In the eastern Carolinas, tradition dictates that barbecue pitmasters go the whole hog. Literally. Pigs, weighing upwards of 150 lb., are slowly smoked over fresh hardwood coals from dusk to dawn. It’s grueling work, fueled by a sense of historical purpose and stubborn pride. These places are communal gathering spots—and some of the best eating in the country.
Fertel is the author of The One True Barbecue: Fire, Smoke, and the Pitmasters Who Cook the Whole Hog
Scott’s Bar-B-Que (Hemingway, S.C.)
Begin your journey at Scott’s Bar-B-Que in this tiny town (pop. 459). Pitmaster-owner Rodney Scott is often on the road, traveling coast to coast and even across the world, to smoke pigs mopped with his fiery vinegar-pepper sauce. If he’s around, ask for a personal tour of his pithouse.
Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (Holly Hills, S.C.)
For a taste of something satisfyingly odd, head to Sweatman’s, hallowed ground for South Carolina’s famed mustard sauce. Open on Fridays and Saturdays only, the pulled pork here comes tinted a rich, golden yellow.
Grady’s Barbecue (Dudley, N.C.)
Come for the whole hog, but stick around for Gerri Grady’s astounding array of sides and her husband’s sweet-potato pie. Impossible to find without a GPS, this is my desert-island barbecue.
Bum’s Restaurant (Ayden, N.C.)
History—real and mythological—runs deep at Bum’s, where the Dennis family claims a pitmaster lineage dating to the 1800s. Larry Dennis preps whole hog as his forefathers did, in the eastern N.C. style: double-cleaver-chopped to a fine mince, and simply dressed with salt, pepper and apple-cider vinegar.
The Skylight Inn (Ayden, N.C.)
Across town, the Skylight Inn proclaims itself the “Bar-B-Q Capital of the World.” In 1984, founder Pete Jones topped the roof with a replica of the U.S. Capitol dome. That audacity contrasts with the simplicity of the menu, which since 1947 has centered on three items: chopped barbecue, coleslaw and unleavened cornbread fattened with hog lard.
Sam Jones BBQ (Winterville, N.C.)
Sam Jones likes to say that his parents put barbecue grease in his bottle to assure that he’d follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Pete. It’s a prophecy he’s more than fulfilled. Not only has he managed the Skylight since his grandfather’s passing, but his own place is a temple to the virtues of smoke.
Buxton Hall (Asheville, N.C.)
Housed in a former roller rink, this ambitious restaurant lets no wisp of smoke or drop of hog fat go to waste. Chef-owner Elliott Moss smokes collards above his pit and stirs pork drippings into his green beans.
Picnic (Durham, N.C.)
Pitmaster Wyatt Dickson and farmer Ryan Butler have joined forces to return to barbecue’s roots, with heritage-breed pigs raised for the smokehouse. The distance from pasture to Picnic’s pit is only about 12 miles.