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Sam Jones Barbecue: wood fired taste rooted in eastern NC traditions

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The barbecue plate includes spare ribs, chopped barbecue, cornbread, sweet potato muffin, bakes beans, mac ’n’ cheese, and collards.


Christina Ruotolo

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It’s 5 a.m., and while you are sleeping, there is a loyal group of tradesmen in a smokehouse in Winterville shoveling hot coals and stacking wood into a massive brick chimney. Whole hogs are slow-roasting in the way they have for generations. Welcome to Sam Jones Barbecue, located at 715 W. Fire Tower Road near Pitt Community College. The restaurant takes time-honored family traditions and molds them into a more modern setting with chopped barbecue at its core.

Walk into the bright and airy restaurant and you automatically turn your head to the action in the open kitchen. Watch as a staff member chops barbecue with a big, shiny cleaver on a large, wooden board.You can hear the smack of the cleaver on the wood, and immediately your mouth begins to water. You can smell the smoked meats and feel it in your bones before the taste hits your tongue.

There is an open lunch counter with old-school stools, porcelain pigs hanging as lights from the ceiling and Southern music filling the air. It’s a high caliber of Southern flavor and atmosphere that Sam Jones stands behind.

“We try to cook the best barbecue we can and put value in our staff and our food,” Jones said. “We have a great staff that are taught about food service but also the art of Southern manners, ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘No, sir.’ They are the extension of my family values.”

For the last two years, Jones and his business partner, Michael Letchworth, have been serving up wood-fired meats and all the fixings, bringing you a family name you trust, fantastic food and sparking a fire in eastern North Carolina barbecue. Jones comes from humble eastern North Carolina roots. His grandfather, Pete, started Ayden’s famous Skylight Inn barbecue restaurant, which has remained a fixture in North Carolina culture for more than 70 years.

“Our restaurant is rooted in the principles of traditional wood-fired barbecue,” he said. “While honoring the heritage, you’ll find a few new spin on dishes with smoked meats. Barbecue is simple. Start with a good product, cook it the way it should be cooked, and you will see the reward for that on a smiling customer’s face.”

Sam Jones Barbecue offers a diverse menu with prices ranging from $2-$13.50. Menu items include barbecue plates, chopped barbecue, smoked turkey, chicken tenders, smoked wings (both from Craven County), catfish (Ayden), sandwiches, pork skins and pimento cheese. It also features salad, potatoes and mouthwatering sides including sweet slaw, baked beans, potato salad and mac ’n’ cheese. 

I decided to sample some of the most popular items: The barbecue plate with spare ribs, chopped barbecue, cornbread, sweet potato muffin, baked beans, mac ’n’ cheese and collards. I also ordered a nostalgic Cheerwine in a glass bottle. It was bright red and sweet, its taste a cross between cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper.

The collards, raised by Jones’ family in Ayden, are cooked in a flavorful stock to Southern perfection. The spare ribs had a dense coloring of pink just below the glossy barbecue-sauced surface. The ribs are lengthy and dense with tender meat. The flavor is smoky and well developed. Add a touch of the Sam Jones Sweet Sauce, and you will not be disappointed. The baked beans, made with seasoned ground beef, onions, bell peppers, barbecue sauce and a few secret ingredients, are the best I have ever tasted. The mac ’n’ cheese was creamy and satisfying.

Now about that chopped barbecue. The restaurant uses the whole hog, so you get a multitude of flavors and textures. It’s worth the price tag of $6.25 per sandwich. Add in a sweet potato muffin and a square of cornbread made with milled yellow corn, salt, water and hog drippings, and your barbecue meal is complete.

The flavors were incredible and nothing was sub-par. No matter what you select, you will be satisfied and come back for more of the tastes and traditions of eastern North Carolina.

I asked Jones what legacy he wants to leave behind when he’s gone. “What I do is a choice, it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “I’m passionate about preserving our heritage with food. That heritage is honest, pure and unwavering for what eastern North Carolina barbecue means. Whether here at home or at events all over the country, I want to have a positive impact with what we do.”.

Sam Jones Barbecue is open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 689-7946 or visit www.samjonesbbq.com.

Bone Appetit

The Humane Society of Eastern Carolina (HSEC) will host a Bone Appetit fundraising event from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday at Famiglia, 740 W. Fire Tower Road, Winterville. Five percent of all food and drink sales will be donated to HSEC. Write “for HSEC” on the receipt and alert the server.