BBQ smokehouse catches fire at landmark Skylight Inn, but it’s business as usual

The smokehouse at famed North Carolina barbecue restaurant Skylight Inn, pictured here in 2015, caught fire Thursday.
The smokehouse at famed North Carolina barbecue restaurant Skylight Inn, pictured here in 2015, caught fire Thursday. Corey Lowenstein

It’s not often that famed pitmaster Sam Jones has to put on his fire chief hat at his own restaurant.

But Thursday morning, the smokehouse at the Skylight Inn, a landmark barbecue restaurant, caught fire, and the Ayden Fire Department responded. Jones is the chief of the volunteer department.

The heat from the flames melted the vinyl siding on the smokehouse, Jones said, but said there wouldn’t be a disruption in business.

“We didn’t even close today,” said Jones, reached by phone Thursday.

Jones said the fire started when an ember floated from the pit and ignited some cardboard placed up against the wall. Employees attempted to extinguish the flames with a pressure washer, he said, but ultimately called the fire department.

Jones first posted a video on Instagram of the scene that showed that the fire occurred in the restaurant’s smokehouse but did not appear to spread to the dining room. “Not good!” read the caption.

A second video, posted later, showed the aftermath with the caption, “The joys of cooking with wood.”

As Ayden’s fire chief, Jones said this is the second time he’s been called to his own restaurant, the first being a grease fire in Skylight’s other smokehouse. This time, he said fire trucks were on the scene with three to fire minutes, and that customers inside the restaurant continued eating, undisturbed by the commotion.

“Only one guy came out back to check on what the lights and sirens were all about,” Jones said.

Jones’ family opened Skylight Inn in 1947, and he opened his own barbecue restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ, in 2015, in nearby Winterville.

Jones, a 2018 James Beard Award semifinalist, announced plans last year to open another Sam Jones BBQ restaurant in downtown Raleigh.

Greenville television station WNCT also reported the fire Thursday.

Sam Jones, a part of a six-generation BBQ family, opens his own place in Winterville, N.C. He pays homage to his family's restaurant, The Skylight Inn, but brings the old traditions into a more modern setting.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.