Friday, January 12, 2007

Home Team BBQ, West Ashley, SC

Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ (website)
205 Ashley River Road
Charleston, SC 29407

Home team barbecue is a totally different kind of barbecue joint. Fiery Ron really decided to buck the trend when he put this place together and converted a grimy old gas station into a tin-roofed barbecue joint. I was worried about driving right past this joint, but the bright red neon sign and shiny tin roof make it impossible to miss.

Before opening the door, I couldn't help but notice that the Home Team is open until 2am. While that may not be normal eating times, it's nice to have a place that I can go to for a late dinner.

Then, walk in and order from a hand-written chalk-on-the-blackboard menu. Honestly, I had a lot of trouble reading it. I finally gave up and asked for something with pulled pork, and the man behind the counter steered me to the pulled pork platter that comes with 2 sides. The price was pretty standard: $7.95 considerably more expensive than normal: $11.95 for the platter and a drink.

The dining room is the product of some very interesting thinking. There is a trendy front seating area, away from the bar and gigantic flat screen television. I reminds me of some of the downtown Memphis or Nashville barbecue joints I've visited. Finally, there are two huge doors leading to picnic tables outside. The weather was so pleasant on my January visit that the doors were propped open to let in plenty of fresh air. I opted to sit in the back and watch some playoff football. During commercials, I couldn't help but notice the interesting signs covering the walls and the feed bags lining the ceiling.

In the back corner, there is a place for small bands to set up and play. According to their website, they bring in local bands once a week. Like I said, this isn't your ordinary barbecue restaurant with a country radio sitting somewhere in a corner.

The portions are ample.

The pork looks, smells, and tastes smoky. There were even a few dark pieces from the perimeter of the pig. The first few bites were sensational. I was extremely impressed, but then I quickly noticed that the meat was pretty salty. It tasted like a mix between pulled pork and ham. A vinegar based red sauce sits on the table, so I added a little to drown out the salt.

I tried the baked beans, which were also too salty. I only managed two bites of the beans. The macaroni and cheese, however, was perfect--complete with a thick layer of cheddar cheese along the top.

I'm hoping that the salty food was an aberration. If it's consistently that salty, I wouldn't recommend the pork, or the beans for that matter. With no pork or beans, that doesn't leave much for a barbecue place. Since it's possible that I encountered a one-time problem, I'll say that the jury's still out on this one.

Update: The salty pork wasn't an aberration. After two attempts with the same result, the deliberations may end: it's incredible for about two bites. After that, it's super-flavored smoked ham.

What I loved:
How cool of an idea is this: Combine barbecue, beer, sports, and bands all under one roof. This is the coolest barbecue joint I visited to date.

Try this when you go:
Undoubtedly, the best food on the menu is the barbecue tacos- a flour tortilla stuffed with pulled pork, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and a little salsa. Two should be enough for anybody but an offensive tackle, and the price is right.

What I hated:
The pulled pork is very salty.
The price for one plate is above that of many of the local all-you-can eat places.
$1.75 for a sweet tea at a barbecue place? C'mon, you gotta be kidding me.

Final Verdict: I'll eventually go back for the pulled pork tacos.

What other locals have to say:
Alforno (and their 2nd attempt)
Rotten Oysters

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Momma Brown's Barbecue, Mt. Pleasant, SC

Momma Brown's serves coastal Carolina style barbecue out of an old diner in Mt. Pleasant, SC.

Momma Brown's pig comes with a spicy variation of the coastal vinegar base. They also have a mustard mix that isn't quite so spicy. I didn't ask how they cook the meat, but neither mustard nor vinegar has a very smokey flavor. They are pre-sauced, and there's additional vinegar sauce on the buffet.

Momma Brown's has a buffet that includes a pretty impressive variety of sides, including fried okra, 3 different kinds of rice. Unfortunately, the fried okra was a little cold. You can also choose from Macaroni pie, a bunch of green stuff, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, and there is even fried chicken and hush puppies.

It was good, but I didn't notice anything exceptional about Momma Brown's. The dining room doesn't exactly exude a country barbecue feeling--it's an old 60s style diner.

What I loved:
The spread was great because there are tons of things to choose from.

What I didn't like:
The hash was just bad. It tasted like thick tomato soup.

