Barbecue enthusiasts may debate which of the four styles of South Carolina barbecue is superior, but all can agree, it's the supporting cast of side dishes, or fixin’s as they’re affectionately known, that makes the meal. Farmers’ market fresh vegetables, desserts made from scratch and sweet iced tea that flows by the gallon.
The bubbling pots and clatter of pans in the aromatic kitchen of McCabe’s Bar-B-Que in Manning, South Carolina, have been tended to with love and skilled precision by Jessie McCabe for over 30 years. The backbreaking work that goes into McCabe’s memorable side dishes make it all the more amazing that she’s in her 90s.
Cooking at McCabe’s is actually her second career. After retiring at 65, her sons asked her to come by and help. “The boys handle the barbecue; I do the rest.” Diners who leave with full bellies and big smiles become loyal customers.
“I’ve been cooking since I was 8 years old. I don’t measure my seasonings, I do it by feel,” McCabe explains. “You can always put more in, but you can’t take it out.”
Deciding on just two sides has left many a diner in one of the state’s many barbecue restaurants saying, “Gonna need another minute.” Cole slaw may be barbecue’s most famous sidekick, but the flavor-packed line-up also includes baked beans, collard greens, perloo (a rice dish akin to jambalaya), Hoppin’ John, smoked mac and cheese, okra and more.
Wells Gibson, owner of Farm Boy’s Barbeque in Chapin, South Carolina, makes a catfish stew every few weeks for his customers. “There’s catfish in it and … more catfish. That’s all I’m going to tell you,” Gibson says with a chuckle. One thing South Carolina cooks have in common: They keep their secret family recipes close to the vest.
Several sides found in South Carolina barbecue joints are native to the Palmetto State. Hash and rice is one such dish. For the uninitiated, hash is a cross between stew and gravy. Made with pork, it’s almost always served over white rice.
Filmmaker Stan Woodward, who created the documentary “Carolina Hash,” writes in his book “Grits and Friends: Folk Heritage Foodways and Traditions in the South” how “barbecue hash” spread across South Carolina.
“A legion of excellent hash cooks developed in every small farming community – each with their own special ingredients and seasonings. These artisans became eventually known as ‘hash masters,’ for they and their crews began cooking communal meals for family and church reunions and holiday barbecues, communal gatherings where hash would be served to neighbors and friends.”
Iced tea, arguably the most iconic symbol of the South, was first served in Summerville, South Carolina. In fact, the “Birthplace of Sweet Tea” can trace its historical tea roots so well, no other city has ever challenged Summerville for the title.
Hope you left room for something sweet – cherry dump cake, peanut butter pie, cobblers made with in-season fruits and, of course, banana pudding. There’s no better way to round out a barbecue meal than with a homemade dessert.
You may stop at one of South Carolina’s many great restaurants because you heard the barbecue is good, but chances are, it’s the sides that’ll bring you back. So come on in, and get your fixin’s.