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Barbecue Wars: Round 1 Eastern, Round 2 Western

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Today, we head to Raleigh and points east, where whole hogs, vinegar and spices are the name of the game.

Jeff Jones Photo by Thomas S. England/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Today is our second day of the Canes Country Barbecue Wars, featuring the best of Eastern North Carolina barbecue. If you missed the intro from Friday, head this way. Yesterday’s votes are here, and make sure you continue to the bottom of this page to vote in the second round for the West. Now, onto the East!

Yesterday Brian sold you the case of why he feels Western NC BBQ is the best of the state. I’m here to set the record straight. Eastern NC BBQ, with its tangy vinegar based sauce is really the best there is. Plus, who really wants their slaw to be red?

Born and raised in Pitt County, BBQ has run through my veins as deeply as the colors purple and gold have (probably half the reason slaw colored red is an immediate turn off... Arrgh).

Growing up there were three main options for BBQ: B’s, Parker’s, and a short trip over to Ayden for the Skylight Inn. You couldn’t go wrong with any of them. They are all great in their own respect yet they all have that one common thing that makes them a Eastern NC BBQ joint: the entire hog finely chopped up, paired with a tangy vinegar sauce and sweet slaw to go on the side. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

It should be known that I’ve had Western BBQ at many of the locations mentioned yesterday. From Stamey’s to Woodlands and even the famous Lexington, I’ve been there and ate it. While I respect the art more so than other regions’ version of BBQ (I’m looking straight at you Texas with your beef and South Carolina with your mustard), it’s just not what I consider to be real NC BBQ and certainly not something I think of as a delicacy.

With a little help from Brian since I haven’t been to all of these places on the list, let’s get in to the best BBQ places from Eastern NC.


1. Skylight Inn

The story of Pete Jones and Skylight Inn is nearly as good as the food itself. Jones opened Skylight Inn at age 17 in 1947 and the BBQ has never changed since. The BBQ is one of a kind as they add pieces of cooked skin in to the chop mix giving you a slight crunch with every bite. The menu isn’t large, and the atmosphere is dated, but that’s exactly what makes Skylight Inn so great.

Likely the most famous BBQ restaurant east of Lexington, Skylight Inn has been featured in magazines, TV shows, and news stories all across the country. When Pete Jones passed away in 2006 his grandson Sam Jones took over the business and has reinvigorated the Eastern NC BBQ scene. He has since gone on to open his own restaurant a few miles down the road from the original Skylight Inn in Winterville, simply called Sam Jones BBQ.

The BBQ is the exact same family recipe that Skylight Inn fans have always known, still cooked out back in a smokehouse, still with the skin in the mixture, and still with the sweet slaw. The main difference is Sam Jones caters to a more upscale crowd featuring items such as Mac & Cheese, Smoked Turkey, and even (horror of horrors!) draft beer. There are plans to open Sam Jones outposts in Raleigh and Wilmington as soon as 2020, for which this now Knightdale resident cannot wait for!

Skylight Inn is the very definition of Eastern NC BBQ. Sam Jones has put his own spin on things but the Jones family recipe has never changed. People all across the country make their way to Ayden just to get a taste of true Eastern NC BBQ and who could blame them. It truly is a BBQ lovers dream.

Skylight Inn - 4618 Lee St, Ayden; open Monday - Saturday 10am-7pm. Closed Sundays. Website: https://www.skylightinnbbq.com/

Sam Jones - 715 W Fire Tower Rd, Winterville; Open Sunday - Saturday 11am-9pm. Website: https://www.samjonesbbq.com/

8. Stephenson’s

Eastern barbecue is whole-hog barbecue, which is exactly what you get at Stephenson’s. What you don’t get, oddly, is much of a sauce. Yes, they sauce the meat on the pit at Stephenson’s, but it’s not overpowering and it results in a much more smoky-flavored barbecue than at most other restaurants. Not having as much vinegar keeps the very tender meat from having much of a bite, and while there’s sauce available at the table it isn’t quite the same as when it comes off the chopping board dripping in sauce. It’s not bad, just different.

If you’re into sides, the Brunswick stew is worth stopping for, and while green beans cooked in fatback might be an acquired taste, if you’ve acquired it Stephenson’s does it better than almost anyone. The hush puppies have an onion kick to the breading, but are quite good as well. It’s certainly worth a detour off I-40 for a couple of exits on your way to the beach to visit.

