If we don't say some place in the Old North State is one of our favorites, we'll be Tar Heel dead. Well, I love Ayden's Skylight Inn in eastern North Carolina. Wood is piled high where Pete Jones, 75, has cooked whole hogs from night till morning in this location since 1947. At noon he works at the counter beside his son and grandsons, as they serve customers small paper boats of barbecue. Behind them, a kitchen worker chops meat on a wooden block, rapping out the beat of the real song of the South.
The meat, moist and tangy with clear vinegar and pepper seasoning, is served with slaw and a dense cornbread made of hot grease, water, salt, and meal. That's it: barbecue in its simplest and purest form, created by a man who was born across the street.
"My mother raised 23 young'uns, 3 of her own and 20 for other people," Pete says. "We had to work as kids. When I was 7, she asked me if I wanted to stay in the house and cook or work in the fields. I said I would stay to the house."