It’s a good thing for barbecue lovers that Rodney Scott got a little nervous after high school.
“I did have a dream – I got this love for cars and I thought about doing body work and building classic cars,” he said recently outside his family’s landmark restaurant and variety store. “The year I graduated, and the application came from the school in Nashville; I got a little nervous and said I’m going to wait a year.”
Instead of learning about diesel engines and body work, he immersed himself in his family’s stock-in-trade: barbecued pork.
“I just couldn’t get away,” he said.
Another dream is taking shape, though: Scott is working to take his skills to Charleston, with plans to open a restaurant on upper King Street by year’s end.
“The idea came up five years ago,” he said. “The idea kept popping up.”
Three years ago, there was a setback as the pithouse in Hemingway completely burned and had to be replaced. Once it was rebuilt, the idea of another location came back around.
“And I said sure, why not? It’s like baseball,” he said. “You get a pitch and swing for the fence.”
Scott was born in Philadelphia but raised in Hemingway and Nesmith. The pitmaster has spent most of his life at the restaurant and variety store opened by his mother, Ella, and father, Roosevelt, in 1972.
There’s no doubt he’s gained perspective next to the pit.
“Food definitely brings people together. I’ve experienced that over and over, and over again,” he said. “I’ve learned that old traditions carry on a long time.”
The food doesn’t change. A tomato, he points out, is still a tomato. It’s all in how the chef or pitmaster presents it.
“I’ve learned that barbecue is known all over. I’ve been as far as Uruguay, and around South America and Australia and in each place they welcome barbecue with open arms – they love it,” he said. “It’s not just in the South because it is worldwide.”
As he’s refined his art, he’s embraced the fellowship of hanging out with friends while he’s cooking.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I appreciate it a lot more. It’s not just a 9-to-5 job,” he said, but a lifestyle that includes “whoever shows up and whoever is around. It’s more fun now.”
Scott still keeps his mind open to taking in new ideas.
“I know my way around a lot more but it’s given me new recognition on the bits and pieces of what I do: the acidity of the vinegar, the flavor of cayenne pepper and how it’s supposed to be healthy for you. I’ve learned to appreciate it and it’s like I’m still learning every day.”
The general process, as he calls it, is to first gather wood. His fire consists mostly of oak, with some hickory and pecan. The oak burns slow while the hickory burns hotter and the pecan brings some flavor. The hog’s head and feet are removed as the pits are designed that way, and once the hog is butterflied, it goes meat-side down for 12 hours. It’s a slow process, he said, and the temperature is maintained between 220 and 250 degrees.
“We hold it low and slow for 12 hours, flip it over and start adding our dry seasoning,” he said.
The vinegar-based sauce is mopped on. There might be some bourbon consumed along the way, he said with a smile.
So what’s in the sauce?
Vinegar, cayenne and black pepper … “and some other stuff in there that I’m not allowed to say,” he said, laughing. “I call it love.”
Once the mopping of the sauce is complete, the hog comes off and it’s pulled and served. Keeping everything consistent is tough, he said.
“I don’t care what business you’re in, you have to aim for consistency every week,” he said.
The hogs come from a farm about an hour away.
“He won’t claim the fame,” he said, laughing. “The hogs are real good; overall a great percentage.”
King Street beckons
Tourists from Charleston or Myrtle Beach often stop by the Scott family establishment just outside Hemingway.
“We’ve been pretty lucky to be where we are. We get many visitors from two or three hours away,” he said.
There’s been a lot of back and forth travel for him to the Holy City as Rodney Scott’s BBQ at 1011 King St. takes shape. When it opens, in addition to pork, diners will choose from barbecued turkey, ribs, fried chicken, chicken pilau, mac and cheese and probably banana pudding for dessert if there’s room.
The menu is “a rough draft at this point,” but he said that “everything on the list revolves around what I experienced growing up – what Mom made. Probably collards, maybe turnips.”
Catering is certainly a consideration and he thinks having a drive-through restaurant at the new location will be a big plus.
“Very excited about Charleston,” he said.
Not long ago, he was on the other coast, visiting friends in San Francisco and just standing around, he said, when someone recognized him.
“It’s unheard of, for a small town guy like me,” he said. “He was like, ‘Wow, I saw you on TV.’”
WHERE: 2734 Hemingway Hwy (SC 261), Hemingway, (843) 558-0134, thescottsbbq.com
WHEN: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday; 9:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday; and 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday. Cash and check only, no cards.
TIP: If you’re arriving in the late afternoon, call ahead early for orders of ribs, or half or whole smoked chickens.
GETTING THERE: The easiest way to get to Scott’s from Columbia is to head towards Sumter on U.S. 378 and then turn onto S.C. 261 and follow 261 through Pinewood, Manning and Kingstree. Stay on 261 and follow the signs toward Stuckey and Hemingway. Scott’s will be at the interesection of 261 and Cow Head Road at Brunson Crossroads.
DID YOU KNOW: Scott’s has been designated a stop on the Eastern SC Heritage Region’s BBQ Trail. The Eastern SC Heritage Region highlights the best spots in the northeastern part of South Carolina that are within driving distance of the coast (www.easternscheritage.com). For a statewide barbecue trail – which also includes Scott’s – check out the South Carolina BBQ Trail Map, http://discoversouthcarolina.com/barbecue.