In honor of our annual ‘Cue Awards we’re going deep into barbecue culture with The Smokin’ Hot List. This new series, in partnership with the Southern Foodways Alliance, will share the story of a pitmaster each week. Check back every Monday for your weekly dose of ‘cue.
Pitmasters of the Week:
4618 South Lee Street, Ayden, NC 28513 252/746-4113
2734 Hemingway Hwy, Hemingway, SC 29554; 843/558-0134
If you’re lucky enough to be heading to this weekend’s Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, Saturday June 8th and 9th in Madison Square Park, NYC (sponsored by Southern Living), you’ll have the chance to sample pork from some of the brightest stars in the barbecue pantheon. Among them are Samuel Jones, of the Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC, and Rodney Scott, of Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, SC. You might wonder if the rivalry among top-notch pitmasters is as hot as the coals that fuel their pits. In the case of Sam and Rodney, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“I’ll joke sometimes and say that he’s my first cousin,” quips Sam.
“He’s the funniest barbecue guy I’ve ever met,” says Rodney. To prove it, he shows me a portrait that Sam autographed for him. It’s inscribed with Sam’s favorite quote, which he uses when asked about styles of barbecue that differ from his family’s generations-old method: “Everybody has the right to be wrong.”
Sam and Rodney, as it turns out, share fundamental ideas about the right way to cook a hog. Both men insist on wood as the only acceptable fuel. Whereas some barbecue joints cook and serve only shoulders or hams, Sam and Rodney go whole-hog. Their sauce recipes differ, but share a vinegar base. In fact, says Sam, “There have been times when we’ve been asked to cook a hog together, and I’m not sure whether they want Rodney’s style or my style. And I’m happy to do either one.”
The men met three years ago at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival; it was the first time Sam had been invited to cook at such an event. “I was as nervous as I could be about cooking away from home,” recalls Sam. “Nick Pihakis [of Jim 'N Nick's BBQ ] invited Rodney to be my wing-man. I spent the whole day with Rodney, shooting the breeze.”
Since then, Rodney and Sam have gone on to cook together at more than a dozen events, usually as part of the Fatback Collective. With that group of chefs, pitmasters, and pork cognoscenti, they’ve taken third place at the Memphis in May World Barbecue Championships and traveled to Uruguay to study up on the techniques and traditions of the asado.
But Sam says he values his friendship with Rodney for what it offers beyond the pit. “We could drive for two hours together and not even have to talk about barbecue. That’s what separates your friends in the food world, and your friends. We can just be normal people.”
While Sam and Rodney consider themselves normal people, their barbecue is anything but pedestrian. If you can’t try it in New York this weekend, do what you can to make it to Ayden and Hemingway this summer. Failing that, enjoy these films on Skylight Inn and Scott’s BBQ, respectively, made by Joe York for the Southern Foodways Alliance.