Eastern NC BBQ Odyssey
A buddy and I are celebrating the fact that we're both turning 40 by attempting to consume as much Eastern NC BBQ as possible in a weekend. We're definitely hitting B's in Greenville (been dying to go there), Skylight in Ayden, and Wilber's in Goldsboro (my longtime fave). Any suggestions on what else to hit or to avoid? I'd originally been considering Parker's and Bill's in Wilson, but I dunno now that they've been dropped from the NCBS trail. They added Jack Cobb and Son, so I'm considering that. Anyone know the hours? Also, anyone have any opinions and info on Grady's in Dudley? Blackbeard's in Conetoe gets a ton of love hereabouts, so I'm seriously considering that as well.
Any recommendations on restaurants and routes and info on hours would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Definitely skip Parker's and Bill's. There is no good eastern NC bbq in Wilson anymore that I know of. If you need to grab a bite to eat in Wilson, head to El Mexicanito for superb tacos.
Watch out for construction on MLK/5th St./43 leading to B's. You may want to use B's Barbeque road to get to it instead, depending on where you're coming from.
Jack Cobb's is only open on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. I'm not sure about the hours. I go to most of these places at lunch, except for Pete Jones. They do good bbq which I think really shines if you get a sandwich, because their slaw is excellent. I would add it to your itinerary.
Pete Jones has been firing on all cylinders lately. The last couple of times I've eaten there(over the last month or so) have been the best that I've had from there in 10-15 years.
Blackbeard's should definitely be on your list. Excellent bbq that is as good or better than the more well known places, and great traditional sides. Make sure to try some pork skins. Everything at Blackbeard's oozes eastern NC tradition. It's like a study of traditional foods. I love it.
I haven't made it to Grady's yet, so I can't offer any comments there. My current ranking would be:
1. Pete Jones(I recently said that I liked Blackbeard's more, but then Jones turned out the best bbq I've had in a long time)
4. Jack Cobb's
Hours: B's you will need to hit early. They can close by 1 or 2pm if they sell out. They open very early though, 8:30-9am IIRC.
Pete Jones is open daily until 7pm, except for Sunday.
Blackbeard's is Thu-Sun only. Thu-Sat hours are 11am-8:30pm, Sun is 11:30am-3pm.
no, i'll get you an address and some hours, hopefully before the weekend. all i know off-hand is that it is on the south-bound side of the road, between US 301 and the food lion (a 5-6 mile stretch). If you look on google earth, it's the free-standing building that looks like a restaurant, between dunbarton road and shenandoah drive, on nc 97 south; south rocky mount vicinity, west of US 301.
You asked about Grady's and it is a hidden gem among the more well known establishments and not too far (~ 12 miles) from Wilbur's. Located east of Dudley near Sleepy Creek. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
My big four joints, in no particular order, are Skylight Inn, Ayden, NC B's in Greenville, NC (both in Pitt County 10-12 miles apart) and Grady's, and Wilbur's in Goldsboro. (Both in Wayne County)
I am the buddy mentioned by Mr Zeau, who is a bit under the weather, so here is a summary of our adventures.
We hit B’s, Jack Cobbs, Grady’s, Pete Jones’ Skylight, Wilburs and Blackbeard’s. The quick version:
B’s was excellent, especially the chicken. Jack Cobbs was a surprise standout because of a 4lb rack of ribs that was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in the State of North Carolina. Grady’s was disappointing and greasy. The chopped Q at Skylight was the best single example of the species we ate, but Wilburs remains the all-around champion. Blackbeard’s was very tasty, but too sweet.