11964 N.C. Highway 50, McGee’s Crossroads; open 10a-9p Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Poll

Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    (1) Skylight Inn/Sam Jones BBQ
    (63 votes)
  • 24%
    (8) Stephenson’s BBQ
    (20 votes)
83 votes total Vote Now

2. B’s Barbecue

B’s BBQ has a special spot in my heart as it was (and still is) my go to spot for BBQ. This tiny shack at the corner of B’s Barbeque Rd (yes, the DOT somehow managed to spell “barbecue” wrong) and 5th Street in Greenville has absolutely zero thrill, but boy does it have the food.

In the late 1970’s Bill and Peggy McLawhorn purchased an old country store on Hwy 43 just outside of Greenville. They turned that store in to a staple of the NC BBQ community by creating delicious BBQ and keeping their base principles true. Those included no phone, no take out menus, no website, cash only, a family first atmosphere, and minimal decor so they could focus on the one thing that mattered: the BBQ. Nowadays the McLawhorn’s three daughters Tammy, Donna, and Judy run B’s and not a single thing has changed.

The thing to know with B’s is they aren’t fancy and you need to completely understand and expect that before going there. You park on the side of the road, you walk inside a literal shack that looks one good gust of wind away from collapsing, and you order from an extremely limited menu. There is a sanitation rating posted but don’t bother looking.

The other main thing to know with B’s is once they sell out, they close down for the day. Locals know if you want their BBQ you better get there before 1pm or you take a major risk at there being none left. If you want chicken, get there before noon. B’s cooks the same amount of food every day and when they are out, they are out.

As far as the actual food goes, there is none better than B’s in my humble opinion. The flavor created in the old smokehouse (excuse me, carport), is above and beyond better than anywhere else. The slaw is very sweet and pairs perfectly with the BBQ. The sauce is of course the key, and you can find that conveniently located on one of the few tables usually in an old whiskey bottle. If you have never visited B’s before, do it now; the three sisters have publicly said once they are ready to retire the business will close so get it while you can!

751 B’s Barbeque Road, Greenville; Open Tuesday - Saturday 9am - 2:30pm or Until Sold Out. No phone or no website.

7. Smithfield’s Chicken N BBQ

With 36 locations across North Carolina, Smithfield’s Chicken N BBQ, or SCNB for short, is such a staple in the Eastern half of the state that it couldn’t be left off the list. Many will question how a fast food BBQ restaurant makes the cut and to that we say - they have 36 locations so something must be working.

What’s working is the food is good. The fried chicken is juicy, the chicken tenders are massive, and the BBQ is just good enough to keep a regular BBQ connoisseur coming back for more. The appeal with SCNB is they are open traditional hours and are generally more conveniently located than other places on this list.

The BBQ is borderline a chopped/pulled combination and if you watch the staff close enough you will see they use a grinding machine to make the BBQ instead of your traditional chop. They do use a traditional sweet slaw and vinegar sauce making to ensure they can market as Eastern style BBQ.

Overall, nothing is extremely special about SCNB but it does the job when you are in the mood for BBQ and want to get in and out quickly.

Multiple locations; hours vary by location. Website: http://www.scnbnc.com/

Poll

Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    (2) B’s Barbecue
    (69 votes)
  • 21%
    (7) Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ
    (19 votes)
88 votes total Vote Now

3. Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque

Nestled in downtown Raleigh, Clyde Cooper’s BBQ has a special place in many hearts around the City of Oaks. Operating since 1938, Cooper’s is the place locals take their friends instead of their upscale competitor across downtown.

This restaurant has withstood the tale of time throughout it all. Their original building was built in 1884 on Davie Street and Cooper’s remained there until 2014 when they were forced to move around the corner. Many people still miss the old time feel the original location gave, but the one thing that didn’t change was the food.

On the menu there is a wide variety of options ranging from brisket to chicken, but most come for the BBQ. The savory treat is a locals favorite and one that keeps you coming back for more. While Raleigh (and the Triangle in general) are not known for BBQ, Cooper’s is one of the few spots that stand out. They’re also not afraid to poke fun at themselves: earlier this year they started accepting cards, and they advertise the new feature with a sandwich board on the sidewalk that simply says “Hell has frozen over!”

