Monday, August 01, 2011
Wilber's BBQ restaurant is an iconic eastern-style North Carolina wood burning barbecue restaurant, so I was pretty stoked about getting to stop by and try out some chopped pork when we headed to the beach for vacation. Wilber's is right on 70 on the way, so it was a no brainer to time for a lunch stop on the way to Emerald Isle.
Wilber's is clearly a classic barbecue joint. It's out in the country even if on the highway. You can see the pit above where they slow smoke whole hogs which is the eastern style of barbecue in North Carolina. Western (or Lexington style) North Carolina barbcue is shoulders or Boston butts.
I've read that Goldboro gave Wilber's a grandfather clause so that they can continue to wood burn and slow smoke the barbecue, but once Wilber Shirley is gone, they have to shift to gas smoking. That's a shame, and I sure do hate to see our wood burners slowly go away. You just can't beat the real deal.
The parking lot was packed when we got to Wilber's, but we didn't have to wait very long. We hit the far end of the Sunday crowd.
An older gentleman was at the front door greeting. He was super nice and friendly. He said something funny like that we'd only have to wait three days. I suspect he may have been Mr. Shirley, but I'm not certain on that. It was a good start though.
I've heard that the hushpuppies at Wilber's are awesome. They are free like nacho chips at many Mexican restaurants. When the waitress came out, she brought a bowl and put them on the table.
My guys go wild for hush puppies, and I'm a pretty big fan myself, so we were all pretty excited to get the bowl and try them out.
Perhaps they left something out of the hushpuppy recipe the day we visited. They were really bland. It is also possible that the oil had not been changed. In any case, I think this was the only trip we've ever made to a barbecue restaurant where the hush puppies went begging. We all tried them, but no one got very excited about those hush puppies. They were just kind of like cardboard.
Also, we did not have butter on our table. I don't put butter on my hushpuppies, but the guys usually do. Since we didn't see our waitress again for a while, we snagged a bowl of butter from an empty table. That didn't help much apparently, because we still had hush puppies left in the bowl, and the table next to us had two big bowls of hushpuppies that just sat there getting cold.
Oh well. Hushpuppies can be great, but we were at Wilber's for the pork barbecue meat.
Since it was lunch time, we went with the barbecue sandwich plate which comes with French fries. I did get a side of Brunswick stew (which was quite good). There are other sides like potato salad which looks close to mashed potatoes (with tiny chunks of potato) and slaw that is mayo based with some hot sauce and green beans (but it's garden bean season - hard to compete with that).
First, let me say that the price is a real deal. I am always amazed that North Carolina slow smoked barbecue sells at such a low price, when the work is so labor intensive.
The barbecue at Wilber's comes out sans sauce. The sauce is on the table, and they offer the eastern style which is vinegar with some hot pepper seeds. They had a milder one (ligher colored) and a hotter one (darker color).
We all dove right in to our barbecue sandwiches. The meat did have a nice smoke flavor, and the general chop was good (medium). North Carolina is not pulled pork; it's chopped with knives. This is more labor intensive, and it's a nicer texture in my book.
I was enjoying my Wilber's chopped barbecue sandwich when I hit a blob of fat. This was not a little blob. It was close to the size of a ping pong ball. OK. I opened the bun and got a second fat blob out of there. I was hoping that I got the only fat ball sandwich, but three of the five sandwiches also had the fat hunks. That's not good.
My older son got a bite of pig skin. No. It was not outside brown. It was the slimy type of skin that is in a fold and is pretty gross. That pretty much did him in on the meal.
Then my younger son said, "Hey, there's a bone in here." I thought he had to be mistaken, but he was not. He did have a bone about an inch and a half long in his barbecue sandwich.
Whole hog is a challenge, but Wilber's has a reputation for being a master at slow smoking full pigs. I can see how some crud might make it through the chopping. You've got a lot of pig and a lot of chopping to do. But, this barbecue was bunned up or plated, and there's really no excuse for huge fat chunks, skin, and bones to be in serving sizes the size that go on buns.
I'd also note that one member of our group got a gross soggy bun with his barbecue sandwich. No. This was NOT after he sauced his meat. It appeared that buns were microwaved (which is fine) to heat them, but this bun must have been in the bottom corner of the plastic bag and caught all the moisture, so it was flat out drippy. We should have sent it back, but my brother just won't complain even when he gets a drippy bun.
I do respect that Wilber's is an old school wood burning barbecue restaurant. We were warmly greeted. The place did have the real deal feel. But, if you bite into a hunk of Crisco-like fat, rubbery skin, or an actual pig bone in a sandwich, then it kind of wrecks the mood. Four of the five plates had those problems. While I'd guess that is not typical, not one member of our group gave a thumbs up or wants to go back.
Bummer. I certainly wanted to love Wilber's. I'm very disappointed that this one does not make my "visit again" list, but I still have visions of the pork junk in the meat dancing in my head. I got the fat blob, and that was not a great dining moment when I sank my teeth into that globber.