B’s was easy to find and the construction was no big deal. It was game day at Eastern Carolina (or whatever it’s called) and the line was out the door. Pork sold out by 11:30 (which makes no sense, they only cooked 3 pigs on game day?!?). They had plenty of chicken, though. The was absolutely nothing bad to say about the pulled pork, although we discovered that they cook over Kingsford charcoal and, after trying other places, you can taste that. Their BBQ chicken was really awesome, though, and that’s partly b/c no one else seems slow/grill chickens in the area. Their vinegar sauce was superior, slightly sweet, and the perfect condiment for the chicken, especially. I think that one reason B’s is so popular is that the sauce makes your mouth smile a lot. I liked their vinegar slaw the best of the bunch, but prefer real hush puppies to their corn sticks. The place isn’t going to be moved or anything, but if they try to rebuild the smokehouse they’d have to do something about the smoke, so B’s will probably remain there until it collapses. Or until they go out of business for not cooking enough food to meet demand.
Jack Cobb’s is maybe 10 miles away from Bs, but was totally empty. Farmville is depressed and lonely, which is a shame, b/c the Cobb’s was freaking awesome. Jack and his wife(?) are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They seemed puzzled by the recent attention of being on the Trail, and by visitors from London and New York, etc., taking pictures in their parking lot. The interior space is immaculate but has no chairs. There is a falling-down screened box outside to eat in – it’s basically a take out business. The hush puppies were hot, un-greasy, and really great. Slaw is mustard-based, and was kept in a bucket in a cooler full of ice – a commitment to freshness. Really nice collards, slightly sweet and cooked until falling apart. But: for $12, we got a full side of ribs. It weighed 4 lbs, maybe more, with the back meat still attached. Hands down, the single best thing I ate on the trip. The back meat was lightly pulled into a julienne, probably from removing the skin, and dressed with the house vinegar sauce, tender and just a little chewy, tasting mostly of the sauce. Once you got through that, the rib meat was all smoky and rich. I am still in awe of this. On the way out of town, buying a cooler at CVS for the leftovers, the cashier said of the ribs: “you’re lucky, that’s what you are.” For the sake of form, we also had some chopped Q, and it was delicious, but the ribs stuck in my mind. Get to Cobbs!
Grady’s, was disappointing by comparison. It may have been our 3:00 arrival. It may be that they cook over charcoal now. But mostly, the chopped pork was heavy and greasy, compared to its rivals. They keep in a bit of skin, some of which was rather tough. There were a lot of flies in the place, our black-eyed peas were kinda sweet and kinda mushy (too old?), and the place just didn’t grab us the way others did. The Gradys themselves showed us around and were as nice as can be, we really enjoyed their company. But overall, it was a disappointment.
Next, we hit Skylight, at about 6:00 pm. Naco’s got it right: firing on all cylinders. If I had to choose one place’s pulled pork to eat, and never be allowed anyone else’s, I’d pick Skylight. Not greasy at all. Lightly smoky, lots of crisp bits of skin, just beautiful. Peter Jones was also a good sport, dealing with two crazies babbling about BBQ at the end of a long day, and the other staff, mostly younger folks, warmed up quickly to our interest in how things were made. Their cornbread is odd: water and corn meal baked in a tray greased with lard. That’s it. It’s kind of hard and flat. It invites a brief soaking in vinegar sauce. Mr. Zeau really liked it. I like hush puppies more. Slaw was very good, but slightly mayonaisey. When will people learn that mayonnaise is a lubricant, not an ingredient?!?
The next morning we went to Wilbur’s. This was Sunday. It’s open for breakfast, but they don’t start the Q until maybe 10:00 or 10:30. As usual, we toured the smokehouse, and go to chat with the man who pulled the pigs off and prep’d the meat. The Wilbur’s smokehouse is still the most wholesome feeling smokehouse around. The final product was fantastic. I don’t know if Wilbur’s has been up and down lately, since I go once every 24 months, but this was spot on, and why Wilbur’s remains near the top of every list. I still prefer their Brunswick stew to all others (we didn’t try Blackbeard’s, d’oh!) and their other sides are all worthy, even if not the best slaw or hush puppies or whatever in the State. And, their vinegar sauce was excellent as always. Solid tables, real silverware, fun waitresses, and heating and A/C all count, too. Bottom line for me is that, all around, Wilburs serves up the best meal package.
