The Tar Heel State's flat, fertile coastal plain frames the most sacred sweep of barbecue holy land in the South. Eastern North Carolina is whole hog country. In fragrant clouds of smoke and steam, the region's best pitmasters painstakingly cleave the meat from slow-cooked, wood-scented pigs. The region's time-honored sauce is vinegar-based and administered with a light hand. Discover the singular spin each joint puts on its sublime chopped pork and distinctive sides by making your own scrumptious pilgrimage.
Steve Grady buys his hogs from a producer a mile down the road and sleeps only a few hours a night while tending his brick pits solo. His dedication yields smoky pork that melts on the tongue, amped up by the region's spiciest sauce, rife with chile flakes. 919/735-7243
Wilber's basks in its status as a community institution since 1962. Beachgoers make it a habitual stop, as do devotees of the wood-smoked pork (whose sauce thrums with extra zing), oblong hush puppies, and crispy fried chicken thighs. wilbersbarbecue.com
Jack Cobb and Son Barbecue Place
The only seating at this Wednesday/Friday/Saturday spot is a screened hut with picnic tables. Stop for the pork sandwich, topped with mustardy slaw, and soulful veggies, such as stewed cabbage and vinegar-tinged potatoes. 252/753-5128.
Arrive at this joint—open only on Saturday—by 1 p.m., lest the locals clean out the place first. Seek this one out for the exquisite harmony among its finely tuned dishes, with frilly, freshly made coleslaw balancing the piquant pork. morrisbarbeque.com
Less than a mile from Skylight Inn, this charmer with turquoise booths shows how different whole hog 'cue can be, even in the same town. The Dennis family chops pork more coarsely and mixes in less skin for a leaner, more velvety result. bumsrestaurant.com
You can't miss the building with a replica of the United States Capitol dome atop its roof. Samuel Jones and his family fold a goodly amount of crispy bronzed skin into the unctuous pork (minced so vigorously they replace the wooden chopping block every year). skylightinnbbq.com