With over 450 barbecue joints spread across The Great North State, representing every variation in sauce style and cooking method, it can be pretty overwhelming to decide where you're going to eat for lunch. You can consult a thoroughly researched, beautifully designed map for such purposes, or you can just head straight to Ayden, NC and try two of our state's most well-regarded barbecue establishments in one go.
Skylight Inn BBQ has cooked whole hogs over wood since 17-year-old Pete Jones opened the restaurant in 1947. Current co-owner Sam Jones is Pete's grandson, and he's kept things exactly the same after taking over in 2006, right down to the huge mounds of split oak firewood piled in the back. The main draw is their Whole Hog BBQ Tray with a slab of corn bread and a side of slaw served in a tall stack. Their pork is juicy and tender with little bits of crispy, crunchy skin tucked in among the smoky chopped meat. The cornbread is simple and straightforward -- just cornmeal, water, and salt -- while the coleslaw complements their vinegar-based sauce. It's easy to see why Skylight won an "America's Classics" James Beard Award in 2003.
It'll be tough, but try to leave a little room for the next stop on our tour: cousin Bum's Restaurant is less than one mile away and should not be missed. They also do wood-cooked eastern-style whole hog barbecue, but they chop their meat more coarsely and they serve crispy cornbread as sticks instead of slabs. The must-try item on their menu is collard greens: chopped and silky, but still with a tender toothsome texture. They serve a special less-bitter heirloom variety known as Yellow Cabbage Collards that are grown by Bum Dennis himself.
A trip to Ayden could be combined with a detour to Kinston, the newly-crowned food mecca where chef Vivian Howard, star of the Peabody Award-winning A Chef's Life and author of cookbook Deep Run Roots, runs the well-known Chef & the Farmer and Boiler Room Oyster Bar. If you happen to visit the former in late summer, order the fried okra with ranch ice cream. Yep, ranch ice cream. Mother Earth Brewing has their craft beer facility and beer garden just around the block. Their specials change with the season, but you'll never go wrong with their Weeping Willow Wit.
- Skylight Inn BBQ: 4618 S Lee St, Ayden, NC
- Bum's Restaurant: 566 E 3rd St, Ayden, NC