Know Your Sauce: South Carolina BBQ

Hot sauce According to Lake E. High–the President of the South Carolina BBQ Association and author of the book “A History of South Carolina Barbeque”–the first people to cook barbeque were the Native Americans who barbequed pork on makeshift grills when the Spanish introduced the pig to the Americas in the 1500’s.

South Carolina is known by many as the official state of barbeque, even offering a BBQ Trail” featuring over 75 BBQ restaurants across the state – which means there’s plenty of pig to go around. Lake E. High cites Port Royal, SC as the birthplace of modern barbeque and its four main types of sauces: Vinegar and Pepper, Mustard, Light Tomato, and Heavy Tomato sauce.

(Photo provided by Rodney Scott Whole Hog BBQ)

Looking for a sour and spicy kick? The oldest sauce, Vinegar & Pepper, originated from Scottish families that settled in the present day coastal plains region of the South Carolina Lowcountry. The Vinegar & Pepper sauce–a mix of vinegar, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar–can be found at joints like Rodney Scott Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston, SC. Scott’s family originally served whole hog smoked barbeque one day a week at their Scott’s Variety Store in Hemingway, SC.

Rodney was only 11 years old when he cooked his first whole hog. Rodney left the family business to open his own restaurant after testing out his own barbeque at the Charleston Food + Wine Fest. “My sauce can best be described as a true Eastern Carolina style. It’s a Vinegar and Pepper based sauce. It took me about a month to really get it right. I had to get the ingredient measurements absolutely perfect; a tiny change here or there throws off the entire flavor profile. After a million taste tests, I finally landed on a recipe that I love.” Rodney Scott says.

(Photo provided by Rodney Scott Whole Hog BBQ)

The most famous and often what people think to be South Carolina BBQ Sauce is the Mustard style sauce. This sauce is attributed to the German settlers who brought mustard with them to South Carolina in the 1700’s. Mustard BBQ Sauce is a mixture of yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar, and spices and is the signature sauce at both Sweatman’s BBQ in Holly Hill, SC and Bessingers Bar-be-que in Charleston, SC. Both family businesses boast a secret mustard-style sauce while featuring classic Southern sides like coleslaw, baked beans, and hash (a combination of pig parts, potatoes, and spices) over rice.

What if you have a sweet tooth? Light and Heavy Tomato are the most popular sauces in the United States. Light Tomato sauce, born in the early 1900’s, is simply the Vinegar and Pepper sauce with added tomato ketchup for sweetness. It is most widely used in the upper middle regions of South Carolina and in the South Carolina Pee Dee area (the upper coastal plain area of the state). Heavy Tomato sauce, which evolved in the last 60 years or so, is the sweetest of the sauces. It is also what most Americans think of as BBQ sauce today.

(Photo provided by Home Team BBQ)

All four sauces can be found at many barbeque restaurants in South Carolina like Smoky Oak Taproom on James Island  or Home Team BBQ  in West Ashley, Downtown, and Sullivan’s Island. Rick Agius, owner of Smoky Oak Taproom says “I love all the sauces and we use them on different food items, but we serve our BBQ naked because we have nothing to hide!”.

Craving some BBQ? Order online through ChowNow! Hungry for something else? Discover other delicious eats in your area, ready to be ordered.