Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. SFA oral historian Amy Cameron Evans wrote this remembrance of pitmaster Ralph Parker.
It saddens us to share news that the barbecue community has lost another legend. Ralph Parker, the last surviving original founder of Parker’s Barbecue, passed away on July 4 at the age of 89.
If barbecue is big business in North Carolina, Parker’s Barbecue is a veritable warehouse of whole-hogism. Located in the eastern city of Wilson, Parker’s serves over 150 smoked pigs and 8,000 fried chickens to 20,000 customers each week. Catering to crowds is part of the Parker’s mythos; on one brilliant afternoon in 1954, founders Ralph Parker, Graham Parker, and Henry Parker Brewer fed 17,000 chopped barbecue plates in one day.
Despite the crowds here, little details maintain that small-joint feel. Donald Williams and Kevin Lamm (two of the three owners) greet each patron at the entrance. On Sundays, families come from different church services, greet one another in the parking lot, and queue up in the ever-increasing line.
Inside Parker’s, a group of young men in 1950s-style, white paper caps stand in formation ready to usher the next group to their table. Almost no one needs a menu. The Parkers would be proud to see their dining room so full after more than 65 years in business.
In 2011, when we added Parker’s to our Southern BBQ Trail, Ralph Parker still regularly held court, sipping a cup of coffee and greeting customers. At the time, he conceded that Parker’s “barbecue is better than it has ever been.”
Learn more about Ralph Parker via this lovely remembrance in The Wilson Times.
Go here to read our oral history interview with two of the current owners of Parker’s Barbecue, Donald Williams and Kevin Lamm.
Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog Dig in.
Previously - Barbecue loses a legend: Ricky Parker
My wife and I travel from south Florida to DC 3-4 times each year to visit the grandchildren and always plan our trip to get to Wilson and Parker's BBQ for dinner....terrific food. My wife particularly loves the yams, for me the shredded pork and fried chicken are unbelievable. Made the mistake of getting there for dinner on a Sunday when we didn't know they closed early, won't make that mistake again.
I too had one of those vile sandwiches as a child and vowed to make amends when I got older. Luckily I got old enough to learn to respect craft and crafter. RIP, Mr. Parker and although I should legally like your BBQ, I went and learned Texas BBQ and know that any Que is good BBQ if you know what you are doing.
My mother's family is from Garner, NC and when we would visit, we would pack up and drive the hour to Parker's. It was the highlight of our visit. I always tell my friends in GA, "There is no barbecue like NC barbecue." RIP Mr. Parker. You will be missed but your legacy lives on.
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