William Morris, Jr. outside his smokehouse in Hookerton, North Carolina.
(Photo by Denny Culbert/ The Barbecue Bus)
To find Hookerton’s only barbecue joint follow 1st Street southeast as it leads out of diminutive downtown Hookerton. The name of the cotton field-lined road you’re now driving along is named for the half-century-old plus smokehouse down a mile on the left. Yes, that’s right, Morris Barbeque is of such local import that the town went and named a highway after it.
Willie McKinley Morris opened his barbecue joint in 1956. The place began as a country store, where he soon started selling whole-hog cue out of a horse and buggy, Saturdays only. Morris operated a tobacco and hog farm with his wife Frankie, and the weekend barbecue became not only a way to sell pigs he could not sell at market but a break from his workweek, or “play time” in the words of his grandson.
That grandson, William Morris, Jr., born the same year as Morris Barbeque, now oversees the family legacy. The early morning chopping and seasoning of the meat is done by committee; a group of six taste and judge for texture, consistency, and spice. Though this is barbecue by ballot, the final word is reserved for Morris, Jr.’s daughter— and masterful baker of sweet treats—Ashley. Morris Barbeque still opens only one day a week (William Morris, Jr., after all, works as a professional landscaper). Most everybody in Greene County makes the drive to Morris BBQ Road, so the barbecue don’t last long.
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Look for this oral history and the rest of Rien's North Carolina fieldwork to appear on the SFA's Southern BBQ Trail in the coming months. In the meantime, check out Rien's notes from the road on his blog, The Barbecue Bus.