Some friends & I loaded up & headed east on Saturday. It was a multi-purpose trip (we wanted to hit the Country Doctor Museum in Bailey, and the Dunn-Benson Dragstrip), so we limited ourselves to just four BBQ restaurants: Parker's and Bill's in Wilson, and Wilber's and McCall's in Goldsboro. We had sit-down meals at Parker's and Wilber's, and got carryout for subsequent taste-testing at Bill's and McCall's.
There was no clear overall winner of the day (other than us, and the dude in the Chevy Nova at the Dragstrip), but we weren't really looking to name a winner anyway. There were definite favorites in the different categories, though.
Of our two dine-in experiences, Parker's was the clear favorite. The sweet tea was perfect, teetering just on the edge between beverage and heartstopping dessert item. We weren't impressed by the famous corn sticks (they just seemed hard and dry & chewy), but the hush puppies did the job just fine. The BBQ was good solid eastern-NC BBQ: a little too finely-chopped for most folks at our table, but within the range of acceptable texture, and perfectly sauced. The mustard-style slaw freaked people out when eaten alone, but there was universal agreement that it was superior to regular white slaw when mingled with the Q. Folks were also enthusiastic about the stewed potatoes, as they'd absorbed lots of tomatoey liquid & were quite tasty, at least the smaller chunks.
Wilber's, on the other hand, was a disappointment, BBQ-wise. There was another recent Chowhound post claiming that Wilber's had cut back to smoking meat only 2 days a week, and that would definitely explain the tired, mushy, overly-vinegary Q we were served. It was 5:30 on a Saturday evening and the place wasn't more than 1/3rd full, and yet our waitress was having trouble remembering our orders.
A couple of people at our table ordered the BBQ and BBQ'd-chicken combo, and the chicken was terrifying: it might've been BBQ'd chicken, but it was hard to tell as it was slathered in a thick yellow sauce that tasted like undiluted Campbell's condensed chicken soup with some paprika added.
The white slaw was pleasant enough, but was not particularly distinctive. The hush puppies were better than Parker's, but some in our party thought they were a little too pale. The most interesting item on the plate was the mustardy potato salad. My mother is from Texas and that's the way she always made it for us, so it really hit the spot for me.
I also ordered a side of fried chicken livers, and they were awesome. They'd clearly been fried just that moment, as they were deadly-hot, and the breading was just this side of burnt, which was the perfect complement to the rich liver flavor. If I were driving through Goldsboro, I'd make a stop just for those.
We didn't have the stamina for four sit-down meals, so we stopped at Bill's in Wilson and McCall's in Goldsboro for takeout Q, slaw, and banana pudding. The Q was put in the cooler for later analysis, but the banana pudding was eaten standing there at the takeout window. The unanimous decision, which featured lots of unrestrained cursing by my friend C., along the lines of "this is the best motherf****in banana pudding ever!," was that Bill's banana pudding is the elixir of the gods.
The Q at Bill's had a fair amount of black pepper in it, and was more coarsely chopped than Parker's. It had less discernible smoke flavor, though. I think if I were in Wilson to get takeout BBQ, I'd consider choosing Bill's over Parker's, although they're so close to each other I'd probably just stop at both ;-). I have the impression that Bill's is a big buffet, so I suspect the dine-in experience isn't quite the same as at Parker's. The slaw at Bill's is much like that at Parker's: the mustard style, which is perhaps too intense to be eaten as a side-item, but which mates well with the BBQ.
The Q at McCall's in Goldsboro was far-and-away the best Q we had all day. As I posted in the Wilber's thread, we rolled up at McCall's takeout window at around 6:30, and right after I placed my order, they announced they were completely out of BBQ, no doubt disappointing the line of cars waiting behind us. It appears that the citizens of Goldsboro have figured out that Wilber's is off its game, and have shifted allegiance to the big McCall's barn across the road.
The BBQ itself was the coarsest of the bunch we had. It's by no means pulled pork-coarse, but there was a nice variety in chunk sizes from relatively fine, up to maybe 1-inch hunks. A good mix of light and dark, and outside brown. Good strong smoky flavor, and liberally seasoned with red pepper, but without as much of a vinegar flavor, almost as if they'd chopped in extra dry pepper with the meat.
The slaw is a white slaw, pretty runny, but I actually haven't tried it yet. My girlfriend had a little mini-slaw-tasting yesterday while I was out of the house, though, and the McCall's is now the emptiest of the four containers in the fridge, so I assume it's good.
The McCall's hush-puppies were a big favorite as well; light and fluffy (like Wilber's) but just a bit darker on the outside, which was the unanimous preference of the people in our car. A mark of their goodness might be that we'd by then had two full sit-down BBQ meals, plus 2 batches of carryout banana pudding, and people were still digging in to the hush puppies in the car as we drove around looking for someplace to buy an auxiliary cooler to house all the takeout (note bene: neither of the gas stations next to McCall's sell foam coolers . . . hmmm).
Again, like Bill's, McCall's is a buffet, and so I don't know about the dine-in experience. One of the two NC BBQ books cautions that McCall's Q should always be ordered off the menu, and not eaten from the buffet, so beware. Also, we visited the McCall's in Goldsboro. There's also one in Clayton (and when the BBQ ran out, the counterman was advising people to drive to Clayton, claiming it was just the same) but I haven't been there, so I can't say anything about it.
McCall's Barbecue & Seafood
139 Millers Chapel Rd, Goldsboro, NC 27534
4172 US Hwy 70 E, Goldsboro, NC 27534
Bill's Barbecue & Chicken
3007 Downing St SW, Wilson, NC 27893
301 E NC Highway 97, Wilson, NC 27896