While based in Wilmington, we’ve embarked on a hunt for eastern North Carolina BBQ. The closest places are about an hour and a half away. No matter, that’s not far for good BBQ. The BBQ in this part of the world is pulled or chopped pork with a vinegar sauce. It arrives to the table already with some sauce on it. So far, we have seen two types of sauces, vinegar and vinegar with red pepper. Neither is spicy. Those suit our family just fine. We haven’t found any pork that tastes smokey. In fact, a bit of research suggests that many places have converted to gas for cooking due, in part, to environmental regulations.
The quest has led us into rural North Carolina. This is butterball country and the turkey farms are everywhere.
First, we drove to Dudley to eat at Grady’s BBQ, an unassuming establishment inside the point of a Y intersection. Inside, there are about 8 tables. You order and pick your food up at a counter. The BBQ was good enough for the owners to give themselves airs, but we were happy they took a different approach. The coleslaw, collard greens, potato salad, and black-eyed peas were all delicious too.
Still hungry, we headed back north the next day to find Wilber‘s (est. 1962). I read that Wilber’s had received an exemption from the rules that pushed others towards gas cooking. Wilber’s is much larger than Grady’s with fitting red-checkered tablecloths. The pork was similar to Grady’s. Here, you could have an unlimited supply of hush puppies which were a hit all around. They put slaw on the sandwiches making a good marriage. They too have two types of vinegar sauce.
We took Sunday off from BBQ, but were back in the hunt on Monday. This time we drove north again to Ayden, NC. There we stopped at the Skylight Inn (est. 1947). Skylight has won all sorts of awards going back at least to the 1980s. For good reason. Note that they feel they need to point out that they cook with wood. For a Texan, this seems like a strange discussion to have.
After having a magazine declare Skylight as the capitol of BBQ, they added this dome onto the roof. It took a bit of attitude to do that…
At Skylight, the BBQ is pork, cornbread cooked in pork drippings, and slaw. Well, on the weekend they have chicken too. If you’re looking for anything else, maybe something to accommodate those in your party who don’t want unashamed meat, don’t come here. We liked the meat cleavers. Somehow they fit well with the pistol worn by the cashier.
We were happy with the choice of pork. It was delicious with a rich flavor. Not as moist as Grady’s, but with bits of cracklin throughout that were just the right size.
We looked into visiting some BBQ spots in South Carolina, but realized that the mainstays all seem to open only Thursday to Saturday. Hopefully we’ll have a weather window before they open and will miss them this time.