One of the most unique things about Ronnie’s Ribs is that it doesn’t serve the typical South Carolina barbecue sauces. Ronnie Timmons’ signature sauce is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. Growing up in Florence, Timmons was raised on vinegar and tomato-based sauces. So when he moved to an area within the “Mustard Belt,” he had to figure out a compromise since he didn’t particularly like the taste of most mustard blends. His solution turned out to be one of the most incredible, full-flavored sauces imaginable. You have to taste it again and again just to make sure it really is that good — and it is.
Timmons is the proud owner of Ronnie’s Ribs, a small barbecue establishment that serves up some of the most succulent smoked meat around. Timmons is unique in that his barbecue business is not his full-time job; he’s been working for the railroad for more than 36 years. “I tell everybody it’s a good job, especially young people,” he says of the railroad. And although his refreshing attitude about a hard day’s work and a respectable position on the railroad is impressive to say the least, he’s not shy about his plans for retirement. “I got a vision; I just have to wait five years and ten months,” he says. “If it was just me, I’d do this full time. But I have a good job with benefits I can’t walk away from. I have a family to support.”
Timmons has always enjoyed cooking barbecue. He started when his children were young and his ribs quickly became a family favorite. He began selling them from a tent next to a gas station and he would drive around town taking orders for the weekend. His ribs became so popular that by the time he started to fill the orders, he was close to sold out. But it wasn’t until the owner of the gas station told him he “really had something” that Timmons began to take himself and his barbecue a bit more seriously.
Now he offers a whole menu of barbecued items — ribs, pulled pork and smoked turkey legs — from a building that sits where his tent once did. His pit master, Keith, operates five smokers in the back, and Timmons is very vocal about his deep appreciation for the select few employees that keep Ronnie’s Ribs going. “Keith is just like family. I can’t sit here and tell anyone I could do it without these people,” he says. Timmons’ wife and daughter also run the window with another family friend, Geraldine. And the customers truly get a sense of family in the short time it takes to put in an order. Everyone operates with a bright smile and welcoming attitude; it’s a pleasure to just be around them.
Ronnie’s Ribs is a barbecue must-eat for many reasons, including its unbelievably tasty signature sauce, but Timmons’ refreshing positivity, contagious passion and genuine demeanor remind us that authentic South Carolina barbecue requires one key ingredient above anything else — and that’s a whole lot of heart.