For the third year, we’re profiling five of the most exciting new restaurants below the Mason-Dixon line—one per day, in the order that they opened.
Sam Jones BBQ, Winterville, North CarolinaOpened November 2015
Why can’t you find good barbecue just anywhere? There isn’t a lot of money in it. It takes all night to cook a hog, and diners still won’t pay much more for a tray of pork than they would for a fast food burger. “I tell people that cooking whole-hog barbecue over wood is financially irresponsible,” says Sam Jones, the third-generation heir to the legendary Skylight Inn in nearby Ayden. And yet, he is inspiring hope in smokehouses everywhere with his second restaurant.
(Photographs by Angie Mosier)
Jones still runs the pits at his bare-bones family business, where the four menu options are pork, chicken, slaw, and dense, chewy cornbread, made from a century-old recipe. “Skylight is such an original that I didn’t think it made sense to screw with it,” he says. But just ten minutes away, he now serves everything from loaded baked potatoes to spare ribs. “I didn’t know what folks around here would think about that,” he says. “We’re picky people.”
The place has been packed since it opened last month, from the drive-through line to the marble-topped bar. Because despite those modern touches, a raging fire still burns day and night in the smokehouse off to the side. Making barbecue the old-fashioned way is hot, time-consuming work, but it’s worth the trouble for the pit master and his family.
From left: Sam Jones chops barbecue; Eric Beaton works the pits.
“We went to extreme lengths to convince the state to let us build a smokehouse,” he says. “Me cooking by any other means than my family has for all these years would be like—‘In other news, Billy Graham starts a satanic church and Sam Jones is cooking with gas.’ My family, historically, has always thought very small. This is already a big step for us.”
Sharing a street with a handful of fast food giants, it’s also a vision of a delicious future.
Don’t miss: The spare ribs, sweet, meaty baked beans, or chopped pork.
See more top 2015 restaurants:>The Year in Restaurants: Biscuit Love>The Year in Restaurants: Shaya>The Year in Restaurants: The Farmer & the Larder>The Year in Restaurants: The Dabney