There is something very South Carolinian about barbecue. It might be due to Carolina barbecue sauces, or the legends that the dish actually began on the state’s coast. But if the South is deemed the Bible Belt, then South Carolina can be called the barbecue restaurant buckle, thanks to the many restaurants around that specialize in these smoked and saucy meats.
Everyone in the South seems to have their favorite meat, their sauce choice, their favorite sides, their go-to cooking preference and, of course, their favorite barbecue restaurant. You can’t throw a pork rib without hitting a barbecue joint in most areas of the state.
South Carolina has several “official” barbecue trails for the hungry road tripper. There are even claims that barbecue began in the Palmetto State. The dish can allegedly be traced back five centuries to South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Legend has it that Spanish colonialists raised the pigs and the indigenous community around what is now Parris Island at the coast cooked them in pits.
South Carolina and barbecue just go together.
“At least here in the Upstate, there are so many good barbecue places around,” said Henry’s Smokehouse owner Tiger O’Rourke. He’s worked at the restaurant since 1992, a year after the previous owner started the restaurant. Because of the variety in the Upstate, “everybody can have their own taste for it.” O’Rourke said Henry’s serves about 1,500 customers and goes through around 3,000 pounds a meat a day.
The loyalty to a certain barbecue spot seems to be fairly common, at least according to restaurant owners.
Many restaurants prize their old-school ways. O’Rourke said it’s one reason customers keep coming back. Ashley Newton, whose father, Jeff, runs Mike & Jeff’s BBQ and Catering, echoed that. Newton said in an email that her father uses “[no] electric thermometers, no electric/gas grills/smokers.”
“He gets there at 5 a.m., lights the fire over wood in the smoker, loads the meats on and gets it going for the day,” she said.
Chris Brink, general manager and co-owner of Smoky Dreams, said it’s the restaurant’s brisket that sets it apart. Brink and his family concentrated on developing what he says is a “true, Texas-style brisket.”
“The tricky thing about the barbecue world is that as far as barbecue goes, there’s 100 different styles,” Brink said. And every customer has their preferences.
Brink also said the barbecue restaurant community is pretty friendly with each other. “It’s a neat community,” he said.
He added that barbecue can even act as a sort of equalizer. “What we love about the business … is the fact that you can sit in — well, pre-COVID — you could sit in a dining room with a guy who’s quite literally famous and a millionaire at our restaurant, next to a guy who is a stock analyst next to a guy who is a day laborer,” Brink said. “It shrinks the world.”
Get your BBQ fix:
1700 Roper Mountain Road, Greenville
Established in 2000
Recommended: The rib dinner
240 Wade Hampton Blvd., Greenville
Established in 1991
Recommended: Chopped pork plate (and the banana pudding for dessert)
Mike & Jeff’s BBQ and Catering
2401 Old Buncombe Road, Greenville
Founded in 1996
Recommended: Combo plate
101 West Road, Greer
Founded in 1998
Recommended: Regular BBQ pork plate
Smoky Dreams Barbecue and Catering
2131 Woodruff Road, Greenville
Founded in 2014
Recommended: The brisket
Editor’s note: We know there are many great barbecue restaurants in the Upstate. Got a favorite? Please share it in the comments below or share the post with your comments.