Talkin' Pig Pickin' with Sam Jones


You might remember Sam Jones from season four’s “Stand By Your Cabbage” episode. Sam and his family are legends in the world of whole hog barbecue: his father and uncle own the Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, N.C. and Sam owns Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, near Greenville, N.C. As autumn and pig pickin’ season approaches, we decided to pick Sam’s brain about pickin’ a pig.

What are the essential elements that define a pig pickin’ for you?
To me, a pig pickin’ is more than eating a meal. The most important thing to me is that it is, in fact, the whole animal. This is what historically defined barbecue in eastern North Carolina. Whole hog cookery once heavily dotted the map in our part of the state, and sadly doesn’t exist as it once did.

It also has a social aspect, an element other meals cannot achieve. The whole hog splayed out on a pit with smoke billowing from it is like holding an AA class by a bar! People gravitate to it. That's where all the action is at a pig pickin’.

Do you use a different method when cooking a pig for a pig pickin’ than when cooking a pig to chop up into barbecue?
I personally do not cook the hog any different. However, some like to display it a bit different. For instance, if you are going to allow your guests to just have at it, you may want to go ahead disassemble/mix it a bit to help the newbies out. By this, I’m referring to mixing a little of the ham and shoulder with a touch of belly to arrive at an even moist mix. First timers, bless their hearts, may be a bit squeamish about seeing the whole hog. By mixing a little together, their time at the pit will be minimal!  

Some folks remove certain parts of the pig for a pig pickin’. What is your method?
Seasoned pig pickin’ folk have their favorite parts. Whether it’s the belly (bacon), or the ham, or shoulder, veterans know pig anatomy. However, you can help them by pulling the ribs and backbone from the animal and sitting them to the side. Some folks go straight for them, which will expedite things bit.

Best side to go with a pig pickin’?
I personally think a sweet coleslaw is a perfect side for a pig pickin’. Whether we split hairs over whole vs. shoulders, or tomato/no tomato in sauce, the one thing most North Carolina barbecue lovers agree on is vinegar is a must either way. The acidity vinegar, in my opinion, enhances pork’s natural flavor. The sweetness of a classic eastern North Carolina coleslaw creates a perfect balance. Put that on a bun and it’s a 10!

Favorite time of year for a pig pickin’?
Contrary to popular belief, I’m not an old man. Even at a mere 36, I remember pig pickin’s being a harvest time event. Eastern North Carolina even today is made up of a lot of farmland. It was the same way in my youth, but with many more farmers. Pig pickin’ was a way of saying thank you other than cash. Therefore, I think fall is my favorite time of the year to do it. I also like fall pig pickin’s because it’s not 95 degrees outside!