Sam Jones — he of the Skylight InnBBQ Joneses* — recently opened Sam Jones BBQ, just a few miles from the Skylight Inn in Winterville, NC, just south of Greenville. I seized the opportunity to eat there on the way back from the beach. It is terrific. Absolutely terrific.
And here are two of the reasons: John (with the beard) and Steve. I’m in the middle, hoping some talent rubs off on me.
These two artists — John, especially, according to Steve — do the actual cooking. That takes place in a separate building a few feet from the restaurant. There’s a central fire where the oak logs are burned to produce coals, and four big new metal pits.
(The Skylight Inn still uses the old brick pits with a rack over them.) The fire
makes it incredibly hot inside the building, even with the barn-sized doors wide open. Steve says that when they step outside (into the 97 degree heat), it feels like air conditioning.
They cook whole hogs over oak coals in the metal pits.
They also have a J & R smoker for the ribs and poultry. It uses the same oak coals, but has a fan for temperature control.
I’m not a big fan of smokers, as opposed to pits, especially for pork and ribs. They usually produce a mediocre or poor product. But then, Brandon Woodruff at the Pendergast Smokehouse in Amsterdam, Netherlands, does an amazing job with his Old Hickory smoker, so I’ll keep an open mind. I have confidence in John and Steve.
I ordered a pork plate with cole slaw and potato salad, and the signature Jones cornbread.
I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but that’s a lot of pork. A lot of outstanding pork, flecked with the bits of skin that, like the Skylight Inn, they mix in to provide additional flavor. It works. It was excellent. Hats off to John and Steve.
Nancy got the turkey with slaw and a baked potato, and gave me her cornbread. She also asked that the “loaded baked potato” not be loaded (with all the good stuff), so they didn’t charge the extra $2.50. That’s how she stays so slim and trim.
Nancy was enthusiastic. She loved the turkey. It was a large portion. She ate about half and made dinner out of the other half when we got home. Another win for John and Steve.
We both thought the cole slaw was chopped a little too fine, and that the dressing was on the sweet side. I don’t remember the Skylight Inn slaw being that finely chopped or that sweet. And the potato salad was okay. The cornbread was very good. I had found it a bit overwhelming at the Skylight Inn (probably because I had just eaten a big lunch at B’s), but I really enjoyed it here. I ate mine and almost all of Nancy’s.
The pork is very freshly chopped. I could hear them chopping batches twice while we were there. It’s beautiful music, the two cleavers cutting through the meat and skin on the big cutting board.
Sam Jones is a big, airy space with a high ceiling and a contemporary feel.
Service is fast and friendly, and they look after you to refill your iced tea and see if you need anything. Sam Jones has a broader menu than the Skylight Inn, with ribs, turkey, more sides, salads, and some fried stuff. Frankly, I don’t expect to venture beyond the chopped pork, slaw, and cornbread, except perhaps to try their macaroni and cheese. They also have beer. If I were staying nearby, I would venture a beer, perhaps two, instead of North Carolina’s signature soft drink, Cheerwine. Sam Jones has a good selection, including some craft beers.
Hop in your car and drive to Sam Jones BBQ. And say, “Hey” to John and Steve for me.
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* Pete Jones opened the Skylight inn in 1947, when he was 17 years old. (Feel free to mention that to your teenage children.) Since then, the Skylight Inn has become famous and the Jones family is one of the top names in barbecue. Mr. Jones passed in 2006, and the Skylight Inn is now run by Bruce, Jeff, and Sam Jones. They have maintained the tradition, and do a great job cooking whole pigs over oak. .