A trip to down to North Carolina to visit my family was the perfect excuse to pay a visit to Wilber's Barbecue. Wilber's hasn't changed much if at all in the 26 years I've been eating there. Growing up, we'd stop at Wilber's on our way down to the beach on summer weekends and order barbecue, slaw, and bread (hush puppies) from the takeout counter. I didn't realize it at the time, but we were eating some of the best barbecue in the country and, in my opinion, the best Eastern Carolinastyle barbecuewhole hog smoked over an oakwood fire, chopped and dressed with a peppery vinegar sauce.
Wilber’s Barbecue is such a well-loved barbecue institution that the city of Goldsboro grandfathered it into its new air-quality controls. Owner Wilber Shirley can continue to burn wood in his pits, but when he dies, the restaurant must convert to gas cooking.
I left Raleigh with my dad and my husband around 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Our final destination was Morehead City, but the only thing I had on my mind was our stop at Wilber's, just about at the halfway mark in Goldsboro. Due to some heavy traffic and a detour to visit the Nahunta Pork Center, it was a little before 6:00 p.m. when we arrived at Wilber's.
We beat the dinner rush, so we decided to by-pass the takeout counter in favor of table service and grabbed a seat at one of the red checkered vinyl tablecloth covered tables. A pitcher of sweet tea, a cruet full of vinegary barbecue sauce, and the usual condiments were already on the table. Our waitress brought us menus, a basket of hot hush puppies, and took our drink order: 2 sweet teas, 1 unsweet. Wilber's hush puppies are worth a mention as they are some of the best of their kind. A little bit sweet and not too mealy.
We were short one, or else we'd have ordered the family dinner (all you can eat barbecue, fried chicken, and sides) so instead we all ordered the "Pit Cooked (Oak Wood) Barbecue Pork Plate" for $7.00. Along with the barbecue, it comes with coleslaw and potato salad. Waitresses bring out plates from the kitchen already plated with sides and drop them off for barbecue at the takeout counter. I watched hungrily as our plates made their way from the kitchen, to the takeout counter, to table.
What can I say. Wilber's is still as good as ever. The barbecue is a perfect blend of all the tastiest hog bits with a nice smoky flavor, and a spicy tang from the vinegar sauce. The perfect bite consists of a little bit of barbecue and a little bit of coleslaw, followed by a sip of sweet tea. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The potato salad is sweet and mustardy and while not my favorite I appreciate its homemade flavor. We finished things off with some " 'nana pudding," a fine example of the classic Southern dessert.
Wilber's (and Ed Mitchell) is the reason I was happy to become a charter member of the North Carolina Barbecue Society, but in case you need a second or third opinion I brought some Wilber's barbecue and coleslaw back to New York for the Serious Eaters. Adam Kuban, Kansas City barbecue lover and member of the Kansas City Barbecue Society declared Wilber's "the best barbecue I've had in New York City." Ed Levine, lover of all things pork, says "In an era of gas smokers and pre-fab barbecue, it is a pleasure to come across Wilber's, where the smell of the wood-burning pit permeates everything, even the cash register."