Southern Pitmasters Pair Firewater with a Little Smoke
by Caroline Henderson
Four of the South's leading pitmasters will come together to showcase the expansive world of barbecue and their signature flare at this year's annual Whiskey After Dark in downtown Charleston, a true celebration of oak and smoke. While the event highlights the world’s top whiskey ambassadors, nothing pairs better with firewater than a little smoke. Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Pat Martin and Chase Barton of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint, and Griffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp of Southern Soul Barbeque will bring their best 'cue to the table of Charleston.
Four Faces of Southern Barbecue
Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ
From the small town of Hemingway, South Carolina, Scott developed his James Beard award-winning skills by tending his family's tobacco farm, chopping wood, and perfecting the craft of pig flipping and meat pulling. With locations of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston, Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, Scott has built a name for his nationally famous whole-hog style, where he cooks over cinderblock pits.
Scott created his recipes over his 30 years of studying, resulting in succulent pulled pork, delicately laced with a vinegar-based sauce that shows off the smoky flavor. By understanding the history and craft of whole-hog smoking, Scott plays with flavors and textures created by cooking over direct heat from coals. His careful, but intensive, practice preserves history, cooking traditions, and childhood memories that Scott treasures.
In Scott's debut cookbook Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ (the first by a Black pitmaster) he and co-author Lolis Eric Elie take readers from Scott's days of cutting tobacco to the stage where he accepted the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2018. See his favorite recipe for smoked chicken using his own sauce.
Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
According to his parents, Martin ate meat and not much else growing up. He enjoyed hanging with his dad by the grill and easily made friends with anyone interested in the same thing. After discovering the art of whole-hog cooking in college, Martin—with just a set of concrete blocks, coals, a grate, and a piece of tin to cover the animal—began hosting frequent barbecues for friends, family, and social clubs.
Close to where he discovered his love for west Tennessee-style smoke and meat in the tiny town of Henderson, Tennessee, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint echoes this history in downtown Nashville. Martin partnered with Chase and Hannah Barton to open the joint's Charleston location (on James Island). Led by pitmaster Chase, the crew goes in at 5 a.m. every morning to set up meats for their 20-plus-hour smoke over hickory wood. Barton will represent Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint at Whiskey After Dark, offering a taste of their famous whole hog style.
He argues that the intuition needed to make good barbecue takes years to develop, and this pitmaster's passion for the craft has allowed him to open 10 locations of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint.
Even with a detailed, five-step recipe for ribs, Martin makes smoking ribs look easy. With a more consistent trim and size, these St. Louis ribs are treated with dry rub and smoked on a kettle smoker for three to four hours.
Griffin Buffkin and Harrison Sapp of Southern Soul Barbeque
Not only do Griffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp make the best lunch to be had in the entirety of the Golden Isles, but they also make sure the whole experience is fun at their gas station-turned-restaurant on St. Simons Island. Southern Soul Barbeque, a popular coastal Georgia smoke joint, offers several rubs and sauce flavors. This is low-key barbecue at its best. Know that you will leave reeking of smoke (especially if you sit at a picnic table outside) and that you may have trouble picking a favorite from the four sauces they make.
A fire broke out in Southern Soul Barbeque during the middle of lunch service back in 2010. The building burned to the ground, but from the ashes came a flood of community support. Seven years later, Bufkin and Sapp began Firebox, an annual barbecue festival with pitmasters from around the country. The duo’s commitment to helping people in the service industry comes from first-hand experience. All proceeds from Firebox went to providing natural disaster relief for local restaurant employees.
This Brunswick stew recipe warms us from the belly up during the winter season with a bowl of beans, veggies, and an assortment of meats. It’s so good that it made our list of top stews keeping us warm for the winter.
To experience these pitmasters in action, check them out at Whiskey After Dark, presented by the Local Palate. This annual event features the chance to sample more than 100 world-class whiskeys in downtown Charleston. To match the smoky notes of the spirits, Scott, Martin, Bufkin, and Sapp will provide fan-favorite smoked meats to round out the evening.