The BEST Barbecue Places in South Carolina
As many of you know, I reside in the great state of South Carolina. I am surrounded by amazing barbecue, even better than what comes off my grill! I have tried to learn and hone in on the craft of amazing barbecue, and make it fun for those who are trying to learn as well. So, I figured that I would give you my favorite places in South Carolina to find some of the BEST barbecue.
I grew up around great barbecue. I am from Georgia, I live in South Carolina, I am forty five minutes from North Carolina, and a stones throw to Tennessee. The south has the best barbecue in the country, and that is no lie. In my humble opinion, coming from the grillionaire™ of South Carolina, there are just a few places that really put us on the map for great South Carolinian barbecue.
Before I get into the BEST places that puts South Carolina on the map, I want to take you on a small historical introduction to South Carolina barbecue. Keep reading for some great history and even better places to eat.
Introduction to South Carolina Barbecue
An old fishing tale goes that barbecue was invented in South Carolina. Now, there is very little prove that fact, but it still remains that the Palmetto state can boast about one of the oldest and most vibrant forms of cue. Whole Hog cooking is regularly practiced in this state and tracks back to the antebellum days. The details and slight form changes have happened over time, but the fundamental form of South Carolina barbecue- meat cooked low and slow over hot coals- remains the standard.
The protein of choice in the Palmetto state is pork. It is, in fact, what we refer to as barbecue. Ask any South Carolinian what barbecue is, they will most likely say pulled pork, pork loin, chops, ribs, etc. We also cook beef and chicken as well as any other region, but pork is our mainstay. South Carolinians refer chicken as "barbecue chicken" because it is a different protein cooked in the barbecue style. "Pork barbecue" sounds fine, I guess, but is redundant to the South Carolinians ears.
The Pee Dee Region
The Pee Dee region of the state, roughly the upper north east region (shown in blue here) is one of the last strong holds for whole hog cooking. Pee Dee style is usually cooked over an open pit; you know the cinder block or brick pits with an opening in the bottom to shovel hot coals into. Whole hogs are laid on the grate and cooked upwards of 12 hours. The hogs are typically cooked skin side up, until the very end where they are flipped and mopped with the regions signature sauce: vinegar, salt, black pepper, and just enough red pepper to give you a bite of heat at the end. Once sauced, the meat is pulled from the carcass with tongs. Wood fire cooked and properly basted at the end, Pee Dee style barbecue is smoked flavorfully with exceptional tenderness.
The Pee Dee style of barbecue is a legacy of the agricultural past. However, there is ONE place in this region that helps keep South Carolina on the map for barbecue.
That place is:
McCabe's BBQ in Manning, SC. 480 N Brooks St, Manning, SC 29102
Simply put, McCabe's BBQ cooks some of the best cue you will ever eat. It is a STAND OUT as an old school, South Carolina barbecue. The combination of classic, wood-cooked bbq and the selection of sides makes McCabe's one of the BEST South Carolina barbecue joints.
The next stop on our tour of South Carolina barbecue is the midlands.
The midlands can be summed up in about eight counties that surround the capital of Columbia. There are many places that cook whole hog in the midlands, but shoulders and ham are more common in this region. The most distinguishing feature, however, of this region is sauce. The Pee Dee region has their vinegar sauce, but in the midlands, what immediately makes it recognizable is the eye-catching bright yellow color. The color, and taste, comes from a solid base of mustard. More commonly, it is sweetened with brown sugar or honey and given a tangy bite with cider vinegar and black pepper.
The Midlands is known for their sauce and is the home of South Carolina's signature side dish, hash and rice. It is a savory side that keeps with the long tradition of barbecue stews. Hash started as a way to use the head and other parts that couldn't really be cooked on the pit.
Credit: Courtesy of Cook's Country
Most restaurants these days, though, make their hash from pork shoulder and even a little beef along with onions and various secret seasonings. Many hash-makers add a generous dose of their mustard-based barbecue sauce, too, giving the finished stew a decidedly golden hue.
One of the best spots in the Midlands is:
Big T's BBQ in Gadsden, SC. 2520 Congaree Rd, Gadsden, SC 29052
You might miss it if you blink. There are three total "Big T's" around, but it is worth a ride to the mothership in Gadsden. Here is where they make all the hash for their other stores. With a long and rich tradition, Big T's is one of the best places in the state for our signature side dish and the regions signature sauce.
Our final stop on the South Carolina barbecue tour is everywhere else.
The midlands style of barbecue has migrated east and down into the coastal Low Country. Charleston, for example, has become a hub for southern and South Carolinian barbecue. It hosts place from the Palmetto State, North Carolina, Georgia, and even as far as Texas.
South Carolina is generally split into four regions and many claim we have four different sauces. This is simply not true. In practice there are only two: the tangy and sweet yellow mustard-based sauce of the Midlands and the fiery, fundamental vinegar/pepper sauce of the Pee Dee.
Some of the BEST cue in the nation comes from South Carolina. A couple more of my favorites are:
Rodney Scott's BBQ in Charleston. 1011 King St, Charleston, SC 29403
This counter-serve location is one of the best in the city of Charleston. Keeping to his roots of whole hog cooking, Scott provides low and slow cooked proteins that are off the chart! The line for this place fills up QUICK. It has also been recognized and won a James Beard award!
MY LAST but CERTAINLY not LEAST favorite place is in the Upstate. It is even in my own backyard, sort of. It is:
SBH BBQ in Greenville. 5021 Pelham Rd. Greenville, SC 29615
Credit: Courtesy of Trip Advisor
SBH is a spinoff of a KCBS competition team, Smoking Butt Heads. What is special about this place is Todd Smith, owner, has won MULTIPLE grand champions and even won the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP in 2020. This place has a great vibe, great drinks, the best barbecue in the upstate, and a great atmosphere.
South Carolina has a rich tradition of barbecue and if you're like me, you like to know a little history of where things come from and how they got to be the way they are today. Am I a little bias about South Carolina? SURE! I live here! I experience it! I cook it! I eat it!
If you are ever in one of these regions, check out these places that helps put South Carolina near the TOP of the barbecue map!
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