The heavy scent of a good barbecue restaurant will seep into your hair and clothes, said Jane and Michael Stern in Gourmet, “and your car will glow with the sweet aroma for hours after you leave.” In eastern North Carolina, the very best whole-hog, smoke-cooked pork is served at the Skylight Inn in Ayden. Fittingly, a cathedral-like steeple tops the restaurant, and the counter inside is “like an altar.”
The Skylight refuses to make any concession to modernity, insisting that good smoke-cooking has nothing to do with sauces. Many pit masters today find that cooking cuts of meat individually is more efficient than grilling the whole hog. The Skylight, however, insists on doing things the old way. Late every afternoon, the pit master puts oak logs on a fire until they turn into charcoal. He then arrays halved hogs on top of the grill. The coals are replenished at midnight and again at dawn. No thermostats are used. Salt, pepper, vinegar, and hot sauce are then added, though “nothing is measured out.” The result is velvety, soft meat with “shockingly crunchy nuggets of skin.” Served with unleavened corn bread and coleslaw, the pork is “insanely succulent.” If that’s not your idea of heaven, “do not go to the Skylight Inn.” 4618 S. Lee St., (252) 746-4113
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