This year’s Big Apple festival featured 17 of the country’s top barbecue spots, from famous brisket establishments like Austin’s Salt Lick to sausage cult-favorites like Jim 'n Nicks from Alabama. But I was after the whole hog, and for that there’s one clear king: Scott's Barbecue, of Hemingway, SC. When I stopped by the booth, pitmaster Rodney Scott was holding court over twelve black smokers—each big enough for an entire hog—pumping out plumes of meat and seasoning-laced smoke. While he tended to his smokers, I got his take on what makes world-class barbecue.
Scott cooked his first hog at age 11 and has been pitmaster at Scott's for 27 years. He exclusively cooks “whole hog," which is exactly what it sounds like: the entire pig, slow-smoked for 12 hours, and served on a slice of thick toast. This is purist's barbecue—the process is simple and involves minimal butchering, and there's little distinction between the various parts of the animal. Everything ends up mixed together, so the juicier parts can balance out the drier to create a consistent quality throughout. Here's how it works:
Start with Real Wood
The best barbecue uses natural wood coals (Rodney uses oak or hickory) with no additives or lighter fluid. When Rodney's on the road, he'll only stop at a barbecue joint if he can smell natural wood smoke.
Use your Hands
There's no sense using a meat thermometer when cooking a whole hog. After eight hours of smoking, touch the meat to judge it for texture (should start to fall apart a bit), temperature (should feel hot to the touch) and color (should no longer be pink). When it's done (this typically takes about 12 hours), flip it over to season and crisp the skin.
Rodney seasons his hogs with heaps of salt, red pepper flakes, and a seasoning he calls “love.” Then he takes out a mop—yes, an actual mop—and applies a thick coating of his signature vinegar-based barbecue sauce from a bucket.
It's All Good
When it comes to chowing down, there's not much of a distinction between the various parts—though the first guy in line typically goes right for the belly meat.
Don't forget the skin
When all that remains is skin and bones, discard the bones (after eating the last bits of meat from the spare ribs, of course), and slice up the skin into small potato chip-sized pieces. Throw them in the deep fryer for a delicious side.