The North Carolina barbecue story is an unending tale of people, land and traditions, a tale written in pork fat and sweat.
Two cookbooks from two of the state’s new generation of pitmasters puts some of those stories down on paper.
Sam Jones comes from N.C. barbecue royalty. He is the grandson of the late Skylight Inn founder Pete Jones and owns his own barbecue restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ, in Winterville, about 7 miles south of Greenville.
Matthew Register taught himself how to smoke pork on a small charcoal grill and now owns Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland in Sampson County.
Each make some of the most acclaimed barbecue one can buy in a state obsessed with smoky pork.
Jones’ book, “Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue,” co-written with Daniel Vaughn, is more of a window into an eastern North Carolina way of life than it is a book of recipes, though there are recipes. Jones, a James Beard Award semifinalist, reveals the secrets of whole-hog barbecue and treasured family recipes that he serves at his restaurant. A downtown Raleigh location is in the works.
Register’s “Southern Smoke: Barbecue, Traditions and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today” takes its name from his two-days-a-week restaurant, which sells out every Thursday and Friday. The book uses barbecue as a launching point for many of the Southern sides and grilled meats Register is known for.
Jones’s book includes recipes and techniques, but whole-hog doesn’t lend itself to a traditional cookbook.
“I didn’t want it to be a traditional cookbook,” Jones said. “I wanted to share recipes and obviously how to do whole hog. ... I look at that book as a piece of a bigger puzzle. I never thought I would get to write a book. I didn’t think of a sequel or anything. I just packed in everything I could, every story I could think of. I’m super proud of it. Even if no one reads it, it’ll be in the Library of Congress forever. ... I didn’t take it lightly and pinch myself all the time that I got to write it.
Register’s book looks at many of his side dishes.
“You know, we’re not your typical barbecue place,” Register said. “Our sides are a little crazy and funky. That was the point of the book. Everything in the book is something we serve in the restaurant or on our catering menu. I wanted you to learn my philosophy on barbecue and food and why some of these things are important to us. I don’t think people understand how ingrained rice is in who we are, or how important the foods of West Africa and the Sierra Leone are on Southern food. Okra, rice, tomatoes, people in this day and age don’t know what makes something Southern and why.”