In the world of North Carolina barbecue, the Jones family name is equivalent to royalty. Third generation pitmaster Sam Jones began his career in the barbecue business at an early age, helping his grandfather and uncle sell chopped pork at the famous Skylight Inn in his hometown of Ayden, NC. Sam temporarily swore off the family business at the age of 15, but while working on a 13-page paper about barbecue during his time as a student at Pitt Community College, he came to realize it was his true calling. Inspired by his family’s legacy and hard work, Sam moved back to Ayden to help with the restaurant and has since dedicated his life to the art of making traditional Eastern North Carolina-style pork barbecue.
Sam’s grandfather, the late Pete Jones, opened the legendary Skylight Inn in the summer of 1947 at age 17. He ran the restaurant with an emphasis on the philosophy that hogs should be fresh and cooked whole over wood, the same tried-and-true method his ancestors adopted many generations prior and that Sam has strived to uphold over the years. Under Pete’s and Sam’s leadership, Skylight Inn has earned national praise from National Geographic, People, GQ, and many others, and has become a destination for barbecue lovers across the world. In 2003, Skylight Inn received the James Beard Award for America’s Classics, earning the distinction of being the first barbecue joint to ever receive an award from the esteemed culinary organization.
In 2015, Sam partnered with longtime friend and former Skylight employee Michael Letchworth to open Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, NC. Rooted in the tradition of North Carolina whole-hog technique that Sam has known his entire life, Sam Jones BBQ also offers a variety of new spins on smoked meats. Sam opened the second location of the restaurant in Raleigh, NC in February 2021.
In 2018, Sam earned a semifinalist nod for the James Beard Foundation Awards Best Chef: Southeast and published Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue with Recipes from Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ (Ten Speed Press). In his debut cookbook, he teamed up with barbecue expert Daniel Vaughn to share his best stories, recipes, and family secrets from both Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ.
When Sam isn’t cooking or traveling the country to spread the gospel of North Carolina barbecue, he is an active member of his local community, most recently serving as his hometown’s Fire Chief. Sam lives in Ayden with his wife, Sarah, and two young daughters, Elaina and Eliza.