Quick! Name one of the top 3 greatest Heavy-weight boxers in history. You might mention Mike Tyson, or Evander Holyfield, and you’ll definitely mention Muhammad Ali. Especially the latter as he spent most of his career calling himself the greatest. Poor Joe Louis. 12 years reigning as world champion. 25 successful title defenses (Ali had a mere 19). To this day there has not been a similar dominance in any weight division.
Unfortunately for Joe he was neither as well spoken or good looking as Ali. Hence why none of us know about him. I feel the same way about Bum’s Restaurant in Ayden, NC.
Ayden is a mecca for whole hog lovers. For decades the Skylight Inn has held the platonic ideal of swine cookery. Their familial cousin Lathan “Bum” Dennis cooks hogs in the exact same fashion and fails to get the same cred for no other reason than Skylight Inn exists in the same town. For God’s sake they’re not even on the North Carolina BBQ Society Trail!!! This last part is particularly irksome to me because Bum’s barbecue is really really good and there’s plenty of other joints on the Trail list that taste like ass and are coasting on their reputations.
Aside from my urge to root for the underdog, Bum’s really is very good. The pork is not hacked to a tuna fish consistency, juicy, and lightly smokey with lots of little nuggets of crispy skin. Their side dishes are easily the best in the state. No exaggeration there. This is real country eating here filled with soul feeding vegetables. Eastern Carolina corn sticks and pork rinds are available to add just enough crunch.
And the fried chicken. Oh the FRIED CHICKEN! Eastern Carolina whole hog BBQ is usually paired with fried chicken. Traditional giants like Wilbur’s, Parker’s both serve fried chicken with their hogs. Bum’s chicken beats them both. I’m all down for great whole hog, but when you got great whole hog and finger licking fried chicken – oh my….
A proper banana pudding topped with warm southern meringue finishes off the meal.
As you can see I have a particular affection for Bum’s. As practitioner of the art and as a traveled eater, I find it an utter travesty that Bum’s is never mentioned when talking about top BBQ joints in North Carolina. The NC BBQ Society Trail list is a wonderful tool and there’s other sources which basically name the same big name spots. But do yourself a favor, many of those big names are for tourists – Bum’s is for those in the know.