My dad can be pretty particular—especially when it comes to where he likes to eat. I’ve called him before 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 from their house. This used to baffle me. I would ask him, “Is the food there really that much better than restaurants down the road from you?” And he would answer something along the lines of, “I just like it there.”
In South Carolina, barbecue is a pretty big deal. When you’re in South Carolina and you hear the word barbecue, that means you’re eating 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 often the most authentic and delicious barbecue can’t be found just around the corner. The hidden gems that locals of the Palmetto State—people like my dad—find themselves hankering for are sometimes a bit of a drive. They only serve a few days a week and 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, who has recently stepped in to help run the joint, 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 the opportunity to try 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 to top my pork with creamy coleslaw, but I decided to try the potato salad and some baked beans, too. I always want to know what a pitmaster recommends to accompany 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 such treasure.
In truth, the name Scott has now become synonymous with South Carolina barbecue because Roosevelt and Ella Jane’s son is working to share their passion and culinary tradition that was born in Hemingway with the world. Rodney Scott is now a James Beard award-winning pitmaster with barbecue restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia and more on the way.
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 has a mini version of a disco ball to take with him when he cooks on the road, demonstrating how much tradition matters to him.
This is evident, too, when he speaks about his roots and getting his start in barbecue 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 a word for a gathering, while here in South Carolina we distinguish the word as a distinctive culinary tradition. At its heart, barbecue still inspires feelings of community. Of family. Of tradition. Of home. And that feeling—and the obvious deliciousness—is always worth making a trip.