by Kathy Gardener
My first barbeque cook-off was held on an early day in May at beautiful Saluda Shoals Park back 10 years or so. The annual Pickin’ and Piggin’ has become one of my most favorite festivals of the year. Attendees pay one price and get to taste as much pork barbeque as they can hold…(or til they run out – yet to see that!) from a large contingent of barbeque smokers who hail from far and wide. Husband and I like to stroll about, chatting with the participants, listening to good live bluegrass and sampling some of the best smoked meat you’ll come across (served in small styrofoam cups).
The technique for which barbeque is named involves cooking using smoke at low temperatures and long cooking times (several hours). A very old form of cooking meats, barbeque has been around since cavemen discovered fire, I reckon. So we’ve had a long, long time to perfect it. Any type of hardwood can be used for the smoking wood. Southerners tend to use hickory because it creates a sweet, yet strong bacon-flavor – especially popular with pork and ribs. “Low and Slow” is the method preferred around these parts, with whole hogs taking up to 18 hours to cook. A “pitmaster” is a true barbeque master who has perfected every aspect of making barbeque – from the pit, the wood, the rub, temperature, prep techniques, and sauce… definitely a badge of honor.
South Carolinians grow up on one of four sauces for their “Q”, generally dependent on where they are from inside the state. The Midlands is known for its mustard-based sauce, probably created by German immigrants in the 18th century. This tangy sauce is unique to South Carolina, sometimes called “Carolina Gold”. Vinegar and Pepper sauce is the closest to Native Americans’ recipe, usually made with cider vinegar, cayenne, black pepper, crushed red pepper and variants, and is found in coastal regions. It’s what the colonial settlers would have used and is considered the oldest sauce. Light Tomato is found in the PeeDee area and is made by mixing ketchup in with Vinegar and Pepper sauce. Finally, the fourth is Heavy Tomato (think Kraft Barbecue Sauce) and is what most folks in the western parts of South Carolina put on their barbeque. Little Pigs Barbecue on Alpine Road in Northeast Columbia allows its guests to try three sauces by serving pulled pork with each sauce on its amazing buffet. Willie Jewell’s Old School Bar-B-Q in Lexington serves its meats without sauce, and provides 4 sauces on a self-serve bar, so you can try whatever you like, ranging in degrees of sweet to spicy to tangy. Maurice’s Piggie Park has a line of Southern Gold sauce it sells in its restaurants, which is a mustard based sauce with variations on sweet and tangy. Hite’s Bar-B-Que (carryout) in West Columbia serves their award-winning barbeque with mustard-sauce.
We are fortunate to be home to Little Pigs Barbecue, a tradition that dates from 1963. Full service, dine-in buffet or take-out, you’ll fall in love with their barbecue, ribs, brisket, pork chops, and traditional sides like rice, hash, collards, mac ‘n cheese and Champ’s famous tomato pie.
Newcomer Willie Jewell’s Old School Bar-B-Q in Lexington is quickly gaining a following for its fast-casual take on pit smoked barbeque. Their beef brisket is as popular as their pulled pork, their grape lemonade is a hit and they’re open 7 days a week.
And if you’re looking for a fun way to eat barbeque, attend a barbeque cook-off around the Columbia area:
Pickin’ & Piggin’ Saluda Shoals Park Saturday May 4 (11am – 2:30pm)
Battle of Camden BBQ Festival Historic Camden Revolutionary War Park Friday & Saturday May 17 & 18
Gaston Collard & BBQ Festival Gaston, SC – Saturday October 5
Pig on the Ridge Ridgeway, SC Friday & Saturday November 1 & 2
Commissioner’s Cup BBQ Cookoff State Farmers Market Each March