East Carolina: Wilber’s Barbecue

At Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, North Carolina they cook whole hogs over wood coals in the pit house out back behind the restaurant. The pit house actually has a built-in fireplace, but it is no longer used. “It feels like 400 degrees in there with all the pits cooking and the fireplace burning,” Wilber Shirley told me. So we just started burning the wood down outside in this hole in the ground.

I noticed that some of the wood on the fire was hissing and I realized it was green wood. Using green wood is a major mistake in Texas barbecue since you are cooking with the wood smoke. Green wood imparts a nasty flavor and some Texas barbecue men say it will make people sick. I asked the pit man at Wilber’s about it. “Green wood, seasoned wood, it doesn’t matter when you are burning it down to coals before you cook with it. In fact, some folks think green wood coals burn better,” he said.

“Excuse me,” I told him, “I am learning on the job.”

The place was called Hill’s Barbecue when it opened in 1962. “Fred Hill was an older man when he built the place. It was going to be his retirement hobby, but then he had a heart attack before it opened and he never got a chance to run it.  I bought it from him with a partner,” Wilber Shirley remembers. Shirley and his partner called it the Hwy. 70 Barbecue, when it reopened on July 24th 1962. Within the year, the partner sold out and the name was changed to Wilber’s Barbecue.