Where there’s smoke there’s BBQ
By Randall Hill
Sweat pours down the face of Scottâ€™s BBQ pit worker Willie Johnson as he uses a large mop to apply sauce on a rack of chickens cooking in the pit house. The smoke pouring from the sides and tops of the 10 pits in use that day hover over him like a white translucent blanket. The early morning light pierces through the blanket and forms contrasting shades of light that seem to bounce around the ceiling looking for a way to escape to the outside.
Johnson has been at the pit house all night, like he has done many times before, watching over the process of the 12-plus hours it takes to cook the BBQ at Scott’s. Itâ€™s very hard work to cook BBQ the traditional way they do at the Hemingway, South Carolina restaurant and pit house.
Workers, mostly family members of owner Rodney Scott, have to gather and cut the large amount of hardwood needed for the process. The rear of the pit house contains a large supply of oak, hickory and pecan cut in large sections to be later split and burned.
A large fire is built in what is called a burn barrel. The fire is started at the top of the barrel and the wood is held in place by metal rods inserted in the middle. As the fire burns hot, the coals drop to the bottom and an opening allows the workers to scoop them up in a long handled shovel.
The pigs are placed on racks and put into the concrete block pits. Large stainless steel sheets are then positioned over the top. Cooker Terry Blow then takes the hot coals from the burn barrel and distributes them into the pits under the pigs to cook.
Blow watches the process with a confident demeanor. He wears an old baseball cap that is soaked in sweat almost to the edge of the brim and dons his Town of Hemingway uniform from his day job as a water maintenance employee. â€śIâ€™ve been working in these pits since I was eight-years-old,â€ť he says with pride.
About every 15 minutes the burn barrel is stoked, wood is added and Blow carries the red-hot coals to the pit using the shovel. As the night settles in during the cooking process, the coals seem to glow redder as the lowering light settles inside the pit house.
Scottâ€™s BBQ was started in 1972 by Rodney Scottâ€™s father Rosie Scott. The tradition of cooking pork was handed down through the family, growing as the business got larger.
â€śItâ€™s all about the flavor,â€ť Rodney Scott says as he stands outside the pit house the morning after the first batch of pigs were cooked. â€śGas is for cars, not cooking BBQ.â€ť
Later, more members of Rodneyâ€™s extended family arrive to continue the process of cooking the BBQ. The heat in the pits is allowed to die down and the whole pigs are turned over in the pits. The secret vinegar based sauce that has been cooking in a pot at the front of the pit house, is slathered on the meat using large sauce mops. Another pot cooks a supply of the South Carolina delicacy boiled peanuts.
Rodneyâ€™s cousin Larry Mitchell watches over the sauce and adds the vinegar base to the pot when a second batch is needed. â€śYou know what they say,â€ť he laughs with a deep chuckle â€śIâ€™d have to kill you if I told you how to make it.â€ť
Rodneyâ€™s mother Ella Scott and aunt Jackie Gordon take the cooked meat to the restaurant and take out the bone. They weigh the cooked meat into servings and sell it to the public.
â€śPeople love BBQ,â€ť said Rodney Scott. A red cooking apron hangs over his shoulders tied in a knot tightly across his belly. â€śIf there is a BBQ, people are going to go. If they see the smoke, you donâ€™t have to advertise. They will come for the food.â€ť