JIM CARTER is a true Southerner who divides his time between in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia. He is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys cooking wild game, and the chairman of the board of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
This is the first in a three-part series on South Carolina Barbeque. To read the next installment, “Secrets of Shuler’s, click here.
Melinda and I were recently reminded of how good South Carolina mustard sauced barbeque can be.
Rodney Dangerfield famously said, “I get no respect”. He could have been talking about the barbeque of the Midlands of South Carolina. In this state, barbeque is a noun and refers to pork slow-cooked over smoking coals. Then the sauces, there are four types here, distinguish the styles of barbeque.
Mustard based sauces identify the barbeque indigenous to Midlands region. If you haven’t tried the mustard based sauce, keep an open mind. These sauces date back some 250 years or more to the large number of German emigrants who came in the early days of the colony. Germans know and love mustard. These immigrants were given land grants along the Santee River and its tributaries up through the center of the state. And that is were the mustard based barbeque sauces still dominate. In fact, most of these barbeque locations bear the names of German immigrants. We’re talking a lot of heritage here. Not just their barbeque – the cities of Memphis, Kansas City and Austin hadn’t even been thought of then. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the magazine articles that come out during the spring of every year.
With rare exception, so-called comprehensive barbeque articles and magazines usually ignore this style barbeque. When one recent magazine touted the South’s ”must try” (bottled!) sauces, two out of five were mustard based, but from Texas! Enough said.
When traveling back to our Camden, South Carolina home from “The Beach”, Melinda and I passed a barbeque restaurant on Highway 38, just east of Interstate 95 near Latta, South Carolina. She was driving and I suggested she turn around so that we could take some home for the evening. Now, having grown up in North Carolina not far from Lexington, having lived most of her adult life in Texas, and having dined in most of the well-known barbeque destinations between, she knows something about barbeque. Skeptically, she said she didn’t know this area was known for great barbeque. I reminded her that we had had some really good barbeque in that region years back when we entertained at the Darlington 500.
I read the sign as we approached; it proclaimed Shuler’s. On one of our many barbeque pilgrimages, we had stopped there only to find this barbeque mecca closed. I was concerned it might be closed again, but there was some hope; there were a couple of cars in front.
It was a Wednesday and the sign said they were only open 4:30 until 8 PM, Thursday through Sunday. Undeterred, Melinda hopped out and began to knock on the locked door and look through the windows. Soon someone opened the door. A little embarrassed, I tried to stay out of sight as Melinda disappeared through the door.
Time passed; she came back to the door and waved me in. Norton and Lynn Hughes, were putting the finishing touches on pre-ordered Thanksgiving turkeys. We soon learned we had much in common. In addition to a love for barbeque, we had all enjoyed beach music and socializing at Ocean Drive Beach (now part of North Myrtle Beach) when we were young.
Before long they told us that they had prepared a shoulder and that they would share it with us. They even invited us to dine with them. We did take some shoulder and mustard based sauce (more on that below). Okay, the owners were great, but what about the barbeque. Melinda was still skeptical.
When we got home, we immediately got into the shoulder. It had not been pulled, and it all but fell apart. Melinda, an aficionado of Lexington, North Carolina style pulled pork, declared it to be the best pork she had ever had. The South Carolina mustard based sauce used sparingly brought out the best in the pork.
Restaurants guard their formulas for mustard based sauces; however, they are all similar. Here is a typical recipe:
Mustard Based Barbeque Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1-½ cups prepared yellow mustard
2/3 cups cider vinegar
2/3 cups brown sugar
3 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1-teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoon Worcestershire
Melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in other ingredients, stir and simmer for 30 minutes. Yields about three cups.
There are many variations on this basic recipe; add tomato paste, add a little beer (it is a German recipe!), use fresh chopped onion and garlic rather than powder, or substitute honey and or molasses for some or all of the brown sugar. The ratios of the three foundation ingredients, mustard, vinegar and sugar can be altered to taste. If you use fresh ingredients, after melting the butter, sauté the onions until translucent, about 4 minutes over medium heat, then add the garlic and sauté for another two or three minutes, and finally add all the other ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.