South Carolina has a strong barbecue history, and the whole story begins with whole hog. Luscious, juicy and smoky, whole hog barbecue is the stuff of culinary legends. Many of the state’s pitmasters base their craft on traditions that have been passed down for generations.
This kind of barbecue relies upon rustic preparations rooted in our agricultural past, a time when farms were abundant and people gathered as a community to partake of meals. A hog would be slaughtered and the entire carcass smoked for hours on a wood pit. When the meat was tender and cooked through, everyone was invited to gather around the pit and dig in. Sauces to season the meat ran the gamut from mustard-based to tomato-based to vinegar-based, depending on the region of the state.
South Carolinians still gather ’round the pit in a time-honored ritual known as a pig-picking. Smokers are fired up, a whole hog ordered from local purveyors and the pig slow-cooked, usually overnight. (There’s one hard and fast rule: Don’t rush it.)
When it’s almost time to eat, folks show up with fixings, such as coleslaw, potato salad, sweet potato casserole or rice. There’s usually plenty of white bread for sopping. The call to “pick the pig” signals everyone to come to the pit and get their smoked pork. (Tip: The most strategic of pig pickers position themselves to go straight for the rib meat – the most coveted part of the pig.) Add cold beverages and you’ve got a dinner party, South Carolina style.
Of course, you can experience whole hog barbecue without all the hoopla. Though it’s not as common a practice these days, this treasured method of pork preparation is a specialty at a handful of restaurants operating across the state. These establishments do the hard work for you. All you have to do is show up and fill your plate. Get your whole hog fix at these SC barbecue houses. Note: Call ahead to confirm hours of operation. Also, be aware that smaller operations might be “cash only” and/or offer no inside dining area.
Hite’s Bar-B-Que, West Columbia
The whole hog technique has been passed down through the generations of this barbecue family. Pigs are slow-cooked over hickory and oak. Sides are made from handed-down recipes. Customers line up early to get their fill before the kitchen sells out.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Charleston
The whole hog smoking starts the day before you sit down at this restaurant, which is building a local following from those demanding the best in barbecue. The folks in the kitchen here are cooking seven days a week, making sure everything on the menu is scratch-made. And the pits are smoking nonstop—a guarantee that your whole hog pork has been slow-cooked to perfection.
McCabe’s Bar-B-Que, Manning
The magic at McCabe’s happens in a screened-in room just off the back porch. Pigs are cooked for up to 12 hours before the meat is picked and mixed. The results deliver all the richness and juiciness that makes whole hog barbecue king.
Scott’s Bar-B-Que, Hemingway
Barbecue aficionados point to Scott’s as the quintessential whole hog experience. It’s where Rodney Scott, the 2018 James Beard Best Chef: Southeast winner, got his start in the family business, developing his own smoking techniques and equipment. Operating in a humble clapboard convenience store in the Pee Dee region—where whole hog cookery has long been a way of life—the Scott family has a reputation for great ’cue. Hungry crowds line up for the no-frills pulled pork served with white bread and sauce. It has been called the “most influential” barbecue in the nation. Stop in and see why.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Charleston
Speaking of Rodney Scott, the celebrated pitmaster now helms the smokers at his own Charleston restaurant. (He recently opened a location in Birmingham, Alabama, too.) He has stayed true to his process, smoking whole hogs “low and slow” for hours before flipping them and giving them a good mopping with his special sauce. When you order up a pulled pork sandwich or take home a pound for the family, you’re getting the real deal.
Sweatman’s BBQ, Holly Hill
The legacy of Margie and Bub Sweatman lives on in smoking glory at this authentic whole hog house. When the couple went to heavenly reward, new owners stepped in, retaining the pit team and ensuring that this barbecue gem continues dishing out the whole hog goodness they’ve long been known for. The hogs are cooked overnight over oak and hickory coals. Liver hash, rice and mustard-based barbecue sauce are the preferred pulled pork accompaniments here.
Swig & Swine, Charleston and Summerville
Pitmaster Anthony DiBernardo smokes whole hogs for up to 16 hours over hot coals. The meat is basted with a vinegar-mustard sauce, then pulled for a smoky, tender, tangy barbecue experience. Goes great with their craft beer offerings and full lineup of sauces.