The Great Wayne County Barbecue Video

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some o’erthrown by the North Carolina Department of Transportation;
Some poison’d by the North Carolina Department of Revenue
                                                                          W. Shakespeare

The Wayne County, North Carolina, government has created a video about the County’s role in the history of Eastern North Carolina style barbecue.  I saw it – and you should watch it — on the Barbecue Bros website.

The Wayne County video recounts and inspiring, a noble barbecue history. You see a long roll call of great barbecue places, Paganinis of the Pit, and you see great pork producers.  The pork producers are still there, and the sight of the Nahunta sign is still there to make hearts soar; but the barbecue places are long gone.  Even mighty Wilber’s is gone.

Let’s pause for a moment and pay tribute to Pitt County, North Carolina.  Today, Pitt County  (Ayden, Greenville, Winterville, Farmville) is the epicenter of Eastern North Carolina Barbecue, its heart and soul.  Sorta.  Pitt County is the home of Bum’s and the Skylight Inn, both in Ayden and, respectively,  the best and second best Eastern North Carolina barbecue places in all Creation, as well as B’s, Sam Jones, and Jack Cobb —  all certified as wood-only by the Campaign for Real Barbecue.  (If you’re thinking about college, East Carolina is right there.)

What has Pitt County done right that Wayne County missed?  Where are the Wilber’s of yesteryear?

wilber's sign

My heart is in the coffin there with Wilber’s,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

And that may take a while, as the possible revival of Wilber’s currently is stuck in the courts over some engineering issue that, I’m willing to wager, has nothing do with the pit.  All that is left among the legions of great wood-cooked whole hog barbecue places in Wayne County is Grady’s.


Now I dearly love Grady’s.  I was appalled that it is not featured in the African American History Museum here in Washington.  Wayne County rightly can trumpet being the home of Grady’s.  I recommend it to everyone who gets anywhere near Wayne County, but it is lonely now.  How long will the Grady’s, beautiful people that they are,

the gradys

toil and sweat before, like Keith Allen, they decide to retire to rest and relax in the cool sequestered vale of life?

What then for Wayne County?   declare itself a Barbecue Sanctuary County and bar agents of the Department of Revenue from barbecue places?  But this is no time for what-ifs and recriminations.  The question now is, who will rein in the tormenting agencies, including the Department of Transportation which, having wreaked havoc in Wayne County, is now slithering  into Lexington, hell-bent on the wanton destruction of Smiley’s — for a start?

Let us all honor the folks of Wayne County for all they have done to develop and provide great barbecue, and let us ask the government of the State of North Carolina, tormentor of barbecue in Wayne County and beyond,  (1) whether they are acting from ignorance, incompetence, or malice or all of the above ( I suspect Al Quaeda, but … ); and (2) when they’re going to clean up their dang act.

Meanwhile, support all of your local barbecue places.  Take a minor detour and eat at Grady’s when you’re driving down 70 to the beach.  Spend a couple of days in Greenville to eat at Bum’s and the other great places in Pitt County.  Most of all, make an effort to eat at the traditional places out in the country near and kinda near and way the heck away from you.  I mean the places celebrated by John Shelton Reed’s recent article, the ones that still cook with wood only, the ones that are closed on Sunday and don’t serve liquor, the ones where you can eat with poor folks and rich folks, and where you can recapture and taste the glory days of Wayne County.


And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box.  Or bookmark us and check in from time to time.  If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event).  Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome.  And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.


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