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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Wilber’s Barbecue

Wilber Shirley’s place in Goldsboro–the simply named Wilber’s Barbecue–is among the living legends of North Carolina barbecue joints.  It is also among the state’s best-known restaurants period, given its long history and prominent location fronting Highway 70 on the way to the beach (at least for those of us that still take routes other than Interstate 40 to the coast from time to time).  Hear from Mr. Shirley himself and get a behind the scenes tour of his wonderful restaurant in this nicely done segment from Time Warner Cable’s Around Carolina program.

Oh, and if you want to see another perspective on Goldsboro, you can watch this video instead.

Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby is high on my list of places I’ve never eaten but want to visit. Until that happens, you can get your fix of this legendary BBQ joint in this well-crafted video profile:

Breaking News at Allen & Son’s

On Friday I visited Allen & Son’s in Chapel Hill for the first time in months (the location north of town on Highway 86, not the unrelated and inferior Allen’s south of town).  As usual, not much had changed since my last visit: great food, friendly service, and prices slowly creeping toward $11 for a large plate yet somehow still worth it.  And then my jaw dropped.  As I perused the menu to decide whether to get a BBQ plate or sandwich I saw it, the first major change to the menu I can recall besides pricing.  A barbecue tray!

This may not sound like big news to you, but Allen’s has never before–in the 25-plus years I’ve been visiting–offered a tray.  It has always had a sandwich and a plate but never a tray.  But there it was, a recent addition to the carved in stone menu sitting in front of me.

The silver tray with a paper tray nestled inside: classy!

At many BBQ joints that offer a tray, “plate” means BBQ, slaw, hush puppies and fries and “tray” excludes fries.  Trays also tend to offer slightly smaller portions than plates, a nice feature for folks like me who often eat at more than one joint when visiting unchartered barbecue territory.  At Allen’s the regular plate does not include fries (though there is a fries added option), so the difference between the plate and tray appears to be quantity.  As you can see in the picture above, the tray offers plenty of food for a modest appettite, and is a couple of bucks less than a plate.  Next time I visit I’ll bring my postal scale and do a more scientific comparison between the two options…

Beer and BBQ on the 7th Day

Continuing this week’s inadvertent beer theme, I just learned of a new event taking place on Sundays in downtown Durham.  Fullsteam Brewery, purveyors of hickory-smoked Hogwash and a wide variety of other southern agriculture-focused “plow to pint” offerings, pairs up with Backyard BBQ Pit, a wood pit barbecue joint that cooks up the best ‘cue in Durham.  Each Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m.  (at least until further notice, so call ahead), the two businesses team up to bring you the succinctly named “BBQ and Beer Sundays.”  The BBQ and beer sabbath is held at 726 Rigsbee Avenue in Durham, Fullsteam Brewery’s world headquarters.

B’s on TV

WRAL TV recently profiled the famous B’s Barbecue in Greenville, NC.  The two minute video gives a good peek into the atmosphere of B’s, even if the reporter naively refers to the pit as an “oven.”  I still think that the Skylight Inn in Ayden, just outside of Greenville, is a couple of notches better than B’s, but no denying B’s is among the state’s best, and best known, barbecue joints.

Not Really Smoke Free, Praise Be

Holy Smoke author and wood-cooked barbecue evangelist John Shelton “Reverend Smokey” Reed was kind enough to send along the below picture.  Being a Billy Graham-level traditional barbecue preacher, John titles the picture, “Not really smoke free, praise be.”

In case you need further explanation, the Bar-B-Q Center is one of the state’s oldest (and best) barbecue joints and still cooks the pork in traditional wood pits, despite the state imposed ban on smoking in the dining room. Praise be indeed.