http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/0 ... rning.html
This is what it takes to achieve barbecue fame in North Carolina:
Six days a week at 5 a.m., Jeff Jones, 63, crosses the two-lane highway in front of his house and walks up to the Skylight Inn in Ayden, a tiny farm town just outside of Greenville.
It's five hours before the opening of the restaurant that is so revered in the world of barbecue that the owners put a replica of the Capitol dome on the roof.
Jones grabs a beat-up wheelbarrow and pulls it backward behind him as he trudges into a field littered with wood. He loads up with split logs of hickory and oak and hauls it into the smokehouse.
Then he starts another day of making barbecue.
Not just any barbecue: Wood-cooked barbecue, the famed chopped pork that draws fans from all over to the Carolinas. It's been made here for generations, but is dwindling as restaurants across the South switch to cheaper and easier cooking methods.
Today, the fate of wood-fired barbecue rests with about two dozen restaurants. No one can say whether it will be here for future generations. But for the moment, the institution stubbornly smolders on in small towns from Shelby to Ayden where families carry on the tradition with the support from both locals and food fans in search of authentic fare.
At the Skylight, the day's work begins in one of four massive brick fireplaces, where Jones starts a fire with flattened cardboard boxes and loads in logs.
Then he goes back into the field for more wood. Back into the smokehouse to start a fire in a second fireplace. Back out for more wood, until the fireplaces are packed almost to the chimney, and coals are beginning to fall from the crackling logs.
Jones steps over to a pit, a waist-high brick box topped with sheet-metal lids. With a squeak and rattle like castle gates rising, he lifts the lids and reveals the night's work: Three full-grown pigs, 150 pounds each, splayed out skin-up down the length of the pit. With each pig's nose pressed into the tail of the next, they look like they were chasing each other when a giant squashed them flat.
Below the pigs, coals barely glow, just as Jones left them at 10 the night before.
Jones is a quiet man, almost taciturn. Ask him about the important work of producing North Carolina's most famous food.
"It's hard, manual work," he just says softly. "Easier isn't always better."
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/0 ... z1R2nbIlIL
The Skylight is open every day except Sunday. But the work doesn't stop then. That's when they pressure-wash the pit houses and clean out the fireplaces. The fireplaces blaze for 12 hours a day, six days a week, putting out heat like a foundry. Eventually, the mortar and the concrete linings break down. The chimneys can be relined once, but after that, the bricks start to buckle and shift. Each fireplace has to be knocked down and rebuilt every 12 to 14 months.
The cost of pork has risen 45 cents a pound over the last year, finally hitting $1.34. That's the biggest one-year increase the Joneses have ever seen. They held out on increasing their own prices, but eventually did to avoid losing $1,800 a week. Today, they get $3 for a barbecue sandwich or $9 for a pound of meat.
Everyone who cooks with wood agrees it is an expensive way to produce food. At the Skylight, the Joneses spent $35,000 on wood in 2010. At almost $3,000 a month, that's 972 $3 barbecue sandwiches.
At Bridges in Shelby, the wood pile is practically a state landmark on U.S. 74. Stacked chin-high to a tall person, it stretches the length of several tractor-trailers, and costs the restaurant $10,000 to $15,000 a year. The restaurant uses wood for its pork shoulders, but added an electric cooker for chicken and turkey. The electric cooker cost $6,000, and Debbie Bridges-Webb says her electric bill only increased about $100 a month.
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/0 ... z1R2njumC4