On March 24th, we will be hosting our first Friends of the Café dinner for 2016 featuring Rodney Scott and Frank Stitt (see more about that below). At first glance, Frank and Rodney may seem like they exist on opposite ends of the spectrum:
Rodney is an absolute master of barbecue—what the uninitiated might consider “working man’s food.”
Frank is known for his French, Italian, and Mediterranean-inspired dishes and his lovely cookbooks.
However, they are of the same mind when it comes to making locally-sourced Slow Food and preserving southern food traditions.
Rodney Scott and his family have been serving pit-cooked barbecue from their Hemingway, South Carolina, restaurant for over 30 years. Scott’s Bar-B-Que was founded in 1972 by Ella and Roosevelt Scott, who still run the restaurant with their son Rodney serving as Pitmaster. Rodney, who cooked his first whole hog at age 11, is a perfectionist of his craft—but, by most descriptions, a laid back perfectionist.
Like any good artist, Rodney places great importance on materials—not just methods. Barbecuing a whole hog, pit-style, takes an incredible amount of wood, which Rodney and his family cut themselves. They use oak, hickory, and pecan and keep a large reserve on their property. But keeping the Scotts cooking is a community effort; if a neighbor’s tree falls down, they always call the Scotts to cut it and cart it away.
The community is part of the entire Scott enterprise. The idea of “locally sourced” may be relatively new to many restaurants, but the Scotts have always sourced local pigs—and they rely on local labor and materials throughout their process. A local meat market butchers and delivers the hogs; Rodney works alongside local builders who weld together his custom burn barrels, fashioned from scrap metal piping, truck axles, and other repurposed materials.
These barrels are used to burn the wood down to coals, which are shoveled and spread evenly across his barbecue pit—over and over, throughout the entire evening it takes to roast a whole pig. The whole pigs are butterflied and laid out across a grate covering the pit. Rodney insists the smoke this pit creates is the key to the product. And though he humbly says that cooking a pig isn’t hard to do, those who have tasted Rodney Scott’s pulled pork know it takes a special talent to create such unique flavors.
In 2013, the Scotts’ wooden cookhouse burned to ashes two days before Thanksgiving. Rodney did not waste a moment, putting together burn barrels as soon as the fire was extinguished. He told our friend Billy Reid, “Yeah, the same day the pits burned, the fire department told me I could set them up in the back. I had four hogs left that didn’t get affected at all (by the fire) and I just went with that and I sold those until I ran out. You can’t stop. It’s like tripping and falling down. When you’re walking and you trip and fall, the first thing you do is you get back up. I felt like we fell and I just jumped right back into it and got started.”
Rodney’s brothers and sisters in southern cooking—The Fatback Collective—rallied, creating the Rodney Scott Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour to raise money for a rebuild. And so, he drove portable versions of his burn barrels from state to state, creating a loyal fan base along the way. With the funds raised, Rodney and the Collective built a new pit room—and the important work continues. (Joe York and the Southern Foodways Alliance made one of our all-time favorite documentaries, CUT/CHOP/COOK, about Rodney. Watch it here.)
Photos courtesy of Angie Mosier