My dad can be pretty particular—especially when it comes to where he likes to eat. I’ve called him at times to ask what he was doing, only to find out he and my mom were on their way to eat dinner in a town more than an hour away. Baffled, I would ask, “Is the food there really that much better than restaurants down the road from you?” And he would answer with something along the lines of, “I just like it there.”
In South Carolina, barbecue is a pretty big deal. To locals, the word "barbecue" means pulled pork or ribs cooked slow and low, smoky and slathered with your choice of four distinctive sauces. Another unique thing about this South Carolina staple is that the most authentic and delicious barbecue can’t always be found just around the corner.
The hidden gems that people of the Palmetto State—like my dad—find themselves hankering for may require a bit of a drive. These tucked away barbecue houses typically serve a few days a week and only until they run out.
But man, are they worth it.
One of these local legends is Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, SC, located just a short trip from Myrtle Beach in the heart of South Carolina’s Pee Dee region. Customers start lining up before 10 a.m. to fill their bellies with Scott’s famous whole-hog pulled pork and the restaurant’s signature vinegar-based sauce. The sauce is the secret, according to Sam Wilson. He helps run the joint, which was established in 1972 by his brother-in-law, Roosevelt “Rosie” Scott, and Rosie’s wife, Ella Jane.
Sam was kind enough to sit and chat with me as I had my first taste of what many claim is the best barbecue in South Carolina.
The meat was tender and smoky, perfectly seasoned and, even though I’m typically more of a mustard-based girl myself, I have to admit the sauce was boss. Of course, I had to try some sides, too. I’m usually content just topping my pork with creamy coleslaw, but decided to try the potato salad and some baked beans, too.
I always want to know what a pitmaster recommends to complement their barbecue, and for Sam, potato salad is a must. He also made sure to go back inside and grab me some ribs and chicken—other Scott’s menu favorites—for the road. My husband was thrilled when I came home with these savory treasures.
The name "Scott" has become synonymous with South Carolina barbecue. This is largely due to Roosevelt and Ella Jane’s son, Rodney, who has worked to share the family's barbecue passion and culinary traditions. Rodney Scott is now a James Beard award-winning pitmaster. He opened his first barbecue restaurant in Charleston on King Street, then branched out with three Alabama locations - Birmingham, Homewood and Trussville - as well as Atlanta and soon, Nashville.
When I spoke with Rodney on a summer morning in his Charleston location, something about the restaurant caught my eye. He explained that in each Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ location, you’ll find a disco ball on the ceiling, reflecting Rodney’s love of '70s music and setting the tone for the kind of experience he wants people to have when they visit.
He even travels with a mini disco ball when he cooks on the road - a testament to how much tradition matters to him.
This is evident, too, when he speaks about his roots and getting his barbecue start in his hometown.
He talked about how people are drawn to places like Hemingway because of the sense of community you’ll find there. It made me think how interesting it is that in any other place, "barbecue" is another word for "gathering." Here in South Carolina, of course, it is our word for a distinctive culinary tradition.
At its heart, barbecue does inspire feelings of community. And of family. And tradition. And home. All those feelings—along with the deliciousness of the tender, smoked meat—are always worth making a trip.