“I’m going to be real nice this morning,” says pitmaster Rodney Scott. He’s fiddling with his iPod trying to find the perfect song for cooking whole hog barbecue in the early morning hours. Being “nice” means asking folks around him if they have any musical requests. He settles on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and gently bobs along with the song while smoke pours out of the cooker just behind him. Scott takes his music very seriously while he’s cooking, and puts a lot of thought into his playlist. He feeds off the music. He dances, he sings, he tells stories about the artists who are playing. “Music is my drug. When a song hits me in the right way, it kicks me. It’s a jumpstart,” he says.
Rodney Scott, 43, is the man behind Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, S.C. — not too far from Myrtle Beach. He’s a local hero, known to cook some of the best whole-hog barbecue that you can find. If a tree falls in a resident’s yard, they call Scott. He and his guys show up and they’ve got free firewood for their barbecue. Scott tells me that he uses hard wood like pecan and oak. Each year, he invites the community over to his restaurant to visit and get some barbecue. He hires a band and has bouncy castles for kids. He says it’s his way of giving back to the community that supports him.
This is part of an occasional series on barbecue throughout the United States
This pig roast, though, is in Charleston, S.C., for Garden & Gun magazine’s first Jubilee in early December. It’s a celebration of all things Southern, and on the final day of the festival Scott is serving up the most Southern of dishes: pork barbecue. He’s been up all night cooking in his makeshift pit on wheels. The result of all this hard work will be two hogs, cooked all night long for attendees of the festival.
Roasting a pig overnight is something that many Southerners encounter at some point early in life. When I graduated high school, my father and his friends set up a smoker in the driveway and cooked a hog the night before my graduation party. I came home around 2 a.m. after drinking with friends and saying goodbye to high school. I pulled into my driveway to find my dad and his friends drinking and cooking barbecue. We just gave each other a knowing nod and I went inside to go to sleep. It was very grown up.
The all-night pig roast is more than a meal. It’s a party. “We start with prayer because you’re going to have a long night,” Scott says. “Gather all your supplies: Your wood. The pig. The burn barrel to get the fire started and a couple of chairs because you’re going to have a long evening. It’s low and slow for 12 hours.”
Cooking the pig isn’t hard to do. It just requires the knowledge and the patience to do it right. “You’ve got to have smoke,” Scott says. “Real smoke. Not liquid smoke.” To achieve this, Scott places the pigs (about 180 pounds each), which are butterflied, over a large grate inside his makeshift pit. The pit is a homemade box made of corrugated metal that holds the pigs and smoldering hardwood embers. And it locks in that smoke, which slowly cooks the pork.
The embers come from a contraption called the burn barrel. Wood is piled into a large cylindrical barrel. The wood is lit on fire and left to smolder and burn down to coals, which conveniently fall through a small grate at the bottom of the barrel. Wood is continually fed into the burn barrel as embers are removed to be shoveled into the pit. Near the bottom of the pit, there’s a small trap door through which Scott and his helper, Steven Green, load the coals below the pig.
It’s a simple, rugged design that is remarkably effective. When Scott needs to take a peek at the cooking pigs, he removes the top of the box and a dramatic pillar of smoke surges out until he puts the cover back on. The whole process can be seen and smelled from far away.
Staying up all night, of course, can take a toll on a cook. Scott confesses that it can be tough in the late night hours. “Just keep it moving,” he told me. “Naps are allowed. Not long naps, but some nights, you can get away with it.” You see the importance of having a partner like Green to help cover you while you sneak in a few quick moments of sleep.
Around 10 a.m., a crowd begins to gather around the pit. Smoke is everywhere and Scott catches his second wind. By this time, he has burned through old school Motown, hip hop, slow jams and “music your mom and dad might have danced to.”
It gets close to lunchtime, and Scott gets serious. He breaks out gallons of his signature secret sauce, spicy and vinegar based. He gets a box filled with secret seasonings. I spy salt and pepper and ask what else goes in there. “A lot of love,” he replies.
He’s a passionate guy. He grabs a knife and assumes his position over the pit, ready to season the whole hogs. The pigs are carefully flipped for the first and only time. Scott begins coarsely chopping away at the meat with a knife and a long-handled spoon. It’s that tender. He uses a spoon to help chop up the meat. Every so often, he takes out his mop and douses the pigs in the peppery barbecue sauce. Then, he’ll switch back to the spoon to continue chopping the meat, carefully spooning the sauce into every nook and cranny of the pork.
There is no real measurement for the seasoning. He’s just eyeballing and carefully distributing “the love” throughout the pit. After several minutes of this, Scott and Green each pick a piece of pork from the smoke. Just enough for a taste. Together, they close their eyes and contemplate the barbecue they’ve just made. They’re happy with the seasonings. A final slathering of sauce and bystanders are allowed to sample a bite or two. It’s insane. I’m heartsick that barbecue this good comes along so rarely. It’s smoky, porky and stings of vinegar and spice.
This was an all-night affair yet, at no point, did the cooks make it look like work. Scott and Green sing along with the music. They stop to take pictures with every single person who asks for one. They help little kids up to get a better look at the pit. Scott never stops smiling when someone praises his pork. This is the most fun I’ve ever had at a pig roast.
Although he’s been up all night long, Scott takes time to answer everyone’s questions. He encourages chilly partiers to cozy up to the barrel of burning embers he has been using as fuel. It feels like a family reunion — a gathering where everyone shares stories and has a few drinks while enjoying some mind-altering pork. Several hours after the first partier has been served a plate of food, Scott shows no sign of showing down. He’s making sure everyone has had enough to eat. He’s laughing and singing along with the music. The music of Chuck Brown booms across the field where we stand, plumes of smoke reach for the sky and revelers continue to laugh, drink Bloody Marys and tell tales.