NC Barbecue Final Four

According to the The Dispatch, a recent article in U.S. News & World Report ranked Lexington, NC the fourth best barbecue city in the country.  It’s hard to argue with the cities listed ahead of Lexington–Memphis TN, Lockhart TX and Kansas City MO.  Although if good, traditionally prepared barbecue per capita had been the main criteria I’d argue that Lexington–with its 20-some BBQ joints in the “metro area” and just 20,000 people–would be neck and neck with Lockhart.

Here are my picks for top barbecue cities (and towns) in North Carolina.  If you like, you can consider this the North Carolina barbecue Final Four.

Lexington – As noted in the national rankings, Lexington is the best barbecue town in North Carolina.  There are more traditional wood-cooking barbecue joints in little 20,000-person Lexington than any other locality in NC by a wide margin. (Are you listening Raleigh and Charlotte?)  Lexington’s annual Barbecue Festival that draws 200,000 or so swine worshippers is further evidence of the town’s barbecue supremacy.

Ayden – Home to the Skylight Inn (aka Pete Jone’s place), which serves some of the best barbecue in the state and is perhaps the quintessential Eastern NC barbecue joint, Ayden is a little town with a lot of flabor.  From the food at the Skylight Inn to the rural setting, it doesn’t get much more authentic than Ayden . Better yet, tiny Ayden is also home to the cafeteria-style Bum’s, which is a classic southern restaurant featuring barbecue.

Salisbury – It plays second fiddle to Lexington, but Salisbury deserves its own acclaim, as it is (ironically) the likely birthplace of “Lexington-style” barbecue.  Today Salisburyians (?) continue to cherish their barbecue and the town has a couple of solid, traditional wood burners–Richard’s and Wink’s–to back up their proud barbecue history.

Goldsboro – At one point Goldsboro was arguably the Mecca of Eastern NC barbecue, between the still-famous Wilber’s and the now shell-of-its-former-self Scott’s.  Although it’s barbecue is no longer worth tasting, Scott’s still makes some of the best barbecue sauce available ($1.99 or so at your neighborhood Food Lion, or $1 more at Harris Teeter if that’s how you roll).  The Goldsboro area’s proud tobacco and hog farming history add to its permanent status as a true barbecue town.

BBQ Jew’s View: The Skylight Inn

4618 Lee Street, Ayden, NC
252.746.4113
No Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A+
Porky Says: “Capitol Q indeed, Jones’ place lives up to the hype.”
 
Do A Few Things But Do Them Well

The Ayden skyline. Photo by Conor "Swine Factor" Keeney.

The Skylight Inn is not the type of restaurant that tries to be everything to everyone.  Far from it. Instead, the folks at The Skylight  do just a few things but do them as well as any barbecue joint anywhere.  The Skylight Inn is still referred to as “Jones’ Barbecue” by many old timers in deference to Pete Jones, who started the place, and the Joneses who have followed in his footsteps.  The menu that Pete Jones established when he opened The Skylight in 1947 remains nearly unchanged today.  When you set foot in The Skylight Inn your only choices are whether you want a BBQ sandwich or a tray (small, medium or large) and where to sit.  The options are limited to barbecue, slaw and skillet cornbread from a 180 year old recipe!  You might think it’d be disappointing to not have some variety on the menu, but I think I could make do with Jones’ pork-slaw-cornbread holy trinity most every day and die happy (and probably several years before I otherwise would).

“If I told you the recipe for the slaw, I’d have to shoot you in the head.”
When you visit barbecue joints and talk to the owners and cooks, you get used to the line, “I could tell you the recipe for [insert menu item], but I’d have to kill you.”  This is practically a motto for barbecue folks.  That said, The Skylight Inn was the first place I heard that line delivered by someone who was prepared to follow through on the statement.  I asked Samuel Jones how they cook their hogs and he told me he’d be happy to share, as it’s simply hard work and sticking to tradition rather than any secret.  On the other hand, he said, “If I told you the recipe for the slaw, I’d have to shoot you in the head.” Since Samuel had a handgun in his back Continue reading

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