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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Hunter's Manual: A Guide to South Carolina Barbecue

I may not be the foremost expert in South Carolina barbecue, but the general consensus that it's "only" mustard barbecue and more of a younger sister compared to North Carolina's well-known whole hog tradition is one consensus I'd like to put a end to, and fast. The following is a quick and dirty guide to what you'll usually find in your average SC barbecue joint, including a little bit about hash, South Carolina's staple stew.

A Brief Aside on "Barbecue"
Barbecue is a term that's often kind of thrown out there for any form of grilling, but the proper use of the word in the South revolves around not a particular method as commonly used elsewhere, but just to the actual act of roasting specifically pork itself. While it's fine to refer to grilling other meats and fishes as barbecue, it is generally preferred that you refer directly to the meat you barbecue when you are barbecuing a none-pork product, or just label it grilling.

South Carolina Barbecue
Contrary to popular belief, there is not one, but four types of barbecue in South Carolina. The difference around the four is in the basting and finish, namely the sauce. The most well-known to the region is mustard, mostly inspired by the German heritage found in the state thanks to a mass movement during the mid-to-late 1700s. The taste can be described as a sharp sweetness chased by the mellow, meaty pulled pork. There's also a bit of tang from the mustard and vinegar generally found in the sauce, but nowhere as powerful as the most well-known Carolina style barbecue sauce, the vinegar and pepper. On paper, something so wildly sour in principle may seem a bit daunting, but that sharp vinegar flavor becomes surprisingly addicting after a few bites, almost sweet even. Vinegar and pepper is the oldest of barbecues, and the one you'll most likely find anywhere you go in the Carolinas and even Georgia or Virginia. In South Carolina, mustard is generally found in the lowcountry and midlands while vinegar touches more on the NC/SC border and much of the northeast region of the state.

The other two forms of barbecue that can be found in South Carolina are the light and heavy tomato versions. Located mostly in south, southwest portion of the state, light tomato sauces are essentially vinegar and pepper sauces doused with ketchup for a slightly sweeter sauce. Heavy tomato sauce is predominantly a west SC thing, and what people generally attribute barbecue sauce to be with it's thick, smoky, molasses flavor.

The Mysterious Goop Known as "Hash"
South Carolina's response to North Carolina and Virginia's brunswick stew, hash is basically leftover barbecue pieces finely chopped and cooked to death with potatoes, onions, maybe some carrot and spices. The name "hash" most likely arose from it's similarity to a corn beef hash with all the ingredients thrown in. It's consistency, however, is what separates it from the well known breakfast favorite. You'll generally find a thick, stew-like version in most restaurants, but there are also looser versions that exist that have more of a soup-like consistency. It often has a sharp, sour kick, a touch of spice, and some sweet and meatiness from the pulled pork. Served with or on rice, hash is a great side unique to South Carolina.

To learn more about South Carolina's barbecue history, check out

For a few restaurants to check out in the Columbia area, check out:
Little Pigs
Doc's Barbecue


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