I'm on a tour of the barbecue pits of North and South Carolina, in search of the finest chopped whole hog around. Along the way, I've learned a few truths: first, that nothing washes down the smoky, fatty shreds of pork better than sweet tea; second, that banana pudding is the only way to end a barbecue meal, and third, that on some occasions, the pit will serve not only chopped pork but also deep-fried poultry parts.
While most barbecue pits in North Carolina serve a mixture of chopped pork taken from hogs smoked for hours over hardwood, a few establishments will also dabble in innards. Thus far, I've eaten platters of enjoyably salty and chewy gizzards—first, from Wilber's Barbecue in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and second, from the Currituck BBQ Company just outside of Kitty Hawk.
Flanked by old churches and rundown car dealerships, Wilber's Barbecue lies on Highway 70 not far from a federal air force base. At Wilber's, I ordered the gizzards alongside chicken livers. Both innards were served in a combination platter that came with sickly sweet yams and well-stewed green beans (more later on the merits Southern-style vegetables). The livers had been left in the deep-fryer for much too long: dark and mealy, not a bit of tenderness or juice remained. The gizzards, on the other hand, were chewy but not rubbery, with some moisture within. I ate the platter of gizzards wondering what could have made the morsels more tender—more brining, perhaps, or simply less frying? Wilber's Barbecue: 4172 U.S. 70, Goldsboro NC 27534; 919-778-5218; wilbersbarbecue.com
The next day, I got my answer at Currituck BBQ Company, a well-kempt establishment near Kitty Hawk on the outer banks of North Carolina. The gizzards from Currituck were as quintessentially Southern as it gets: Still chewy, each section was at once tender and crisp, bursting with juice and encased in perfectly golden and crisp coatings.
Were the gizzards brined, I asked? Only the turkeys, came the response, were brined and deep-fried for Thanksgiving. While I've tried both well-stewed and buttermilk-brined gizzards, I'd never thought to fry the innards as-is, with little embellishment save for the batter. Currituck BBQ Company: 4467 Caratoke Highway, Barco NC 27917; 252-453-6618; currituckbbq.com
All in all, I'm keeping my eye out for more. If there are any barbecue pits serving up offal alongside chopped pork platters, send the recommendations my way.