A colossal heap of split oak towers in the backyard of The Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina, the legendary BBQ joint where pitmaster Sam Jones got his start. It’s a fitting monument to the generations his family has been smoking whole hogs, since the 1830s, when his great-great-great-grandfather sold smoked pork out of a covered wagon.
The Skylight opened in 1947, and Jones grew up working there alongside his father and grandfather. In many ways, Jones was destined to be a pitmaster, but he was initially hesitant to devote his life to it: “When I was young, I was a little bit embarrassed of Skylight," Sam admitted. That changed after Jones wrote a college term paper on the history of barbecue and realized it wasn’t just about slogging away, elbow-deep in coleslaw: “I saw it no longer as a job, but as a way of life.”
Jones dropped out of school to help out back home after his grandfather fell ill, and he never looked back. After the Southern Foodways Alliance made a short film about Skylight, fame followed. In 2003, Skylight Inn was awarded the James Beard "America's Classics" Award, and he opened a second location, Sam Jones BBQ, soon after. He’s traveled the country to tell his family’s story, and it's a heritage you can smell, see, and taste when you cook with him in our BBQ class.
“BBQ is a primitive food that doesn’t need a lot of adulteration,” he says. “My family has cooked whole hog BBQ for over 100 years, and you don’t spend the time and energy cooking whole animals over wood to mask it with sauce.” That means when you bite into his pork, cleaved by hand into a pile of juicy meat and crispy skin, you taste pig, smoke, and the slight tang of his iconic Carolina-style vinegar sauce—in that order.
Most home cooks are used to grilling on a searing-hot flame. But Sam Jones will show you how to turn down the heat to harness the smoke: it’s what makes the pork succulent, the ribs toothsome but tender, and the chicken moist with skin that’s golden, not burnt. Of course, it wouldn’t be a full-on BBQ without the sides, and Jones’s approach couldn’t be simpler or more satisfying. His cornbread combines only a few ingredients before it's “oven-fried” in bacon fat; his baked beans and sweet slaw are uncomplicated, but represent a long legacy of pitmaster tradition.
We know you’ll enjoy not only the true taste of Carolina-style BBQ, but also the BBQ “way of life,” which requires less panache than it does patience. So get those coals smoldering, pull up a chair, and pop open a cold one: a sensational meal awaits!