“Both states think they’re the only noteworthy Carolina” says Robert Moss, Southern Living’s Barbecue Editor and author of Barbecue: The History of An American Institution—the first full-length historical documentation—and Barbecue Lover’s the Carolinas, due out May 7th.
“The real debate is within North Carolina itself, between Eastern and Piedmont style. But when it comes to ‘cue in South Carolina, Tarheels write off mustard-based sauce immediately,” laughs Moss.
N.C. and S.C. share overlapping barbecue traditions, but the mustard sauce is a distinguishing trait that comes from the Midland or Lowcountry style unique to the middle region of the state, near Columbia and Lexington. Like the Tarheel state, this region focuses on pork—but while there are a few whole hog cooks, we tend to see shoulders and hams dressed in a bright yellow mustard “Carolina Gold” sauce that’s sweet and tangy.
“No one really knows how this developed, but there’s speculation that it grew out of the German immigrants who occupied that area,” says Moss. “Germans love smoked pork and mustard, but I don’t buy that story. It doesn’t apply to Texas barbecue, where there is also a lot of German ancestry.”
In our State of Barbecue Union panel, Charleston was also a city that Moss told us to keep a look-out for in terms of up-and-coming ‘cue powerhouses. “Charleston doesn’t really have its own barbecue tradition. It was affiliated more so with the rice planting culture. In the ’60s, barbecue families from the Midlands made their way to the area and opened up drive-thru restaurants. And in the past five years, we’ve seen a noticeable growth of ‘cue places open shop.”
Moss cites Home Team, Swig and Swine, and Cumberland St. Smokehouse as places leading the charge, as well as brisket-master John Lewis—who he considers on par with Aaron Franklin and recently arrived from Austin to open a Texas-style joint. “The odds are good that people will be lining up here in the future to eat barbecue.”
Since Moss’ latest book is a guide to the traditions of both Carolinas—intended to help readers expertly navigate barbecue from each state—we asked him to point us in the direction of some under-the-radar spots that are representative of what South Carolina has to offer. From oblong strips of crispy pork skin to pulled pork sandwiches served out of an old-school gas station, here are some barbecue joints to hit up during your next visit to the Palmetto state.
Hash and Rice from Cannon’s BBQ
Phone and address: 1903 Nursery Rd, Little Mountain (803-945-1080)
Moss says: “It’s this little white building off the side of the road. You wouldn’t even know it was a barbecue joint unless you saw the smoke coming out of it. They do a really interesting hash and rice. Further to the east, hashes are reddish in color. But here they put their mustard sauce right into the pot, so you get this bright yellow hash. They’re one of the few places that still cook hash over a natural wood fire next to the barbecue pit. Many years ago, South Carolina barbecue places that served hash would use all parts of the hog, including head, liver, and lungs and boil it down into a soupy stew. It’s mostly pork shoulder now, and it’s always served over a bed of white rice.” (Photo courtesy Serious Eats)
Whole hog Pork Skin from Hite’s Bar-B-Que
Address and phone: 240 Dreher Rd, West Columbia (803-794-4120)
Moss says: “The people who run Hite’s are cousins with Jackie Hite’s, but it’s still a different restaurant. This is a take-out only, off-the-beaten-path joint, only open Friday and Saturday. They serve great whole hog, which is noble, and one of the best parts about it is that they have crisp skins. It’s not like a rind—it’s just a big old oblong shape piece of skin you can buy by the bag. It’s got a wonderfully rich, smoky flavor that comes from the 12-hour cooking process. And these don’t break your teeth either. You can crunch into them and not lose a filling.” (Photo: David. H/Yelp)
Chopped Pork from Carolina Bar-B-Que
Address and phone: 109 Main St, S New Ellenton (803-652-2919)
Moss says: “This place was founded by a member of the Dukes family, who are considered barbecue royalty here. If you drive around parts of the Lowcountry, you’ll see their restaurants everywhere. Many have closed down and have switched over to gas, unfortunately, which means a lot of the pork doesn’t have the same flavor. But Carolina Bar-B-Que is the exception, and i definitely recommend the chopped pork. It’s really one of the under-appreciated options in the state. It’s cooked over charcoal, with real fire and smoke. The barbecue sauce is just called ‘gravy’—a blend of mustard and ketchup.” (Photo: Chez Frontporch)
Pulled Pork Sandwich from Cooper’s Country Store
Address and phone: 6945 US-521, Salters (843-387-5772)
Moss says: “It’s a throw-back to the old tradition, and it’s definitely not well-known outside of the region. A lot of barbecue joints were originally side businesses. In the ’30s you saw a lot more country stores, and some served hog. Many of these eventually became restaurants over time. This place still has wood floors and country hams. There’s a counter where you can order barbecue. The whole hog is pulled off in long, tender shreds, paired with a fiery pepper-laced vinegar sauce. Make sure to get the sandwich.” (Photo: Midlandsbiz)
Chicken Stew from Midway BBQ
Address and phone: 811 Main St, Buffalo (864-427-4047)
Moss says: “The town of Buffalo is considered the chicken stew and hash capital of the world, and the guy who founded Midway is known as hash king. He came up with this recipe for a milky, smooth, and buttery soup for the wintertime, with fine shreds of chicken. It’s actually served on a paper tray with a half sleeve of saltine crackers. It’s a really delicious stew that actually descended from a common stew near Georgia called chicken mull.” (Photo: Midway BBQ/Facebook)
Smoked Chicken Wings from Home Team BBQ
Address and phone: 1205 Ashley River Rd, Charleston (843-225-7427)
Moss says: “This is a spot in Charleston run by Aaron Siegel, a young guy who came out of culinary school. He’s from Georgia but studied barbecue from all over. The thing I like are his smoked barbecue chicken wings. He serves them with a northern Alabama-style white sauce. It’s a shock to most people, but it’s really good on chicken.” (Photo: Home Team BBQ/Facebook)
BBQ Hot Dog from Mike & Jeff’s BBQ
Address and phone: 2401 Old Buncombe Rd, Greenville (864-271-5225)
Moss says: “It’s a bare-bones place that serves pulled pork, ribs, chicken—but they also have a barbecue hot dog, topped with a pile of pulled pork. I’m surprised more people haven’t done the same. It couldn’t possibly be bad.” (Photo: Keith D./Yelp)