Just about ten minutes outside of Greenville in the small town of Ayden sits one of the most iconic barbecue joints in eastern North Carolina, Pete Jones Skylight Inn. Recently featured on Food Network's Man vs. Food, Skylight has been feeding locals and adventurers for over fifty years with its classic whole hog East NC style barbecue under the unmistakable dome building.
It had been awhile since I last journeyed to Ayden for a taste of the legendary barbecue, but a random craving this week sent me up there for a large pile of the infamous eats. Most barbecue eaters usually equate barbecue with some kind of sauce, but East NC style tends to use almost no sauce, if any just a few dashes of a peppery vinegar splash. Skylight keeps that on the side, however, and one ups the competition by doing something a little different, chopping all the wonderful crackling and gristle into the barbecue to give it character, fat, and an extra kick that makes their already fragrant, sweet/smoky wood-burned pork stand out from others in the area.
Admittedly, this might not be for everyone; the barbecue is a little fattier and has more texture then the average pulled pork around Greenville, which can either be a blessing for some or a bit of a turn off. For me, all those crispy bits of pork skin and gristle make it some of the best barbecue I've had on this side of the state, adding an extra touch of saltiness and complexity that really adds to the barbecue in ways others can't. A real standout.
Alongside the barbecue comes two sides, their trademark cornbread and slaw. Sorry, no hush puppies, fries, collards, or whatnot - just cornbread and slaw, take it or leave it. Their slaw is a finely chopped, cold, creamy, slightly tangy neon green thing that pairs really well with the barbecue, but - for me at least - the cornbread is kind of perplexing. A giant, heaping piece of thick, crispy on the outside and kind of soft, but chewy interior bread, it's both necessary and somewhat daunting to take on just because of its incredible size. The crispy exterior is actually really nice though, and a few bites into it there's something sort of comforting about it that somehow makes it work with everything. I can never finish a whole hunk, but I don't mind having it there at all.
Barbecue is their business at Skylight Inn, and besides from the pork and on Thursday and Friday's their stellar barbecued chicken (also worth stopping for, but the barbecue first), there isn't anything else going on unless you just want some coleslaw. The barbecue also comes in sandwich form, but I think the best way to enjoy it is in a tray combo, which lets you work at it at your own pace without combining the flavors into one big mess. Affordable, flavorful, and an experience in its own right, Skylight is definitely a place you have to make a trip out for and try at least once if you're living in the Greenville/Eastern NC area.