Finally, we tried Blackbeard’s. Easy to find – it’s on Alt-64 about 2 miles west of Conetoe and 2 miles east of route 303 where it crosses 64 proper. Big shark out front. The place has a much wider menu than the others (“C-food”) which does not bode well, but the Q was hardly steam-table stuff, and we smelled real hardwood at work in the back yard (which looks like every Yankee’s vision of the yee-haw South, with broken washing machines, dead cars, etc., piled up). The folks inside were super nice, but seemed worn down by life, and the place was cold and damp and disquieting. For our taste, both the Q and the sauce were too sweet. Not enough to be, like bad BBQ or anything, but compared to the delicacy of Wilburs and Skylight, the seasoning was overpowering and it was not in the same league. Great sides, though, the collards were excellent, and not sweet at all, and the field peas were smoky and tasty.
So, that’s one man’s view. Mr Zeau will surely comment at some point, too.
You are not alone in understanding B's. Their policy is when the pig runs out they close. It's almost a motto. I can't tell you how many times I've been there and left empty handed. It's just the way it is and the locals just seem to understand and can't get enough of it.
The B's facility must be "grandfathered" as far as health department code (a former gas station) goes and if it was to burn down the current facility could not be rebuilt anywhere near the same as it is now. I like it just the way it is. A true BBQ joint and a far cry from the new shiny tasteless stainless steel clad, gas cooked, imitators.
B's...no one that is familiar with B's really cares if they run out at 11:30...1:30...or 10:30. If they're out, they just show up tomorrow (a little earlier than they did the day before).
As far as "not being able to rebuild"...a common misconception. Anyone can build a bbq restaurant with a traditional wood burning pit and to cook the "old" way. Don't let anyone fool you to the contrary. North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Health has regulations for bbq places and nowhere do they say you can't use a traditional pit...you just have to build a pit room to their specs.
"Don't let anyone fool you to the contrary. North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Health has regulations for bbq places and nowhere do they say you can't use a traditional pit...you just have to build a pit room to their specs."
Blackbeard's, mentioned in this very thread, cooks with wood and is less than a decade old.
The situation at B's has nothing to do with construction techniques, or the NCDEH rules for BBQs, which simply say things like "smoke must be vented" and pits must be "free of garbage." It's likely a zoning issue.
Neither of us has any idea whether a BBQ joint could be legally placed, today, where B's now stands, and I'm certainly not going to look it up. The guys working the pit seemed to think that B's is grandfathered at its current location, and could not rebuild. Which is not surprising since B's in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and that rarely bodes well for commercial operations that generate smoke and dirt and noise and traffic.
Even if they could rebuild or renovate, they'd have to meet the City of Greenville building code which surely says things like "handicapped accessible" and "sufficient parking spaces" and "not falling down around you." Which means a lot of work and a lot of $. Which they probably don't have b/c they keep running out of BBQ to sell . . . .
I could understand if B's ran out of BBQ b/c they don't have enough grill space, and can't add another grill b/c they can't get a building permit b/c of their location, etc. But, I stood int he smokehouse, and they just left 3/4 of the grills empty, which just makes no sense to me. Here they are, putting 30 chickens on the grill at 11:30 b/c they ran out of food to sell, but who's coming at 2:30 to buy it when everyone knows they sell out at noon?
Whatever the story is, they could sell more Q if they put their minds to it.
Ive lived in Greenville for over 25 years. B's does exactly what they want to do and work the hours they want to work, period. B's serves good food and, by design, limits the quantity.
It is what it is. No phone, no fax, no reservations, no website or Facebook or Twitter etc. One day it will close for good and that will be it.
Thanks for the report.
I eat this stuff all the time, and I can't tell any difference between barbecue cooked on charcoal and barbecue cooked on wood.
I have heard that Blackbeard's is "too sweet" from a couple of folks I've turned on to that place. I don't get it myself. I always found Wilber's sauce to be much more overpowering(Wilber's is very spicy). But I usually either eat barbecue without extra sauce or with very light additional saucing.