South Carolina BBQ
Due to the land, climate and crops traditionally grown in the region, you will see that North and South Carolina barbecue styles have many similarities. They both predominantly use the whole hog (pork shoulder and baby back ribs), smoke with the same indigenous hardwoods of hickory and pecan, and share some very similar sauce styles. Also, the side dishes are as much a part of the BBQ experience as the meat! With very traditional varieties and the occasional creative outlier, most of the cooking is done slowly over low-heat fires for hours. If you ask the pit master they’ll tell you a chef didn’t train them. More than likely it was their grandfather or parent that passed down a family tradition.
The most notable difference found between the two Carolina regions is a unique sauce that is referred to as South Carolina gold. It’s a bright yellow BBQ sauce, developed to play against the fatty nature of the pork substrate, using prepared yellow mustard, cayenne and black pepper, brown sugar and a hearty dose of vinegar. As part of these excursions, I take detailed notes to help formulate and document my experiences. I have listed the notes on each establishment below to help you visualize my experience with South Carolina BBQ. I hope you enjoy this culinary exploration as much as I did!
1. Fort Mill BBQ
LOCATION: 737 Stockbridge Dr. Fort Mill, SC 29708
ABOUT: A nice little location for Carolina BBQ, the manager/chef came out to check on us several times and answer questions. A small outdoor patio for dining is available.
- Baby back ribs: Dry, slightly over-cooked, great flavor, didn’t need sauce, and pulled off the bone easily.
- Chicken: Tender, flavorful, moist, slight smoke, juicy. Favorite meat of the group.
- Pulled pork: Not a ton of smoke, a little dry.
- FMBBQ Signature Southern Philly: Beef brisket and smoked turkey, bacon crumbles, diced smoked sausage, sautéed peppers, onions, chipotle mayo and spicy chipotle cheese.
- Vinegar: A classic North Carolina vinegar and pepper sauce with cider vinegar, sugar and red pepper flakes.
- Mustard: A yellow mustard South Carolina gold sauce with brown sugar and black pepper.
- Signature: A blend of their vinegar and mustard sauce. Looks to be close to a 50/50 blend.
- Thick and sweet: K.C. style
- Signature reaper: The signature sauce spiked with Carolina reaper pepper. This came in a plastic container and you had to ask for it. It had a nice kick for a finish.
- Mac and cheese: Baked, then scooped to portion size, this is a standard macaroni with a cheddar base.
- Hushpuppies: Slightly moist, and one of the better hushpuppies I have had. The members of the group who were familiar with hushpuppies agreed.
- Baked beans: Standard baked beans with brown sugar profile.
- Fried okra: Cut into rings, standard breading, and deep-fried.
- Collard greens: Simple and very good representation of collard greens, slightly bitter, but not overpowering. No noticeable vinegar flavor.
- Sweet corn fritters: Excellent, sweet, slightly moist, and my favorite of the group. Apparently they are a purchased product and not made at the store.
- Smoked corn maque choux: A New Orleans-style corn blend. A good concept, but the execution and corn quality was poor.
- White coleslaw: Mayo thinned with vinegar base.
- Cucumber onion salad: Slightly longer strands of cabbage than normally found in Carolina (usually found chopped so it can go on their sandwiches), with a vinegar sugar base.
2. The Dixie Pig
LOCATION: 2007 Celanese Road, Rock Hill, SC, 29732
ABOUT: This is a classic roadside hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint. It shares a building with a coin laundromat. Kurtis Fine (owner and chef) came out to talk to the group; he was very informative and gave us a lot of insight. He had great sauces that really carried the show.
- Baby back ribs: Braised and smoked. Very tender, pulls off the bone easily, with a lightly smoky char. Some people loved the char; a few disliked it. Went great with the mustard sauce.
- Chicken: Brined for 24 hours, smoked for 6 hours. Hands down the best chicken of the day.
- Pulled pork: Not enough of the smoke, a little dry, shredded.
SAUCES: Best sauces of the day, by far. Actually quite possibly the best representation of American regional BBQ sauces I have seen at a restaurant.
- Vinegar: A classic North Carolina vinegar pepper sauce.
- Mustard: A yellow mustard South Carolina gold sauce, yellow mustard, brown sugar, cider vinegar, pepper.
- Alabama white: A blend of mayo, buttermilk (his add-on, not traditional), cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, horseradish, lemon juice.
- Thick and sweet: Close to what I would call a Memphis style but not quite as thick as a K.C.
- Mac and cheese: Baked, no crust, standard macaroni noodle and cheddar base. Mild flavor profile, OK.
- Potato salad: Mayo base, Idaho potatoes, simple in flavor. OK.
- Fried corn: A section of corn on the cob, simply deep-fried. Quality was OK, but it is not corn season, so a little unfair to judge.
- Baked beans: Standard baked beans but really good.
- Braised cabbage: The cabbage is braised with a combination of corn beef broth and pork broth, and has a very savory and rich flavor. Many people thought this was the best side of the day. My personal favorite.
- Black-eyed peas with collard greens: Very good and flavorful.
- BBQ hash: Pulled pork hash mixed with potatoes and North Carolina vinegar sauce, served over white rice. The use of rice was interesting for a BBQ place and had good flavor, but many people were not fans of the texture.
- Red coleslaw: Made with North Carolina vinegar and pepper sauce.
- White coleslaw: Mayo thinned with cider vinegar base.
- Peanut butter pie: A peanut butter cream pie mixed with cocoa crisps.
- Peach dumpling: Amazing, just amazing, served with ice cream.
3. 521 BBQ
LOCATION: 6257 Carolina Commons Dr., Fort Mill, SC 29707
ABOUT: This was an average representation of Carolina BBQ. A bit basic in comparison to the other locations I discussed in this review.
Overall, it was a great trip to South Carolina. If you found this review interesting, read my adventures in LA when visiting taco food trucks!