Sunday, May 31, 2009

Adventures in Pig Country

I've been doing a lot of work up in the Raleigh-Durham area, which means a lot of dull four-and-a-half hour drives up I-95. But, as it turns out, my handy electronic barbecue restaurant finder also has the capability for recommending driving routes between two cities (who knew?). It told me that I could make the trip to Durham up U.S. 41 rather than the Interstate, which not only saves a few minutes but is far more scenic.

This has led to some good barbecue, including a little detour over to Wilber's in Goldsboro a few weeks ago and, on my last trip, at stop at Shuler's in Latta.

Wilber's is perhaps the quintessential Eastern NC barbecue joint, one of the few left that actually cooks solely with wood (Wilber Shirley uses oak). The interior looks the way most restaurants looked when I was a kid: brown paneling and red checkered tablecloths. The place is big, too, with two broad dining rooms that seat up to 300 people.

I had a barbecue plate with chopped pork, a finely-minced coleslaw, potato salad, and golden brown hushpuppies, and it was wicked good. I didn't have my camera with me on that trip, but I did get a t-shirt:

As much of a legend as Wilber's is, I have to say that, in my book, Schuler's of Latta is equally worth a stop on a long drive through the Carolina swamps.

It's in a big log cabin building off the side of Highway 38, an all-you-can-eat buffet that's open (like so many SC BBQ joints) just Thursday through Saturday. The chopped pork was good, but for me the star were the ribs--thick, meaty, and very smoky. I can't say for sure, but I think that Shuler's cooks over charcoal (an assumption based upon the fact that there were a bunch of huge sacks of charcoal stacked up out front). In any event, it's good barbecue, and the side dishes (several dozen of them to choose from) will guarantee you leave with a groaning belly.

Along the way, I uncovered a business I never new existed before: Hog Slat.

That's right, Hog Slat (singular).

I had no idea what this business was, but the name intrigued me, and I passed by several different outlets on my circuitous route back from Goldsboro to Charleston. Hog Slat, later research revealed, is the "world leader in swine production solutions." Which is a relief, even though I didn't realize we had swine production problems. As it turns out, a "hog slat" is used on the floor of pig nurseries--a sort of reinforced concrete floor with slits in it, which I can only assume is so that the, er, unwanted materials, pass down through the floor to be carried out to somewhere else. Which is about as much about large-scale hog farming as I need to know.

I've also passed by several billboards for the Nahunta Pork Center in Pikeville, which claims to have "The Country's Largest Pork Retail Display." Now this is the kind of thing that it's hard to pass up, but I was pressed for time on my last few trips. I'll be heading back up in a week or two, so lookout, Pikeville, here I come. I'll make sure to pack a cooler.

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