The last day of Williams-Sonoma’s Fire Smoke & Flavor tour found our crew at Wilber’s Barbecue, right off the highway in Goldsboro, North Carolina. This family-friendly joint has been known for its whole hog smoking since owner Wilber Shirley opened it 48 years ago.
Over the years, Wilber’s has gained a popular following, with clientele ranging from business people to farmers to retirees – and to presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. “It’s a tradition for people to eat barbecue in this area,” says Shirley. “We’re part of that tradition.”
He adds with a sly smile, “Mostly, people come to see me and maybe eat barbecue while they’re here.”
Folks who come to Wilber’s can experience all kinds of barbecue, from beef to chicken to seafood. The specialty, though, is the chopped pork, prepared in the North Carolina tradition of smoking whole pigs in an oak wood pit.
“When you cook the whole pig, you get the ham, the shoulder, the side and all of it, and that’s what makes the best product,” explains Shirley. “We cook them 10 to 12 hours, then we chop them up and season them and put them out front to be served.”
The sauce is another feature that distinguishes North Carolina barbecue from the rest. According to Shirley, Eastern North Carolina sauce is vinegar-based, while the Western part of the state prefers a ketchup-based sauce.
“Vinegar is better,” he insists. “We have a saying: You don’t put vinegar on beef and you don’t put ketchup on pork.”
Side dishes at Wilber’s always include coleslaw, and either boiled potatoes or potato salad. Hush puppies – small rounds of deep-fried cornmeal – are a customer favorite, while banana pudding has always been the dessert of choice in the house.
Shirley isn’t shy about his success in the barbecue business, believing firmly that Wilber’s offers the best barbecue of all. “You’ve always got to sell your product and boast,” he says.
In fact, Shirley has an expert opinion to back him up. Jim Early, founder of the North Carolina Barbecue Society, has argued, “The United States is the barbecue capital of the world. North Carolina is the barbecue capital of the United States. North Carolina is the barbecue capital of the world!”
And since Shirley is certain his barbecue tops the rest of North Carolina’s, he’ll call Wilber’s the Best Barbecue in the World.