North Carolina February 28, 2017
The Story Behind This Legendary BBQ Restaurant In North Carolina Will Fascinate You
It’s obvious that North Carolina is viewed as a BBQ state. We even have two different types that come with their own battles and disagreements over which reigns supreme. Thrillist recently listed the most iconic North Carolina restaurant as Skylight Inn in Ayden, and it got me thinking, what is the story behind this icon and how did it rise to fame amongst all of the other BBQ giants in the Tar Heel state?
In 1947, at the age of 17, Walter B. Jones, known as 'Pete' opened the Skylight Inn. Cooking whole hog over wood - it became the precedent for eastern style BBQ in North Carolina. To locals, it was always known as Pete Jones' BBQ and throughout the years remained fairly unchanged.
From the start, the business has remained family owned. The hickory coals that have been burning for years invigorate the BBQ with a classic taste rarely found in other BBQ joints. The recipe hasn't changed since Pete opened the business at 17. His grandson, Sam, started working in the family business as a teenager. His summers were filled with hot days in the AC-less kitchen, hands deep in cole slaw, helping his grandfather, the 'BBQ Don' run the business. Sam longed for something different, and perhaps a job with air conditioning, as the sweltering summer days of Eastern North Carolina began to take their toll. Sam worked off and on at the business throughout his youth and young adult years briefly studying at Pitt Community College.
In 2006, Pete died of a heart attack and at the time Sam inherited what some saw as a failing business. Skylight Inn had the reputation and the taste, but needed something different and new, which is exactly what Sam had in mind.
Even after Sam was taught to manage the books and cook the whole hog, the recipe was to remain the one thing solidified after Pete's death. The vinegar-based sauce has hints of black pepper and is served as a dressing instead of a sauce to bring out the flavor of the pork. What really makes it is the hog skin, a love or hate aspect that has won over BBQ connoisseurs from North Carolina and across the U.S. The BBQ is served with coleslaw and cornbread.
After Pete's death, the town was shaken and the business almost seemed to be plunging into failure. People wondered if with Pete's departure, the restaurant would also end. Sam had other plans, though.He chose to cook higher-priced hogs, and although it raised the usually-low prices, it added a new quality and attention to detail of the already meticulously perfected art of Skylight Inn BBQ. Over the years under Sam's ownership, Skylight Inn was featured on Travel Channel and Food Network as well as receiving a medal from the James Beard Foundation. While today Pete has been gone a decade, he still exists throughout the restaurant. The place is adorned in heaps of newspaper clippings, awards, BBQ competitions won, and even nods from presidents.
Sam recently opened a 'spin-off,' Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, outside of Greenville. While the BBQ remains the same, the new location also serves beer and wine. The exterior is large and airy but you still catch aromas of that classic wood-roasted pork. While Sam inherited a BBQ classic, he found a way to both reinvent and maintain the craft and meticulous perfection that is North Carolina BBQ.
While the BBQ in North Carolina is certainly delicious, the history of many of these beloved joints is just as captivating. Did you know the story behind Skylight Inn, have you dined here before?
If you’re like the rest of us and can’t get enough of BBQ, how about taking our
BBQ road trip across the state? Just bring your appetite!