BBQ and Southern Identity – A Sandlapper’s gastric journey through North Carolina and beyond

Sandlapper: A resident or native of the State of South Carolina, specifically, a reference to those residing in the Sand Hills, Pee Dee or Coastal Plain – areas known for their sandy soils.

 

As our Commander in Chief is fond of saying, “Let me be clear…” I was raised on the golden-tinged mustard-based barbeque of the Midlands of South Carolina and will always be a devoted loyalist to that variety of “Que”. Maurice’s Piggy Park in Columbia is likely the most famous, (or infamous, depending on your view of owner Maurice Bessinger’s pro-Confederate flag antics) example of the mustard barbeques of the region. Maurice’s is ok, though I prefer my barbeque free of political rhetoric of any kind and am more drawn to Little Pigs near Fort Jackson or Shealy’s in nearby Batesburg-Leesville. Of course, aside from the main course of chopped or shredded pork, any South Carolinian can tell you that the next most important aspect of any bbq meal is the “hash”.  Hash, as I’ve heard it described is made up of the various bits and pieces of hog left over after the main chopping and shredding has taken place, added to a thin, tomatoey sauce, usually tangy, reddish brown in color and served over cooked rice. I have also heard that its best not to ask or to think too hard about exactly what hash is and better to just mindlessly enjoy it. And it lends itself to being mindlessly enjoyed – it is nothing short of heaven on a plate. And there is no place better for classic South Carolina style hash than Ward’s Barbeque of Sumter, S.C. (45 minutes east of Columbia). Ward’s original location was within a couple of miles of my Grandparent’s home on Boulevard Road in Sumter and I spent many wonderful lunches around their kitchen table as a kid woofing down all the pork, hash & rice and hushpuppies (or as my Grandfather called them, “corn dodgers”) and of course, the ubiquitous sweet tea I could handle. (More on sweet tea – the Nectar of the Gods – in another blog).

Of course, over the years as I’ve traveled the States and sampled barbeque in other places I’ve come to the realization that there must be scant little in the way of “bad barbeque” in the world (I have yet to find it). Of the Holy Quadrinity of American barbeque varieties – Texas, Kansas City, Memphis and “Carolina” – I readily confess to loving them all.

It never occurred to me that barbeque could even be made of beef until I worked briefly in Amarillo, TX years ago and was first introduced to Texas-style beef brisket. It was wonderful, sumptuous and, despite the fact that it was patently not pork, I was hooked.

On a trip to watch the Gamecocks play Ole’ Miss during the 2003 football season, some friends and I stayed in downtown Memphis and took the opportunity to sample the dry rubbed ribs at Charles Vergo’s world famous “Rendezvous”  near Beale Street. You have not had ribs until you’ve had them here. To me, the only acceptable preamble to the ocular pleasures of tailgating at the Grove in Oxford is dining at Rendezvous the night before.

Kansas City is a historic crossroads of cultures and was a magnet during the great exodus of African-Americans from the South in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries – people who brought their culinary traditions with them, resulting in a veritable melting pot of wonderfulness, a sort of representative democracy of American barbeque. If you have not experienced the grease-laden pleasures of Aurthur Bryant’s original location at 18th and Brooklyn Streets in downtown Kansas City, or the burnt ends at Jack Stack (you will shed tears of joy), or sat in enraptured awe while grooving to a great blues band and devouring Kansas City’s best ribs at BB’s Lawnside BBQ , you simply must go there by plane, train or automobile… now!

Which brings me to the fourth variety of the Holy Quadrinity – “Carolina” style barbeque. You must know, first of all that this name is lacking in accuracy. The general assumption (at least outside of South Carolina) when one refers to “Carolina” barbeque is that one is referencing the vinegar-based pork varieties prevalent in central and eastern North Carolina. Of course, it is also prevalent in eastern South Carolina. But there are other, equally noteworthy and magical varieties throughout the Carolinas (not to mention Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and beyond) which include but are not limited to the aforementioned mustard-based sauces of the Midlands and the tomato and/or ketchup based sauces of the western Carolinas. They are all knee-buckling good, which is why I recommend never attempting to stand while eating this stuff.

Taken from Dr. Charles Kovacik's "South Carolina - The Makings of a Landscape" - 1989, University of South Carolina Press

 

Now, finally to the point of this rambling blog entry. Going forward, it is my goal to visit one barbeque restaurant a week while traveling through my newly adopted home  state of North Carolina and to review the experience on this site. (It will be a sacrifice, but I’ll attempt to persevere). Through this venture, my hope is to learn more about the culture and identity of these places I go – and of course, to eat more barbeque, because life is too short not to.

Next blog: a review of Keaton’s Barbeque – Cleveland, N.C.

One thought on “BBQ and Southern Identity – A Sandlapper’s gastric journey through North Carolina and beyond

  1. born in 1953 . red bridges bbq in 1959 till today . love the stuff and from other joints too . like sauces of tomato , vinegar , little sugar , little hot . no candy or gummed up stuff . sweet tea is a must . never had a desert at a bbq joint . i eat to much bbq . i’ll be working on my hushpuppy recipe this year .

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