Friday January 31, 2014
The day before Thanksgiving, the pit house at beloved Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, SC went up in flames. Almost immediately, owner/pitmaster extraordinaire Rodney Scott had temporary pits fired up, the holiday season being by far the busiest for the store. (They sell from 45-60 turkeys per week around Thanksgiving). Following the holidays, Scott has taken his mobile barbecue rig on the road, serving whole hog across the South to raise money to rebuild the pits with the “Rodney in Exile Tour.” It’s hosted by the Fatback Collective — a group of barbecue all-stars, chefs and southern food cognoscenti. We sat down with Scott at Husk Nashville, which hosted a plate lunch as one of these fundraising events, to ask about the tour and his restaurant.
Scott sauces the hogs with a mop on King Street in Charleston (the first stop of the tour). Photo credit: Angie Mosier
As universally loved as barbecue seems to be, it’s easy to forget what a dangerous business it can be— especially on a large scale — what with the constant manipulation of fire and all. Not to mention, some of the more celebrated old school barbecue joints are housed in very old facilities. Scott indulged us and told us a little bit about the fire:
“The hogs caught on fire on the double pit. The fire reached the inner wall. And once it got to the inner wall, there was wood structure behind the FRP. And that wood was so old, that once the spark hit it, that was it. It engulfed the deep fryer, which shot the gas line loose, causing [the employee manning the pits] to panic and pretty much run. I would have run too.”
If a packed lunch crowd at Husk was any indication, the tour has gone well thus far. On his outlook about the fundraising goal, Scott continued, “I feel positive. The goal is $120,000. The estimated cost [to rebuild the pits] is $100,000. Anything over the budget will be put into the Fatback Collective Fund. That will be sitting there for anyone else who has a mishap or to a charity of our choice.”
Rodney's road smoker with a burn barrel and a double cooker, which can do two hogs at once)
Anyone in the business will tell that making great barbecue is a slow, laborious process requiring long, late hours and grueling, hands-on work. Veritable iron man Rodney Scott takes this further than just about anyone. The man personally cuts down the trees (pecan, oak and hickory), chops the wood, and burns it down into charcoal to fuel his pits. As far as local sourcing goes, he’s even got the rest of the community involved. Neighbors and tree removal services will call Rodney with tips about felled limbs and trees nearby. “They’ll cut it down and say, ‘if you can clean this up, you can have it.’ We’ve been pretty lucky with neighbors and companies giving us wood.” The neighbors probably consider themselves the lucky ones, living near one of the world’s best barbecue restaurants that also offers free tree removal.
Scott’s Bar-B-Que is truly a family business. Rodney’s parents bought the store in 1972, when he was only a year old. His folks still work there, as well as a number of cousins and other relatives. Fifteen years ago, working the family barbecue business in a town of less than 500 people probably seemed like a relatively anonymous job. But an ever-growing interest in southern food, the cult-like devotion of barbecue enthusiasts and the internet have turned Rodney into somewhat of a celebrity. We asked if he ever thought barbecue would blow up so much in the internet age with pitmasters gaining national notoriety: “Never saw it coming. NEVER. I made this crazy statement when I was younger that, ‘The world will know who I am.’ I never knew it would. I must have been about 12 or 13.”
Upcoming “Rodney in Exile” tour stops include Birmingham, hosted by Drew Robinson, Nicholas Pihakis and Scott at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Que (Feb 1), and the final stop in Charleston, hosted by Sean Brock, Sam Jones and Scott. (Feb 4). An additional “tribute” event has been scheduled in San Francisco on Feb 9th. For more informations visit The Fatback Collective’s page.
Whole hog, fresh from the smoker at Husk