After my non-barbecue visit with Jim and Cantey, I returned to my attack on the Our State magazine list of 26 Essential NC Barbecue Places. I earlier had despaired of ever getting to Morris Barbeque because it’s only open on Saturdays, and only for lunch. Hookerton is off the beaten path, and to try Morris on the way to or from the beach, I would have to ignore some truly great barbecue places, most notably Bum’s in Ayden.
But anything for the Blog. The 4th Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking — the immediate and overriding reason for this trip, started at 4:00, and what better way to prepare than try a new place? I also had convinced myself that Morris cooks with wood, and that I could document that and add it to the Campaign for Real Barbecue list of places that cook True ‘Cue.
Hookerton, a not very wide place in the road in Greene County, is in farm country. The town’s population peaked at 467 in 2000, but is down to 396 now. I drove up and saw a low white building with a cookhouse off to the side. It is a quiet, lovely setting.
If you stand in the middle of the road, you can get a better picture. Or you can see them on their website.
Morris serves a steady stream of people, many getting barbecue to go. Morris has limited indoor seating, but they have six picnic tables outside under cover, and with a ceiling fan. It’s pleasant, out in the country with a mix of friendly people, and shade trees helping to keep it cool. It is a lovely setting.
You order at a window and take your food to one of the picnic tables. I ordered a barbecue plate with slaw, which is the only side. I suppose you also can order pork skins or a slice of cake as a side. And they give you a few hushpuppies.
As you can see, the pork had a fine chop, and it had been tossed with a very good vinegar and pepper sauce. The pork was pretty tasty, a slow-cooked pork usually is, but there was no hint of smoke flavor. I’ve tasted wood-cooked barbecue that had very light smoke taste, but this had none that I could discern. The hushpuppies were good, grease-free, and the slaw was crisp and very refreshing.
I bought a bottle of sauce and asked if they cooked the pork in the smokehouse. The fellow got defensive, explained that it got to be too much trouble, and insisted at length that the flavor of barbecue is all in the sauce: wood doesn’t matter.
As good as their sauce is, the use of a wood-fired pit and good wood smoke, with the pork fat dripping onto the coals and adding pork fat smoke — that could send Morris’ pork to the next level. Sure, slow roasted pork tossed with vinegar and pepper — or in the Islands with sour orange juice and garlic — tastes good, great if you really know what you’re doing. It’s a wonderful combination, merging acidity with richness. But the wood smoke flavor is what makes barbecue so special. As it is, and considering the alternatives nearby, there’s not much reason, at least in terms of food, to go to Morris other than perhaps to buy some sauce. I wish I had continued on to Syd’s Catering down in Beaulaville. They, too, are only open Saturdays, and they cook with wood. Of course, I’d have to get up early, as I hear they often run out by noon. Wood smoke does that.