ago, except I couldn’t figure out the point of the cornsticks. Your description of them as “classic” leads me to believe that you may understand where I’m coming from. Your photos depict all of the hushpuppies eaten up front, while the cornsticks remain on a distant plate, challenging you to choke them down. It’s like they take everything that is good about the hushpuppy, and do the opposite – dry it out, unsweeten it, and make it dense and crumbly. Is there some historic reason for them (using lesser parts of corn ear)? Or some culinary purpose (are they good dipped in brunswick stew)? How about my use of parentheses and question marks? Is that structurally correct?

  3. Nate, although you ask many good questions I’m afraid you are reading too much into my description of cornsticks. Rather than aggressively challenging you, I will gently respond. How gently? Parenthetically. (Although I’ve not yet developed the same love of cornsticks that I have of hush puppies, I do like them. They have a more complex, dense flavor and I enjoy the chewy texture. They taste especially good mopping up coleslaw sauce, though I am not sure that is an officially sanctioned use. As far as I know, cornsticks date back many decades prior to hush puppies in NC BBQ culture. I would venture a guess that cornsticks are the descendants of cornbread and cornpone, which Carolinians have eaten since time immemorial, while hush puppies are a relative newcomer. That said, I see where you’re coming from, if not where you’re going.) Happy Thanksgiving to you and your’s.

  4. Thanks for the game reply Porky. I confess I’ve never contemplated the preparation of bbq sides prior to the arrival of modern day fryer. Henceforth, when I next have the pleasure of dining at Parker’s, I shall gnaw my way through the ‘sticks in solidarity with my forebears.

  5. [...] The JointsRick McElrath on BBQ Jew’s View: Mama Jean’s Bar-B-Q ShackNate on BBQ Jew’s View: (The Original) Parker’s BarbecuePorky LeSwine on BBQ Jew’s View: (The Original) [...]

  6. Are you sure that they are wood-cooked? I thought that they had converted to gas cookers with wood smokers at either end…. Pretty sure they took it (and Bill Ellis’) off the NC BBQ Trail Map for that very reason, if memory serves, once they decided to feature only wood-fired pits.

  7. just a second post to subscribe to comments…. sorry…

  8. zy1125 is right. Parker’s is an institution and it has a glorious history and it still serves an important community function, but it now serves slow-roasted pork, not proper wood-cooked barbecue. Sad.

  9. Thanks zy1125 and porcophile, i will correct my article as soon as I get a chance . That explains why I didn’t think Parker’s tasted quite pit-cooked. I should have trusted my swine-carnivore instincts, but got seduced by the joint’s history.

  10. I have corrected the article per zy1125 and porcophile’s comments, which I believe are accurate. A major gaffe on my part to miss this the first time around, so thanks readers for the gentle correction! Always sad to see a long time wood-burner stray from the path of righteousness.

  11. [...] of Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson, North Carolina courtesy of BBQ Jew Posted in Cool BBQ Pics on by kevin – Be the first to [...]

  12. Is there any way i can get the recipe for the slaw? I’ve tried to find it through a google search, but nothing has hit the nail on the head.

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