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Want Great Barbecue? Come to South Carolina

Gwen Fowler Gwen Fowler
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.
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Thinking of taking off on a road trip to sample all the different types of delicious barbecue there is across America?

Come to South Carolina, one of the only places in the nation where you'll find all four of the basic types of barbecue.

"When you're talking about barbecue, South Carolina is where you have the diversity," said Lake High, president of the S.C. Barbecue Association.

Of course, barbecue in South Carolina means pork and only pork. Other things, such as beef and chicken, can be barbecued, but only pork is referred to as barbecue.

The four types of barbecue are distinguished by the sauce used, either basted on during cooking, added after cooking, or both, said High, who has traced the history of barbecue in the state.

Our BBQ Trail Map shows which regions traditionally serve what type of barbecue. Along the coast, you'll find a spicy vinegar-and-pepper sauce, which, High said, dates back hundreds of years.

In the Midlands of the state, and in a band that stretches toward the coast, you'll get mustard sauce. That distinctive sauce, unique to South Carolina, can be traced back to German settlers, he said. It's the type that Maurice's in the Columbia area has been serving for almost 60 years.

Light tomato sauce - basically a vinegar and pepper with ketchup or tomato added, High said - is found in the Pee Dee and in upper middle part of the state.

Heavy tomato sauce is the choice in the western and northwestern part of the state, as well as most of the nation, High said. It's the kind most like Kraft and other brands on the grocery store shelves.

At one time, you'd know what type of barbecue you'd be served just by knowing what part of the state you were in. But these days the lines have blurred somewhat. You can blame that partly on the Barbecue Association, High said. Through intensive training of judges and barbecue competitions held all over the state throughout the year, people who cook barbecue and those who just love to eat it have learned about all the other sauces out there and they want to try it.

"Barbecue is a complicated subject," he said. "It includes all this history, all the culture, all the changes. It's a very dynamic thing."

That means that now a restaurant anywhere in the state might give diners a choice of three or four types of sauce to add to their barbecue.

High said most people prefer the type of barbecue they grew up eating. His preference? "Whatever is on the plate in front of me."

So take a tour and try it out for yourself. Here are two places to get you started.

Scott's Bar-B-Que, Hemingway

Ella and Rodney Scott outside of Scott's Bar-B-Que
Ella and Rodney Scott stand in front Scott's Bar-B-Que, which Ella and Roosevelt Scott opened in 1972. Son Rodney, the pitmaster, cooked his first pig on his own at age 11.

Years ago, Roosevelt "Rosie" Scott started cooking a pig once a week in the back of his auto repair business. His barbecue was so good that soon he was cooking five to 10 pigs a week.

Things just kept growing from there, and the garage became a barbecue pit, said his son, Rodney Scott, who served as Scott's Bar-B-Que pitmaster before opening his own restaurant, Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston. 

Today, both restaurnts cook barbecue much as they did 38 years ago when the Scotts went into business. At Scott's Barb-B-Que in Hemingway, they need enough wood to cook 15-25 hogs on the three days the restaurant is open.

Hardwoods, mostly hickory and oak, are used. Folks donate wood, because they know the Scotts will be happy to come cut any trees that need to be removed. A log splitter is used to prepare stacks of wood for the burn barrels, which are made with criss-crossed truck axles in the bottom.

As the wood burns and hot coals fall to the bottom of the barrel, coals are shoveled into the bottom of the cement pits.

Pigs are placed on the pit, skin-side up, and cooked for about 12 hours before being flipped, mopped with a vinegar and pepper sauce, and then cooked for another half hour. Not only does that cooking method mean perfect barbecue, it also means perfect pig skins, a delicacy here. Some skins are bagged just as they come off the pit; others are deep-fried.

The Scotts also barbecue chickens on their pits, but they stop at chickens and pigs. There's no buffet line here, no sides at all. Order a barbecue sandwich and you get a mound of barbecue accompanied by two slices of white bread.

Scotts Bar-B-Que is on S.C. Highway 261, a quiet road that passes through Hemingway in Williamsburg County. The old store next to the garage is where folks come to pick up their barbecue, buy a soda and chat with friends. Often, Rodney Scott's mother, Ella Scott, will be at the register to ring up the orders. Out front, a shopping cart is loaded with watermelons, and a bench is a gathering spot for old men.

With his own restaurant in Charleston, Rodney Scott quickly became the rock star of South Carolina barbecue. In 2018, he was named the James Beard Best Chef: Southeast. 

He says the barbecue is so good because of a secret ingredient: Love is cooked into every batch of that vinegar and pepper sauce.


Roger's BBQ, Florence

Spooning up the 'Que
Dot Lynch, front end manager at Rogers Bar-B-Que, dishes up a scoop of barbecue on the buffet line that has made the restaurant a popular dining spot.

The crowds show up regularly at Roger's Bar-B-Que for more than barbecue: They're also lured by the buffet with items that change daily. Along with the barbecue, there might be fried chicken, catfish stew, sweet potato soufflé and all types of home-cooked vegetables. 

When Rob Goff and his parents bought the restaurant, they knew the restaurant buffet business. They'd owned Mr. B's Seafood in nearby Lydia for years. But barbecue was new to them, and the previous owner showed them how he made barbecue.

"It's a vigorous learning process to learn to cook barbecue properly," Goff said.

Anywhere from 20 to 40 hogs, depending on the season and catering functions, are cooked each week on rotisserie cookers.

Because the cookers are flush with the kitchen wall and actually are sitting outside, they're influenced by the outside temperature. That means the cooking process might take only eight hours in the summer but as long as 12 hours in the winter.

"After the pork is cooked, it's actually laid out on a table so that it can cool down and be handled by hand," he said. "Employees separate the meat from the skin, bone and gristle."

The meat is then chopped, and a vinegar-and-pepper sauce is added. The skins are deep fried for homemade pork skins, served in the restaurant and also bagged and sold there. They sell out fast, Goff said.

Roger's Bar-B-Que also makes a type of hash that is unique to the Pee Dee region. Goff calls it liver hash gravy, and it is made with ground pork liver and seasonings.

"You put it on top of rice. Some people put it on top of chicken bog or their barbecue."

Roger's BBQ, located at 2004 Second Loop Road, serves lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday. 843-667-9291.

Click here for a list of what the S.C. Barbecue Association's certified judges call the state's best barbecue joints.

Gwen Fowler
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.