My recommendations: It's a great place for lunch because they're open every day except Monday. But if you're looking to kick back on a weekend with the best barbecue in town, I might suggest looking somewhere else. Oh, and try the hash with caution.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Choosing the better sauce

Differences in Barbecue

Different regions call different things barbecue. In South and North Carolina, barbecue usually means pulled pork. In Memphis, it's ribs. Texas thinks it's cow. Up north, barbecue is anything you cook with fire. With the exception of the northern definition, all of those definitions for barbecue are acceptable because a great deal of variation exists between places.

Even in the Carolinas, there's no standard for what comprises good barbecue. In fact, the Charleston area has quite a diverse barbecue palate to choose from.

Chances are that people from each region think that their barbecue is the standard. My grandfather spent his whole life in West Texas, and he's pretty convinced that barbecue is a smoked brisket.

I like ribs and brisket, but I love pulled pork. And it's probably because pork is the standard in South Carolina.

There are marked variations in pulled pork. Some believe that you have to smoke whole hogs, while others like the added control and consistency of cooking only shoulders. Still more 'cue lovers argue about the correct consistency and size of the pulled pork pieces. But most of all, they argue about what's the best kind of sauce.

Too many people make the mistake of believing that a particular sauce should be the standard sauce, and their opinions regarding the best barbecue are too slanted.

It's important to judge barbecue in its own right.

When considering foreign foods, Italian restaurants are expected to be very different from French and Mexican restaurants. In the same way, different kinds of barbecue restaurants should be appreciated in their own right, and they are best compared with other restaurants of the same genre.

To borrow from an oft' abused analogy, you need to compare apples to apples. Or, if you will, always compare tomatoes with tomatoes, and mustard seeds with mustard seeds.

This is why I will group the barbecue places I try according to sauce, or genre.

I like them all. Mustard, both tomatoes, and vinegar all taste good to me. But if you're new to Carolina barbecue, I recommend trying a place with a variety of sauces served on the side. That way you can sample them all and decide for yourself which kind you like best of all.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Sweatman's Barbecue, Holly Hill, SC

Sweatman’s Barbecue
Located between Holly Hill and Eutawville on Hwy 453
Hours: Open Friday and Saturday 11:30AM – 9PM

Barbecue buffet and take-out
The buffet includes rice, hash, 2 variations of their pulled pork, cole slaw, and bread.
Their take-out section offers more of a variety.

Everything about Sweatman’s is old-timey. Driving to Sweatman's from Charleston feels like you're going back in time. Arriving at Sweatman's only reinforces that feeling. It’s situated in an old farmhouse in the side of the highway. They cook whole hogs over wood fires in a cookhouse behind the restaurant. And they give you a funny look if you ask if they take credit cards. But they will kindly give you directions to the bank with an ATM in Eutawville. Don't try calling for directions, either because.... well, you guessed it: There's no phone.

The dining rooms are decorated with old family pictures, newspaper clippings, and essays on good barbecue. My favorite was a picture of their barbecue patriarchs holding a little pig. Linoleum floors are scattered throughout, but it doesn’t really matter because the pork is just that good.

The All you can eat buffet runs just under $8 per person. Sweat tea is an extra 75 cents.

Sweatman’s works very hard at doing one thing very well—they’ve perfected their pulled pork. It’s probably the best pulled pork I’ve ever had. However, don’t plan on eating many veggies at Sweatman’s because they’re just not there. Cole slaw is your closest alternative.

The hash and rice are outstanding as the hash is just warm enough, and the rice is perfectly cooked--never dry, but not too wet either.

The buffet offers two choices of pork. The first is the dry white portions of the pig, and the second is pre-sauced brazed outer portions. I liked the smokier, wetter, and darker meat best. They have two kinds of mustard sauce available to sprinkle onto the dry pork, but you shouldn’t need to add any sauce at all to the darker stuff.

A friendly waitress puts out pitchers of sweet tea and busses tables. The sweet tea is marginally sweet with a kick of lemon.

Things I loved
  • The pork was fantastic.
  • I liked the old farmhouse.

What I didn’t like
  • I’d like to see something green added to the buffet.
  • Sweatman’s doesn’t take credit cards. I’ll admit, I was pretty annoyed by this one. Next time I go, I’m determined to pay with all coins.
  • Don’t bother bringing a checkbook, either.

