Barbecue pitmasters are amongst our nation's greatest storytellers—they learn that all-important skill tending to their 'cue all night. But Rodney Scott, South Carolina pitmaster and James Beard Award winner, might just have the best story of all to tell, as you'll hear on this week's Special Sauce.
When Scott was growing up, his family started making barbecue one day a week at their general store in the tiny town of Hemingway, South Carolina, two hours' drive from Charleston. As Rodney tells it, "We did whole-hog barbecue sandwiches like most gas stations do hot dogs. It was just an extra income, just a quick side meal. And we did it on Thursdays." But demand gradually grew until, finally, the barbecue itself became the core business, and with that shift came a huge increase in the hard work of producing it, all of it shared by young Rodney, an only child.
It started with cutting down trees and splitting wood to make the charcoal. "If we did two hogs, or four hogs, whatever, we had to have enough wood to get it done," Scott told me. "And my dad would never let you lay around in the afternoons. You got off the school bus, you did homework, you went to work.... Of course, after cutting wood, you had to load it, haul it, help unload at the barbecue pit. And if you were out of school, you had to cook.... My high school graduation, I'm 17 years old, I walk out and speak to my dad, hold up my diploma, and he says, 'You need to be at the barbecue pit at 12 o'clock tonight.'"
After he graduated, the work became even more intense. "Three nights a week, we worked all night long. We had guys there in the daytime, and I was there all night. So being there all night, you had to keep the fire going to keep enough hot coals to fire up your hogs.... You had to have enough coals to fire anywhere from two to 15 hogs, because you never knew how many you were going to cook."
Not only did this upbringing develop Scott's lifelong love for barbecue, the discipline and work ethic it instilled in him clearly assisted in his journey from driving a tractor as a six-year-old kid on a tobacco farm, to cooking for John T. Edge, to opening his own restaurant in Charleston and winning the Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.
To get the whole story, you're just going to have to listen to the episode.
You won't be disappointed, only inspired.