The Sam Jones BBQ in Raleigh cuts no corners
Sam Jones BBQ | 502 W Lenoir Street, Raleigh, North Carolina | 984-206-2555
A confession: Before moving to Raleigh, I rarely ate pork.
It’s not because I grew up in a Jewish home (my family didn’t keep kosher) in Connecticut, but more because my parents, and apparently everyone in the Northeast, didn’t. no idea how to cook a pork. Every chop I tried was dry and tasteless – the kind you chew too much because you dread swallowing. So with the exception of the bacon, this is what I thought was pork – a tasteless piece of blah gray.
Luckily, the pigs at Sam Jones BBQ are anything but blah. It’s both sweet and savory, and the naturally smoky flavors require minimal accessories. That’s because this place doesn’t take any shortcuts – on a busy day, they grill three whole pigs, head and all, on a massive grill.
The highly anticipated barbecue opened in February of this year at 502 W. Lenoir Street, tucked just west of downtown. This is Sam Jones BBQ’s second outpost; the first opened in Winterville (near Greenville), in 2015. The Raleigh location was once home to Dusty’s Garage and pays homage to the auto store with a photo of Dusty’s family on the wall and retaining the flooring from origin, scratches and all, giving the space a unique feel.
Sam Jones has his own famous story. Sam learned the ropes from his grandfather, Pete Jones, who perfected the family’s classic East Carolina barbecue recipe at the Skylight Inn, which opened in Ayden, North Carolina, in 1947. Skylight established itself nationally for its classic whole pork approach.
âWe’re not taking any shortcuts,â says Adam Bauer, chef at the Raleigh site. âNothing here is fixed. Everything comes fresh. We do not have a freezer on site. We are truly proud to convey this Southern hospitality that you will find at home here to customers.
The seasoning is minimal – just salt, pepper, hot sauce and vinegar – and the magic happens on the grill.
Around 1 p.m., three whole pigs sliced ââin the center are placed on the grill at 250 degrees until around 10 p.m. Then they cut off the heat, but keep the pigs overnight, so that they continue to cook. In the morning, they rekindle the heat and crisp the skin. The pigs are then ground up and the skin removed but tossed to add a hint of that charred, smoky texture.
âIt all comes together and equates to that perfect bite in the mouth,â says Bauer.
When I passed on a recent Thursday night, the restaurant was almost empty – a rarity I hear, as there is often a queue at the door for lunch and dinner. But soon after we took our seats outside on the picnic benches, families and couples started to show up.
I ordered the three-meat combo with ribs, smoked turkey, and the classic pork with a side of sweet coleslaw and collard greens. It comes with a dense piece of cornbread that almost looks like a brick. This is because it is not meant to be gnawed on its own – its ultimate use is in absorbing the extra sauce and meat.
The sides were on point, with a coleslaw so finely chopped it’s hard to tell what’s inside (not that it matters; it’s delicious).
Ribs are another popular Sam staple – juicy and flavorful but with the proper amount of charcoal. I quickly stripped them to the bone. The turkey wasn’t particularly memorable, but the pork more than delivered with its perfect balance of salty salty goodness.
If you can save room for dessert, I would recommend the Banana Pudding, a sweet and spongy delight. But if you prefer to drink to help you digest, Jay the Butcher Cocktail is an old-fashioned bourbon with bourbon infused with pork fat for a unique smoky flavor.
You can find hot new versions of Southern-style cuisine all over the downtown Raleigh food scene, but sometimes you just want to get back to basics. Sam Jones offers barbecue in the most classic sense of the word. It definitely hits the spot.
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