Barbecue in North Carolina is its own religion with flocks of followers frequenting quaint diners, backyard pig pickings, church fundraisers, weddings, any celebratory event and even celebrations of lives lost. Before the sun comes up, workers can be found huddled in the cookhouse and kitchens preparing whole hogs to perfection, then chopping the cooked barbecue into seasoned masterpieces.

Recipes like this have been passed down for generations, and for the past 60-plus years, Parker’s Barbecue restaurants in Wilson and Greenville have been taking these time-honored traditions and serving up generous helpings of delicious food. It continues to be a family-owned and operated business with roots that start generations before on the Tar River and wind their way down the river in a boat with a few pieces of fresh-cut timber and a dream.

In the 1940s, Richard Parker sold timber and found that two large trees that hung over the Tar River on his timber tract were rejected by the lumber company. Parker gave these two trees to his two sons, Ralph and Graham. They rode with the logs down the river, eventually using that wood in the building of their new restaurant, Parker’s Barbecue, which opened in Wilson in 1946. It wasn’t until the 1960s that their brother J.C. Parker decided to open a second store in Greenville off Memorial Drive, now currently owned by his grandson, Billy Parker. They currently have three locations: 3109 S. Memorial Drive; 2020 S.E. Greenville Blvd.; and 1801 E. Arlington Blvd.

Parker’s Barbecue’s mission is to “impact our employees, our customers and vendors through Christ-like service.” Its core values are to give back to the community with integrity, making a difference, passion, appreciation, compassion and teamwork - elements relating to different verses from the Bible from Proverbs to Ecclesiastes. Billy Parker feels that Parker’s Barbecue is God’s business, and he’s thankful he’s allowed to steward it.

Parker’s is known for creating an environment that goes beyond the ordinary and gives customers a slice of Southern Americana that so many Americans crave. Sundays in the South are synonymous with morning worship followed by a family-style meal with plentiful sides and conversation.

I love how I feel like I’m stepping back in time when I eat at Parker’s on Memorial Drive. The walls are adorned with black-and-white photos of hog farming and livestock in Pitt County over the past decades. The restaurants are all open and airy with plenty of seating. You can bring the whole family, and you’re sure to find a seat. Billy wants people to come in, eat great food and make memories around the table.

“We feed off the energy of others; it’s just our nature. When we see people laughing and eating good family-style meals, it makes us feel good, too,” Billy said.

Billy also believes in the power of a smile. The servers always greet me with a smile when I visit Parker’s.

“You never know what that customer is dealing with in their lives before they walk in our doors. We only have that one chance to make them smile and give them a good feeling. Our goal is to impact then positively,” Billy said.

Now let’s talk about the food. The diverse menu items available include not only barbecue and fried chicken but Southern staples like fried oysters, fresh fish, gizzards, fried liver and yummy shrimp. The sides include boiled potatoes, creamy macaroni and cheese and fried okra.

One of my favorite meals is the large combination plate. You get a large helping of perfectly seasoned chopped whole-hog barbecue, a large crispy white-meat fried chicken breast with a choice of two sides and tangy coleslaw. My favorite sides are the country-style green beans and hearty and rich Brunswick stew. I also like getting a mixture of hush puppies and corn sticks. I never met a hush puppy or corn stick I didn’t like. Everything about this meal to me signifies family and togetherness. Home-cooked Southern food feeds our souls.

I finally had enough courage to try the popular fried gizzards and fried liver. The gizzards tasted like a salty and chewy slice of seasoned meat and were pretty good. People also love the fried liver with its smooth texture and flavor. I only tried a bit; I think I’ll stick with the pig.

Billy hopes to not only touch customers physically with great food, but also spiritually through ministry outreach. There is a corporate chaplain that visits the three locations every Thursday, making himself available to pray with customers and employees or to offer words of encouragement.

“(In the end) it won’t matter how many barbecue sandwiches we sold or how many chickens customers purchase,” Billy said. “It will only matter how many lives around me our family was able to impact.”

On the menus and back of the receipts, Parker’s Barbecue lifts a verse from First Corinthians that the family will continue to live by to provide you with excellent service, food and fellowship: “So whatever you do, eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

For more information on Parker’s Barbecue restaurants and to view the catering menu, visit the website www.parkersbbq.com.

National Doughnut Day

Friday is National Doughnut Day.

To celebrate, Krispy Kreme, 300 E. 10th St., will offer customers one free doughnut of any variety, while supplies last.

Dunkin’ Donuts locations will offer patrons a free doughnut of their choice, while supplies last, with the purchase of any beverage all day Friday. Two new doughnut varieties will be available: Vanilla Cake Batter Donut and Dunkin’ Donuts Sprinkles Donut. Dunkin’ Donuts also has introduced new S’mores flavored coffees.

Send information to hotdish@reflector.com.