Barbecue Lover’s The Carolinas is a guidebook to barbecue in North and South Carolina, it describes Eastern North Carolina and the Pee Dee, the Piedmont, the Midlands and Lowcountry of South Carolina, and the Upstate and the Mountains. The heart of the book is a guide to some of the best and most representative restaurants in each region, plus recipes for some of the Carolina’s most iconic dishes and plenty of fun stories along the way. It’s got a lot of great color photos from some really talented photographers, too, including Robert Donovan and Charleston City Paper’s own Jonathan Boncek. Here are a few excerpts from the book:
The Truth about South Carolina’s “Truth in Barbecue” Law
In 1986, Representative J. J. “Bubber” Snow of Hemingway introduced S.C. House Bill 3718, which became known as the “Truth in Barbecue” law. The bill required the Department of Agriculture to design and print “distinctive decals that may be displayed wherever barbecue is sold.” Each decal would announce which type of barbecue the establishment sold, and there were four possible categories:
1. “Barbeque – Whole hog – Cooked with wood”.
2. “Barbeque – Whole hog – Cooked from a heat source other than wood”.
3. “Barbeque – Part of, but not whole hog – Cooked from any source of heat”.
4. “Barbeque – Part of, but not whole hog – Cooked with wood”.
Anyone displaying a decal that falsely stated the type of barbecue he or she was selling could be fined up to $200 or imprisoned for up to 30 days.
Snow predicted the law would benefit both farmers and consumers, bringing publicity to farmers so they could sell more pork and transparency for consumers so they could better choose their barbecue. “Let the connoisseur compare and decide what they like best,” Snow told the press. Gov. Dick Riley signed the bill into law in May 1986, but there was one major shortcoming in the measure: It stated that restaurants may display the decals, but it didn’t require them to. It’s not clear whether any restaurants actually posted the decals at all, and there certainly was no effort at enforcing the rules.
These days, writers still cite the Truth in Barbecue law as evidence of how seriously people in the Palmetto State take their ‘cue, and many seem to think that the law is still on the books. Alas, it did not remain in effect for very long. Representative Snow quietly introduced a bill repealing the truth in barbecue law in 1992, bringing to an end the first and, so far, the only effort in the country to regulate the definition of barbecue.
The German Connection: A Dubious Conjecture?
The presence of mustard in the barbecue sauce of the Midlands of South Carolina is often attributed to the German influence in what is known as the Dutch Fork, which takes its name from the spot where the Broad and Saluda Rivers meet to form the Congaree and from the number of Germans (or Deutsch) who settled in the area. Indeed, a suspiciously large number of the family names that adorn the signs of the region’s barbecue restaurants are German in origin: Hite, Bessinger, Dukes, Shealy, Lever, Price. Germans, the explanation goes, have a fondness for mustard, and they ended up incorporating it into their barbecue sauce.
But German names dominate the barbecue in the Piedmont of North Carolina, too. The so-called German conjecture, first advanced by Gary Freeze, a professor of history at Catawba College in Salisbury, N. C., postulates that the barbecue families in that region — families with German names like Swicegood, Weaver, and Ridenhour — brought with them a fondness for vinegar-marinated smoked pork and, in particular, prized the shoulder of the hog. And, of course, the presence of immigrant German butchers in Texas and their fondness for smoked meats is often cited to explain the origin of Texas’s famous sauceless brisket and beef ribs. Those Germans and their culinary preferences sure have gotten around.
“Orangeburg Sweet” or “Rust Gravy”: The Fifth Carolina Barbecue Sauce?
Almost everyone who has surveyed the different regional barbecue styles has pegged the Carolinas as having four distinct varieties of sauce: the spicy vinegar-pepper sauce of Eastern North Carolina and the Pee Dee, the vinegar-and-tomato of Piedmont North Carolina, the bright yellow mustard-based of the Midlands, and the sweet, heavy tomato sauce that is found in various parts of the Upstate and along South Carolina–Georgia border.
But, these culinary taxonomists may have missed an elusive fifth style of sauce: the orangish-red concoction that’s the hallmark of the Dukes barbecue family from Orangeburg County. The sauce is a blend of ketchup, mustard, sugar, and, in some incarnations, a little whipped salad dressing. Sweeter and milder than the more common Midlands mustard-based sauce, this fifth style can be found in both of the Dukes barbecue restaurants in Orangeburg, as well as places that spun out of the Dukes empire over the years, like Antley’s in Orangeburg and the Palmetto Pig in Columbia.
Some call the sauce “Orangeburg sweet,” but Tony Kittrell, who runs the Dukes Barbecue on Whitman Street in Orangeburg, has my favorite term for it: “rust gravy.”
Perloo & Chicken Bog
It’s spelled a lot of ways: pilau, perloo, purlo. And it’s pronounced in just as many ways, too. But, no matter how you spell it or say it, the word refers to an old Lowcountry delicacy, a savory dish of rice cooked with chicken and spices. Karen Hess, the author of the Carolina Rice Kitchen (1992), dug deeper into the history of the dish than anyone else, and her description is perhaps the best: “Long-grain rice that has been washed and presoaked is added to simmering aromatic broth . . . then covered and cooked until nearly dry.” In the 18th and 19th centuries, perloo was the signature dish of the Carolina rice plantations that surrounded Charleston. Somewhere along the line, traditional Lowcountry perloo migrated up to the Pee Dee, and in the process diverged into a variant called “chicken bog.”
Perloo and chicken bog can be found on the buffets at many of the barbecue restaurants in the Pee Dee, and the difference between the two is simple: Chicken bog is wet (hence the “bog” part of the name), while the grains of rice in perloo are dry and stand loose and distinct from each other. But, this doesn’t mean perloo is a boring dish. Far from it. Done properly, it’s a tasty treat, the rice grains infused with the savory spices and broth, the whole assemblage steamed to just the right firm but toothsome texture. It’s a combination that goes just swimmingly with a plate of slow-cooked barbecue.
So, if you see that funny P word on the next Pee Dee buffet you visit, take a few spoonfuls of chicken and rice and put them on your plate. You won’t be disappointed.