The BBQ Man Goes Brick and Mortar: Durham’s Picnic
Nestled away in a corner of Durham is a small piece of lost craftsmanship, settled between high end neighborhoods, a well known country club, and corporate restaurants serving heart attacks in paper bags by the second. Most business owners are currently trying to find ways to cut corners and cut costs in this fast paced world we live in, especially in the food industry. But one guy, Wyatt Dickson, business owner of Picnic, dared to be different. He set out on a mission to cook barbecue the way his fore fathers did, by using pasture raised hogs, low heat, hours sizzling over burning embers, and inspiring communities to come together to take part in this great pastime we call in the south — Pig Pickings.
After settling down with Wyatt at one of Picnic’s reclaimed barn wood tables that came from the family farm in Red Springs, NC, which is over 100 years old, some of the first words out of his mouth were to say he is not a “pit master.” He prefers to be called The BBQ Man. He likes the original title of the man that use to sit outside courthouses and public gatherings and serve BBQ, bread, and coleslaw to any passersby off a hot pig cooker during the 30’s and 40’s. Wyatt believes the term “pit master” was made famous by some overzealous food network star that had to make up a fancy name for a TV camera. But, what is amazing and humbling with Wyatt, with no culinary background or schooling, he understands that learning never stops and you always press forward. Like many, great chefs have always worn blue aprons to show they never fully “master” cooking, no matter how good a cook he or she was, they could always perfect and tweak one’s skills.
Wyatt literally cooks hogs 24 hours a day. Every second of every day, Wyatt, or another trusted soul, is given the duty of stoking the fire and filling the wood box on Wyatt’s custom built pig cookers for BBQ Grills in Elm City, NC, which, for the BBQ connoisseurs out there, this is the same company that built Sam Jones pits of Skyline Inn in Ayden, NC. With Picnic’s crazy schedule and never ending lines of people waiting to grace the seats of the new establishment, Wyatt and his team are cooking about three whole hogs a day to keep up with the demand of its patrons.
After being involved in banking and actually being fraternity brothers with Executive Chef Ben Adams, Wyatt cut his teeth on cooking hogs by growing up around his community watching old men perform the lengthy task of cooking a proper hog. He decided to begin doing pig pickings for his fraternity in college. Wyatt never knew BBQ could be cooked inside a restaurant until one magical day a buddy of his took him to Parkers in Wilson, NC. Wyatt slowly started dialing in his skills to make great BBQ for masses of people by starting his own catering company. Wyatt recalled catering gigs where he encouraged guests to participate in the “picking of the hog.” Wyatt has become a firm believer in pulled BBQ instead of chopped or sliced. Wyatt believes chopping a hog hides the sins of the pig. Instead, one should take the devoted time to pick through a whole hog, reap every morsel by hand, and discard all the chewy bits that hold a pig together the way a true BBQ man does. Wyatt also inherited his sweet tangy Pig Whistle (I looked this up on the web site) Sauce from his dad, who actually got the recipe from his state trooper buddy. With a push from his family to bottle the tasty sauce and sell it by the case with true North Carolina spirit, he slapped a Blackbeard pirate logo and pig on the label, thus a local story was born.
Lastly, the star of the show, with a focus of serving the best BBQ, Wyatt knew he had to find the perfect specimen. He found just that with farmer Ryan Butler of Green Button Farm in rural Bahama, NC. Farmer Butler raises his hogs the old fashioned way, by letting them flourish on the grounds they wander around on all day. Wyatt also noticed the great proportion that Ryan’s hogs had throughout their build; the hams weren’t too big or the shoulders weren’t too small. When cooking a pig low and slow for 18–24 hours, it’s a must that all the parts on the pig cook at the same time.
With only being open for three months, Picnic is definitely traveling down the right road to bring the love of a classic pig picking to Durham, and to set the role of the local BBQ man in stone. Durham has already fully embraced Picnic’s dreams by filling every seat every night until they unlock the doors. If you haven’t visited Picnic yet, then you are missing out! With the love and support of this strong community, Durham will always have its own BBQ Man.