Where is a great place to eat barbeque?
Barbeque is hot! It's on TV constantly, barbeque festivals are sprouting all over South Carolina like wild flowers and people are lining up for a taste of America's only continuous indigenous cuisine.
But as popular as it is to talk about and watch on TV, it is the eating of it that we are most interested in. Hence this website.
The South Carolina Barbeque Association has been collecting reviews of barbeque restaurants (and "joints") around the state for over four years. These reviews are being passed in by our SCBA judges. The quotes you see in the "Judge's Verdict" box are actual comments made by one or another of our judges.
The South Carolina Barbeque Association has the best trained barbeque judges in the nation. They attend a day-long seminar and then they must judge four different cook-offs, working under the direction and tutelage of a Master Judge before they are even named as an SCBA Certified Judge. Then they have to judge at least 15 more contests before they are made a Senior Judge and another 15 before they are made a Master Judge. They are also required to actually cook with a competition team before becoming a Senior Judge and with three teams to become a Master Judge. All of this training works to your benefit because when an SCBA judge says it's good, then you know it's good.
There are over 250 places in South Carolina serving barbeque, not counting the chains that dish up racks of what they call "barbecued ribs" which, while often quite tasty, actually bear no resemblance to real barbeque. Picking and choosing among these 250 plus places is sometimes a difficult task if what you are hankering for, right now, is a great plate of 'que.
I mean, it's all fun to keep on trying place after place to see which one is your favorite but if you want to head straight to a place where you are going to be pleased, then you might need a little help in finding said place. This website is where we come in.
In South Carolina we make a distinction among our barbeques. We divide them into two categories: "100 Mile Barbeque" and all of the others.
100 Mile Barbeque is barbeque you would drive a hundred miles to eat. These places are chosen by our judges based on a variety of criteria but the overriding element is the barbeque itself. If the barbeque itself is not up to the top rank in culinary distinction then it can't be called 100 Mile Barbeque.
As you travel around the state in search of this most wonderful dining experience you may find yourself in an old roadside store that only dishes it up for take-out or you may be in a new, modern, most up-to-date restaurant. Or anything in between. With 100 Mile Barbeque the meat is the thing and we leave the atmosphere up to the proprietor.
To help you locate these Top 100 places and recognize them when you see them we have tried to give you a reasonably useful photo of the establishment and a photo of their sign, if they have one. This should help you as you search out these culinary adventures for yourself.
Now it is inevitable that you will try some of these 100 barbeque houses and be somewhat disappointed (but then, how disappointed can one really be with a plate of 'que?) and you will wonder just how they made the "Top 100." Well, you might actually be eating in number 96 and not know it since we group them into only two categories but don't number them within categories. There is a reason for this. Things change.
Barbeque is always a mom and pop situation. There are a couple of proprietors who cook meat at one place and deliver it to two or three or even more places that they own, but for the most part you only get the barbeque that is cooked and served at the one restaurant at which you are eating.
Mom or pop can retire or die and the kids take over (that is remarkably common) and it may be that a barbeque restaurant has a wonderful reputation that does not survive the changeover. Unfortunately that is remarkably common too. But there is an interesting phenomena going on in even those situations. Barbeque restaurants build a reputation over years and people often remain loyal to a certain barbeque house after the ownership changes and even if the menu changes. It's sort of like remaining loyal to one's church even though that great old minister has retired and the new young minister is a bust. You get the picture.
And then there is that other remarkable thing going on with barbeque. It's called "personal taste."
If you read any of the critiques that people post on some Internet pages about barbeque restaurants you quickly learn that tastes differ remarkably. I've also leaned that many people don't know what they are talking about when it come to barbeque. At least among those who post on the Internet. I've read some reviews that were so bad they actually made my teeth hurt.
Some of these "reviews" are even laughable. For instance the one that said the hash he saw on his rice "looked like baby poo." He also said he didn't eat it because of the way it looked. (Hash, by the way, is found at all barbeque houses that come from our German tradition and also in the Pee Dee barbeque houses. Click on our "History button" for a quick lesson so that you, too, will not make statements that will have others snickering at you behind your back.)
Well, hash is nothing more than liquid sausage but if one is so small minded as to condemn a food one has never tasted then one really shouldn't be writing critiques and posting them. And you, dear reader, certainly shouldn't be giving any such write-ups any consideration. But now that Judge's Choice is up and running you won't have to, will you?
One review (I'll never forget it) commented that "A" was the most wonderful barbeque he had ever eaten (that restaurant barely made our Top 100) but he then advised people to stay away from "B" the other barbeque house in the same town. The second barbeque house at which he turned up his nose is a true 100 Mile Barbeque. So much for his judgment.
However, that ill considered review does point up something of which we should all be aware – what is sauce for one goose is not necessarily sauce for another gander.
All taste is subjective. And while our hundreds of trained judges can, collectively, help guide you in your quest for the perfect plate of 'que, you will have to make the ultimate decision for yourself.
If you like ABC barbeque and you don't like XYZ then you should eat at ABC often and stay out of XYZ regardless of what we say. You can still keep up the hunt for the perfect barbeque on you own and return, again and again, back to good ol' ABC when your Southern soul needs that one thing it must truly have.
But I'm confident that, after all is said and done, you are going to find your perfect barbeque among those that we have reviewed for you.
So, hit the road and have some fun. Happy hunting and happy eating!