Will Brinson is an NFL Writer for @CBSSports‘ @EyeOnNFL blog. However, as good as he is with the written word, Will is an even better meat eater. He’s quite the crafty veteran. The personal sacrifices this man would make to get his hands on some quality Q are astounding, and are chronicled in great detail below. Spoiler Alert: it involves subversive stealth ops. and some lies to his wife.
My wife is rarely wrong, but as we wrapped up lunch at Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro last Friday, she’d never been more right.
“There’s nothing sadder than looking down and seeing the final bite of your barbecue sandwich,” she said despondently as we prepared for the final leg of our trip to the North Carolina coast.
This is even more true when you make the trek to Wilber’s. It’s not that far away, but let’s just say that when I volunteered for this assignment, I seeded the stop with my wife a few days in advance, took a different route than I normally would to the coast and timed our departure to coincide with lunch but just before the lunch rush. I’m not insane, I’m just hungry. I swear.
Stopping at Wilber’s, inconspicuously located just on the side of 70 just west of Goldsboro proper, is one of the few requirements when cooking tires between Raleigh and Morehead City. Be warned, though — if you’re not planning on pulling over, you could blow past it without thinking twice. Parking in the summer at lunchtime isn’t just difficult, sometimes it’s dangerous: you’ve got to manage a yank off the highway, navigate a few peach stands and then actually find an open spot.
It’s all worth it when you open the screen door, take your seat in the time warp ambiance and start grubbing down on the finest eastern NC BBQ offering available. (There is Lexington BBQ on the west side of the state and there is Wilber’s on the east. These are the two best options and there will be no debate.)
My fare on Friday was the same thing it always is at Wilber’s: the Big-Que Meal. It features one pork sandwich, fries and a drink, a steal at $6.25.
It’s a simple meal, but the perfection lies in the subtlety of that simplicity. Wilber’s chopped Q isn’t just as finely ground as possible. The texture of the pork is soft and you’ll encounter large sections of thicker, juicier cuts of the meat inside the sandwich.
Wilber’s typically goes lighter on the slaw — very finely diced and more green than the traditional eastern “white” color, a good thing — but that’s to the benefit of the sandwich. I sit firmly on the side of #TeamSlaw at all times (I’d actually like slaw dumped on my fries if it was an option) and considered asking for more at this particular meal, but the slow slaw hand allows the flavor of the pork to fully develop.
The bun is a slightly warmed hamburger bun, but the key is that it’s a wider, thinner bun than you typically see on barbecue sandwiches. It means more bites of delicious pork and a lack of clumping when it comes to the sandwich as a whole. A little dab of Texas Pete and a healthy dose of vinegar only adds to the overall experience.
The style of fries might be my favorite. Ever, period. They’re not too big/wide to be heavy on the tater flavor and the crunchy outside is perfection.
Hushpuppies are on the house and, frankly, some of the best you’ll ever have. Though dipping them in butter probably helps the buttery taste, the fry job is perfect: enough breading to give them plenty of plumpness and just the perfect amount of outside crust. Making good hushpuppies is an underrated talent. Wilber and Co. excel at it.
Q isn’t the only thing Wilber Shirley — who bought Hill’s Barbecue in 1962 and eventually turned it into his namesake — and his staff of 100-plus people excel at though. They fire out some tasty fried and barbecued chicken and have Southern staples like Brunswick Stew on the menu as well.
You can tell their “family” atmosphere is no joke, either. Not only do you feel like you’re sitting at someone’s side table in their house (wicker chairs, red-and-white picnic cloth, etc) but you can tell how well Wilber knows his patrons. I spied one young gentleman — eating with his grandparents underneath a well-placed portion of Jim Valvano/NC State paraphernalia — introduce his brother to Wilber, who’d walked out from the kitchen during the busiest time of the day, just to say hello.
Walking back to the car we spied a group of fighter jets doing touch-and-go landings at nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, buzzing the greater Goldsboro area at a photo-worthy height.
That might not be the most romantic setting for a meal, not that you could hear an airplane over me wolfing down some hog anyway. And for a barbecue pit stop in eastern North Carolina on a summer afternoon, it made perfect sense.
We can debate whether atmosphere influences the quality of food all we want. In this example it’s irrelevant — Wilber’s been serving up both for more than 50 years, becoming an establishment in North Carolina and a must-eat attraction for anyone who doesn’t have the privilege of stopping in on a regular basis.