Directions to Sweatman’s from Charelston, SC
  • Take I-26 North to Exit 177 (Harleyville/Holly Hill) 40something miles
  • Turn right onto SC Hwy 453, Go 2 miles
  • Turn left on Old State Road (310/176) in Holly Hill, Go .2 miles
  • Turn right onto Hwy 453 (Eutaw Rd.) Go 3.7 miles
  • Sweatman’s is on your right
  • The total trip is about 53 miles.
What other people have to say about Sweatman's:

Pork and Whiskey

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Hickory Hawg, Johns Island, SC

Hickory Hawg, John’s Island, SC (Hickory Hog)

2817 Maybank Highway
Johns Island, SC 29455

The Hickory Hawg is nestled in a small shopping center on John’s Island.
Pulled pork sandwiches dominate the menu, but they also serve pulled pork platters, chicken, and ribs. They also serve things like hot dogs and cheeseburgers. Their menu is posted on the Hickory Hawg website.

They slow cook pork shoulders for half a day in all-wood (hickory) cookers. I’ll give kudos to the Hawg for avoiding electric and gas cookers. The sauce is a North Carolina style tomato/vinegar base.

At the Hickory Hawg, a friendly girl takes your order when you walk in the door, and you take a number to your table. Not being too fond of BBQ Sandwiches, I picked the BBQ Pork Tray for $5.19. At first glance, I was disappointed to see that the plate was a little smaller than I hoped, but I didn’t leave hungry. The chopped pork is good. They pour on their sweet tomato base for you, and there’s more sauce waiting for you at your table.

In addition to pulled pork, the tray included hushpuppies, fries, and coleslaw. The hushpuppies were excellent; however, unless you like cafeteria style food, avoid the french fries.

The atmosphere at the Hickory Hawg feels a little stale. The interior could use a little more character. Perfectly painted drywall and ceiling tiles keep you from feeling like you’re actually at a barbecue place.

Things I didn’t like:
  • There’s not much in the way of choices to pick your sauce. You can choose between their house sauce and ketchup.
  • The stale atmosphere.
Cool stuff:
  • I was glad to see of soft drink machine. Although the sweet tea was good, it’s still nice to have options.
  • Choices like hot dogs and cheeseburgers aren’t my ideal for a BBQ joint, but they’re nice options for families with kids.
Final Impressions:
Overall, the Hickory Hawg is a good, but not great, place for barbecue in Charleston.

What did other people think?
Pork and Whiskey
The Chowhound Report

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Jb’s Smokeshack, John’s Island, SC

3406 Maybank Hwy
Johns Island, SC 29455
(843) 557-0426

Hours: Wed thru Sat 11am - 8:30pm

Take-out and Buffet

This is one of the best places around Charleston for BBQ. It is a bit of a shack, but that’s just part of the proof that at JB’s, sustenance takes precedence over style. The pork is fantastic, the sides are good, and most importantly, JB’s never pours sauce on the meat—it’s always on the side. Truth is, the pork is good enough to eat without any sauce, but you can choose from 6 different sauces: they’re all good. (tomato, hot tomato base, mustard, vinegar, and rib/chicken)

This small barbecue joint is decorated with signed pictures of country music stars who visited and clippings of raving newspaper reviews.

There’s a sign on the wall encouraging patrons to share a table with a new friend, and chances are, you’ll probably make one or two. The owners take your order, roam the dining room, and chat with all their guests. Plan on feeling like family, and expect to leave with a full stomach.

What I loved:
  • JB's is a jack of all trades when it comes to barbecue. Although nothing on the buffet is superb, it's all very good and the variety of sauces makes it hard to stop returning to the buffet line.
  • Remember to save room for dessert. My favorite is the chocolate pudding. It has gummy worm hidden in it.
Negatives: JB’s doesn’t make mashed potatoes or ribs.

My recommendations:
Get the buffet and enjoy the sweet tea for about $19 for two.

Food I remember:
  • Hash
  • Rice
  • Green beans
  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Pulled pork
  • Apple wood smoked chicken
  • Several desserts
Also: JB’s opened a new location in Goose Creek fall of 2006. I haven’t been there to check it out, and I hear that it’s a little different from the James Island location.

JB's Smokeshack #2
521 Redbank Rd
Goose Creek, SC
(843) 572-3311
Mon thru Sat
11am - 9pm

How to create a great barbeque restaurant

1. Barbecue isn’t something you throw on the grill. Barbecue is gently cooked for hours.

2. Good barbecue restaurants always have a common denominator: Substance is always more important than style. Don’t waste time or money on the dining room. Instead, perfect your pork.

3. Checkered tablecloths

4. Never drown your meat. Leave the sauce on the side.

5. Good barbeque joints are rarely housed fancy buildings

6. Restaurant chains are never as good as local places