The Carolinas are a special place to me. Growing up, they were associated with family trips to the beach. As I got older, the Carolinas grew to mean even more. Charleston, South Carolina is where I played a baseball tournament and the heat index stayed in the 120’s, and it’s now a frequent vacation destination. Greenville, South Carolina was my first home out of college and where I had my first real, adult job. Columbia, South Carolina is home to my future wife’s family, the University of South Carolina, and boating on Lake Murray.
Clearly, the Carolinas have played a major role in shaping my life.
BBQ and the Carolinas Go Hand-in-Hand
Through each vacation and life event I’ve had in the Carolinas, barbecue has been ubiquitous. And the states are the most diverse region when it comes to American BBQ. In just the Carolinas alone, tastes can be hyper-local as there are four distinct sauce styles:
- Eastern Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Western Carolina
- Western Carolina
According to Mintel, “The spread of American culture, through movies, streaming services and social media, is responsible for the growing interest in regional American food traditions. Pinterest, Instagram, and other sharing sites have given consumers in other markets a sense of the differences between barbecue styles in Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City and other cities.” Exploring Carolina barbecue is a great way to exemplify this trend.
Eastern Carolina – Vinegar-Based
I was first introduced to Eastern Carolina style by my mom on our way to the beach. As soon as we hit Raleigh on I-40, I knew we were going to look for a Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q. No trip to the beach was complete without a generous helping of Smithfield’s pulled pork in their signature vinegar sauce, a mountain of hushpuppies, and a cold banana pudding. I still associate the tangy, semi-spicy taste of their sauce with the beach music and road trips.
Western Carolina – Red Sauce
I cannot remember the first time I had Western Carolina style barbecue. It is most similar to what I would find at home in Ohio. The sauce tends to have both sweet and savory flavors and can include smokiness or spiciness. From my time in Greenville, two places stick out: one because it was a go-to when I didn’t want to cook dinner and the other because it was definitely worth the drive.
Henry’s Smokehouse – An Everyday Go-To
Henry’s Smokehouse on Wade Hampton Boulevard is a staple in Greenville. I always order a pulled pork plate with two sides. I tend to get mac-n-cheese and green beans if I feel like staying with savory flavors. For something sweet, their sweet potato casserole is to-die-for. Their main sauce is a traditional Western Carolina red sauce. Their spicy sauce has some mustard mixed in. I recommend mixing their mild sauce with their spicy sauce to get the right amount of heat.
The Smokin’ Pig – A BBQ Mecca
I expressed my love of barbecue to my coworkers at the time and of course, they all had their own opinions. There was one place they all agreed that I had to try, The Smokin’ Pig. Determined to see if it lived up to the hype, my friend and I reserved a day for the 40-minute trek down I-85 to the original in Pendleton, South Carolina. That day, I still remember needing assistance deciding what to get on that trip, and the friendly staff’s recommendation to get the ribs with the sauce.
Their ribs are easily some of the best barbecue I have ever had. While, the tables there hold a variety of sauce bottles, the ribs are covered with a traditional Western Carolina sauce. As an added bonus, each meal is served with unbelievably delicious, freshly made rolls. Anytime we make our way back to the Greenville area, I always see about a trip back to The Smokin’ Pig.
South Carolina – Mustard-Based
I’ve saved my favorite barbecue sauce for last. My fiance’s family makes the best barbecue sauce in the world and it is a mustard-based South Carolina style sauce. I am excited to share that I finally got the recipe (I’m not allowed to share it). Oddly enough, I was not a big fan of South Carolina style sauce originally. The first time I had their sauce was at my future in-law’s house for dinner with pulled pork. After my first bite I thought, “Yeah, I could marry this girl.”
The taste has a special tang and pairs perfectly with a side of collard greens. The sauce makes appearances at family functions like the famous Pig Jig, but special occasions are not frequent enough for my taste. The sauce now has a permanent spot in our refrigerator at home.
Barbecue has a special place in my heart. I love getting the chance to try new places and new styles. And, I get to marry in to the family with the best sauce in the world, – a dream come true.