We sent our resident barbecue expert Robert Moss out on Sunday for the final event of the wine + food weekend.
The four-day Charleston Wine + Food Festival came to a close with Sunday evening’s BBQ, Blues + Brew under the main tent in Marion Square.
A dozen pitmasters were on hand to cook for the crowds. Local favorites included Billy Quinn of J.B.’s Smokeshack, who served thin-sliced brisket alongside small bowls of okra gumbo, and Robert “Bobo” Lee of Edisto’s Po Pigs Bo-B-Cue, who doled out big mounds of finely pulled pork. Jimmy Hagood of Black Jack Barbecue put his elaborate black and red barbecue rig to fine use for both pulled pork shoulder and beef brisket, while Aaron Siegel of Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ offered up perfectly tender ribs with tangy collards on the side.
Dan Long of Crosby’s Seafood delivered the most unusual entry of the evening: not one but two massive swordfish, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled for hours on two big silver smokers, their tails and bills protruding from the lids on either ends. They pulled the moist white meat from the fish in fist-sized chunks and topped it with a scoop of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese for the long line of waiting diners.
But, from my tastebuds’ perspective, the two guest out-of-towners proved not only why they’re national barbecue masters but also why cooking whole hogs low and slow over real wood just can’t be beat. Rodney Scott from Scott’s BBQ up in Hemingway, S.C., was back again this year, using his own stacked-barrel contraption to burn logs down to coals, which he used to fire a big trailer pit provided by the guys at Jim N’ Nick’s. Scotts served the resulting sublime pulled pork over a dab of creamy grits with a scattering of crisp pork rinds alongside, plus a healthy dose of his signature sinus-clearing, wickedly-hot vinegar sauce — a powerful reminder that we all need take a long weekend drive up to Hemingway every now again to check out the original brand at Scott’s Variety Store.
Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint made an even longer trip, bringing his West Tennessee whole hog style all the way from Nolensville, just southeast of Nashville. “Never forget the pig is the hero,” Martin is fond of saying, and he had a heroic one on display, snout, tail, and all. He pulled long strands of tender meat from it with stainless steel tongs and added a big spoonful of cool, white coleslaw. It was intensely smoky, rich barbecue, and the the spicy-sweet vinegar sauce squirted over the top only enhanced what was already a remarkably complex blend of flavors.
Each year, the Wine + Food Festival brings thousands of eager diners to town, drawing them with the lure of celebrity chefs, gourmet cuisine, and glasses flowing with fine wine. The food always mixes the high and the low, blending local favorites like shad roe and gumbos with more exotic treats like the crudos and tartares that seemed everywhere this year, plus decades-old Madeiras and rare sakes, too.
Pitmasters like Scott and Martin provide a vivid reminder that the Southern barbecue tradition wraps the high and low, the familiar and the exotic, into a single remarkable delicacy. What better way to wrap up four long days of pigging out?