Food on the Road: Eat Your Way Across South Carolina’s BBQ Trail

When it comes to quality barbecue, the South Carolina Barbecue Trail delivers. Home to more than 200 barbeque restaurants and professional pitmasters, the Palmetto State serves up juicy, tender and smokey meats, usually pork, with one of four distinct sauces. From the tangy and sweet yellow mustard-based sauce to thin or thick tomato, or showstopping vinegar, these region-based flavors are sure to please barbecue connoisseurs seeking out the best bites. It’s not just the sauce that differs between the regions either – even the sides are unique, from hash and rice to perlo (rice cooked in a flavored broth with chicken).

Whether you’re road-tripping across South Carolina or simply seeking good grub as you travel, the South Carolina Barbecue Trail is sure to hit the spot.

Hungry? Let’s dig in.

Mountain Flavors to Savor

In the northern mountains of South Carolina, the Pee Dee region is one of the few remaining areas in the United States executing traditional whole-hog barbecue. The pitmasters in Pee Dee typically use open cinderblock or brick pits packed with hardwood coals where hogs smoke for more than 12 hours. Pair this melt-in-your-mouth pork with the region’s fiery vinegar and pepper sauce, and you’ve got a match made in barbecue heaven.

Kick off your trail adventures at Bucky’s Bar-B-Q in Greenville, a small roadside joint identified by its blue tin walls, angled white roof, and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a peek at barbecue-making goodness. A favorite with the locals, the restaurant now has three locations serving up hickory-smoked pork, chicken, ribs and brisket. Simplicity is key at Bucky’s, and you can expect all the popular fixings, from sweet baked beans to rich and creamy mac and cheese.  

For award-winning barbecue with a touch of small-town flair, head to West Union, South Carolina. With a population of just under 300, this tiny town is home to Big D’s House of BBQ, run by former professional football league player Delanion Taylor. Trading his sports career for the pit, Taylor now serves barbecue classics such as brisket, ribs, pulled pork and meatloaf. Don’t skip the sweet potato pie that will give your mom a run for her money.

When people talk about Southern hospitality, The Jiggy Pig comes to mind for locals in Gaffney, South Carolina. Located in the old Joy Drive-In on Cherokee Ave, this family-owned joint does traditional wood-cooked barbecue with a signature vinegar-based red sauce. The restaurant offers walk-up, window service only, but the dishes more than make up for the lack of ambiance. Order the beef hash (a variation on the staple pork hash) topped with a rich gravy-like sauce.

The Midlands – Good Grub Served with Love

The Midlands region of the barbecue trails extends across eight counties surrounding Columbia, South Carolina – only a 90-minuted drive from Pee Dee. Known for its distinct, sweet yellow mustard-based sauce and tender slow-cooked pork shoulders and hams, the Midlands offers flavorful barbecue to locals and visitors alike.

Just an hour southwest of Columbia, New Ellenton’s Carolina Bar-B-Que is considered a local legend after serving up delicious, homecooked barbecue for over 50 years. Named one of the South’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints by Southern Living magazine, this all-you-can-eat buffet is a modest establishment focusing on quality, not quantity. Comforting best describes the restaurant’s charming setting, from its mismatched tables to its open kitchen and small buffet station serving slow-cooked pork shoulder topped with the restaurant’s iconic rust gravy – a sweet tomato-based red sauce.

You’ll feel like family at Holts Bros BBQ in Florence, South Carolina. Winner of the Best of Pee Dee 2021 Awards for Best Chef, Best New Restaurant and Best Carry Out, the restaurant’s extensive menu features barbecue classics, from smoked pork to brisket. Owner Jack and his three sons make it their mission to greet all their guests, creating a family-table atmosphere. And the sauce? The menu revolves around traditional south vinegar with more than 16 variations on the menu. Don’t skip one of their famous tot bowls – crispy tater tots covered in pulled pork or beef brisket and smothered in spicy ranch and queso.

Small-town charm and good grub are what you’ll find in Buffalo, South Carolina, just southeast of Spartanburg in Union County. Make a pit stop at Midway BBQ, where the food is simple but delicious, and the service is welcoming and genuine. Featuring a rustic décor of red checkered tablecloths and old diner-style dessert cases, you can’t help but feel cozy when eating off the Styrofoam trays. While the restaurant is known for its hash and chicken stew, you’ll also find a rotating daily menu featuring pulled pork, chicken and dumplings, macaroni pie and their decadent apple cobbler.

Can’t-Miss Coastal Barbecue

Enjoy the ocean breeze with some black-eyed peas along South Carolina’s coast, from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head. This coastal region of the trail offers a variety of barbecue styles, but one thing remains consistent – the vinegar and pepper sauce.

Stop in Summerville, just north of Charleston, at Baker’s Garden BBQ, whose love for vinegar and pepper sauce shines throughout its menu with varieties such as Red, Peppered Vinegar, Red Hot and Vinegar Hot. Part old-school barbecue joint, part plant nursery – guests can enjoy tender pulled pork and shop for the latest perennials. Stop by on Thursdays for their dry-rubbed pork spare ribs, and you can’t finish a meal without a slice of their homemade pecan pie.

At One Hot Mama’s in Hilton Head, Executive Chef and Food Network star, Orchid Paulmeier, is making her American dream come true. The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Paulmeier has made it her mission to serve delicious and quality barbecue to locals and visitors alike. Dine on hand-pulled pork, hickory smoked and served with a signature homemade jalapeno cornbread. In addition, the menu features the award-winning, 15-hour smoked beef brisket, smoked fried chicken and baby back ribs.

After all that barbecue, it’s time for a refreshing craft beer at Swig & Swine in Mount Pleasant (and, of course, more barbecue). With views of the boat yards and the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll sip on ales and dark lagers while dining on low and slow-cooked meats over hickory. The menu also features unique takes on barbecue fare, such as smoked turkey with tangy pickled vegetables or the Big Nasty sandwich – chopped brisket, barbecue onions, jalapenos and queso. Of course, you might want to pop an antacid before digging into that.

While these are just a sample of the restaurants on South Carolina’s Barbecue Trail, they’re a good start for any hungry traveler. From popular barbecue staples to joints off the beaten path, prepare to eat well on your South Carolina vacation.  

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