327 S Wilmington St, Raleigh. Open Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm. Closed Sunday’s. Website: https://clydecoopersbbq.com

6. Parker’s BBQ (Greenville)

As much as Greenville and B’s go hand in hand, there is another BBQ place in Greenville that has its name etched in the great NC BBQ books. Parker’s BBQ is well known in the Eastern half of the state due to their multiple locations ranging from Wilson to Greenville. The catch here is that the Wilson location is owned by a different part of the family and operates differently. Depending on who you ask, one is usually much better than the other. Since nobody on the writing staff has been to the Wilson location we are sticking to just the Greenville locations. (For those of you yelling that we overlooked Kings in Kinston, the same thing happened there.)

The first Parker’s in Greenville opened in 1970 and is one of the few sit-down BBQ joints in the area. Offering family-style buffets at your table, Parker’s offers an experience of BBQ slightly different than others in the state. The use of a mustard based slaw is hit or miss with patrons but you can be guaranteed to get a bite of gristle with every serving of BBQ which makes the taste unique. The luscious hush-puppies at Parker’s are the best of any BBQ place I’ve every eaten and that’s the lasting memory I carry with me of Parker’s.

Now operating two quick-service style restaurants in the Greenville area along with their main restaurant, Parker’s is the face of Greenville marketing wise and are the face you will see at any ECU game. If you live in Greenville, you are either team B’s or team Parker’s. They are very different restaurants and both have cult followings. For me it’s always been B’s, but for my wife, who is also from Pitt County, it’s Parker’s. You really cannot go wrong with either.

Main location: 3109 S Memorial Dr, Greenville. Open Sunday-Saturday 10am-8:30pm. Website: https://www.parkersbbq.com/

Poll

Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    (3) Clyde Cooper’s BBQ
    (53 votes)
  • 39%
    (6) Parker’s BBQ (Greenville)
    (34 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now

4. Grady’s Barbecue

If you’re going to Grady’s (it rhymes with “daddy”), you’re really committed to going to Grady’s. There is nothing anywhere around; just farms, fields, and small forests. Chances are, when you get out of your car and turn off the engine, you won’t hear any other vehicle even in the distance. Basically, you have to hear about Grady’s to go there, because the chances are almost zero that you’d ever stumble across it.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, to be fair. Grady’s is housed in a small cinder-block building with the name stamped on the side, about as unassuming as you can possibly get. The barbecue itself is normal Eastern fare, but with a kick: in addition to peppering the sauce, the way most places do, Grady’s also peppers the meat itself. The result is a chopped barbecue with a serious kick, and the familiar bite of vinegar to finish it off. Similar to Skylight, Grady’s leaves bits of brown skin in the meat; while there isn’t as much of it as there is in Ayden, it’s noticeable nevertheless. You’ll also find more sides here than just about anywhere else. Only open for lunch four days a week, Grady’s is worth the detour - even if it will make you at least an hour late to wherever you’re going.

3096 Arrington Bridge Road, Dudley; open Wednesday-Friday 10a-3p, Saturday 10a-4p, closed Sunday-Tuesday.

5. Ole Time Barbecue

You may have driven past this place a million times and never noticed it. A stone’s throw from PNC Arena, Ole Time is a low-slung, unassuming building on the side of Hillsborough Street just east of where Raleigh turns into Cary. There aren’t many tables, so come prepared to wait.

Ole Time’s calling card is their portion sizes. Nine bucks gets you a full plate of barbecue, two sides and — no joke — a whole basket of hush puppies. This isn’t a place where you get two of them as an afterthought, no sir. While the pork is tender and juicy, the sauce lacks a real pepper component, so you’re basically saucing with straight vinegar (or, if you prefer, Texas Pete). Come hungry, because you will leave full - even if it’s in the morning, because they serve breakfast starting at 6 AM.

6309 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh; open Monday-Thursday 6a-8p, Friday and Saturday 6a-9p, closed Sunday.

Poll

Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    (4) Grady’s Barbecue
    (33 votes)
  • 61%
    (5) Ole Time Barbecue
    (52 votes)
85 votes total Vote Now

West 2nd Round

Vote for who should meet in the regional final for Western N.C. Barbecue! Check writeups on the contenders in yesterday’s article.

Poll

Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    (1) Lexington Barbecue
    (72 votes)
  • 21%
    (5) Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
    (20 votes)
92 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    (2) Stamey’s Barbecue
    (50 votes)
  • 41%
    (6) Woodlands BBQ
    (35 votes)
85 votes total Vote Now