Ayden, a southern Pitt County town of just over 5,000 residents, has a global reputation for two staples of the Southern table: barbecue and collards.
Skilton's descendants, Pete Jones and Latham "Bum" Dennis, each opened successful barbecue restaurants in Ayden. Bum's and Skylight Inn still sell whole hog barbecue cooked over wood in cook houses behind the restaurants. Foodies from around the globe join locals to stand in line for the traditional eastern North Carolina barbecue, which is chopped and sauced with a tangy mixture of vinegar and pepper.
Because of its renowned barbecue tradition, Ayden has hosted "Kings of Q" BBQ Cook-off for the past several years. The contest is named in honor of the local “Kings of Q" Dennis and Jones and is a North Carolina State Championship sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
Production of cabbage collards began locally in 1887 when an Asheville greenhouse proprietor noticed that his regular collard plants responded to the eastern North Carolina soil by growing a bit shorter and more cabbage-like. Local growers pass down their cabbage collard seeds from generation to generation.
Vickie and Benny Cox sell cabbage collard seeds and bedding plants at The Collard Shack, 4639 S. Lee St., Ayden.
Collards thrive in the well-drained, nutrient-rich soil of eastern North Carolina, and they grow year-round in the mild climate.