Vintage HandPicked: Whole Hog Hero
Editor’s Note: Reporting from Hemingway, South Carolina, David Culp tells about a local whole hog hero producing some of the best tasting barbecue in the world (and how he fell head over heels for it). Literally.
Somewhere under this cast, wrapped in gauze and sealed in gaudy blue fiberglass, parts of my left arm will be, if not forever, then at least for the next few weeks, Scott’s Bar-B-Que.
Good pork barbecue has always had a profound effect on me–giddiness, undignified salivation, post-prandial lethargy. But vertigo was a first.
I came to this out-of the-way corner of South Carolina’s Low Country to film an interview and eat pulled pork with the brightest new star in the barbecue firmament, Hemingway’s favorite son, Rodney Scott.
The barbecue mecca over which he rules is an unremarkable-looking establishment easily mistaken for the country store-cum-auto repair garage it once was. Traveling a thousand miles from Texas to eat there made me a more or less average dine-in customer. Pilgrims have journeyed from California, England and Australia to partake of the smoky, vinegary, meaty miracle of Rodney’s whole-hog barbecue.
BBQ 9:30. No Sooner. Respect That!!!”
At age 40, Rodney Scott is verging on famous. The New York Times, Saveur and time.com have featured him. The Southern Foodways Alliance made a film about him (which you can watch here.) He’s a member of an all-star barbecue team called Fatback Collective–a Murderers’ Row of celebrated chefs and pitmasters that includes Sean Brock, John Currence and Rodney’s current mentor, Alabama barbecue man Nick Pihakis.
Four nights a week, Rodney spends all night cooking as many as a dozen hogs over wood he cuts himself. Folks around this part of the state who lose a pecan, oak or hickory tree call Rodney, and he comes out with a chainsaw and truck to cut it up and haul it back to the woodpile. A log-splitting machine preps the wood for the “burn barrel,” a weird, heat-distorted metal tank with the ends cut off, mounted vertically and pierced with truck axles to hold up the burning wood and let the coals fall to the bottom.
Every 15 or 20 minutes for 12 hours, evening to morning, Rodney carries shovelfuls of burning coals into the pit house and spreads them under the butterflied hog carcasses. He’s scrupulous about the hogs he uses–pasture-raised animals from a grower up the road in Florence, South Carolina. Rodney knows the man who feeds them, knows what they eat. The hogs cook atop sections of wire fence material (hogwire, of course) held up by grates of rebar set into the concrete-block barbecue pits.
“In the kitchen you’d be turning a knob,” Rodney says, shoveling red-glowing coals under the sizzling pigs. “Out here, you gotta walk with a shovel.”
In the final stages of cooking, while the pigskins crisp underneath, he breaks up the savory, smoky pig flesh with a spoon and mops on sauce from a five-gallon bucket. Thin and cinnamon-red with lemon slices floating on top, the sauce looks like holiday punch. It’s peppery and vinegary, with a mysterious fruity note that Rodney will identify only as “the love.” Smoke envelops me and sauce splashes onto me and my camera as I film Rodney across the pit.
A hand-scrawled sign pasted up next to the pit-house door warns, “BBQ 9:30. No Sooner. Respect That!!!” It’s a hard order to abide by when you drive up early on a Saturday morning to find tendrils of wood smoke curling out the screen door, carrying the deep, sweet aroma of hogs cooked since the night before.
By 10 o’clock or so, my companions and I had cracked open bottles of neon-bright Red Rock strawberry soda and tucked into plates of pulled rib, shoulder and leg meat folded into slices of Merita whitebread. Dessert was palm-sized hunks of crackling–the subtly saucy, explosively crunchy pigskin. It was all dizzyingly delicious.
Which may explain the cast.
Blissed out and lightheaded from the barbecue, I made a clumsy misstep, stumbled, tumbled and found myself that afternoon in a Charleston emergency room. More concerned with the medical condition of my broken wrist than with the cosmetic condition of my skin, the doctor summarily slapped a cast over the whole shebang–smoke, sauce splatters and all.
Now there is circled on my calendar a date doubly anticipated. It’s the day I simultaneously get back the use of my arm and open a time-capsule souvenir of the best barbecue of my life.
Where’s your favorite BBQ joint? Tell us in the comments.
Photo Credit: Bonjwing Lee | Huffington Post
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