Lowcountry's nectar of the gods passed to new hands

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comFebruary 14, 2012 

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Pray for Sweatman's Bar-b-que.

It's got new owners. Lord, help them not to mess up the pig emporium whose sweet oak smoke has bathed whole hogs deep in the Lowcountry since 1977.

Sweatman's is the creation of the late Harold O. "Bub" and Margie Sweatman. His mustard-based sauce recipe, hash recipe and cooking methods came from his father, Talmadge Sweatman. It's rooted in the same area of Orangeburg County that produced South Carolina's barbecue barons, the Bessingers.

Bub was a soft-spoken farmer who went whole hog when he and Margie bought an abandoned farmhouse on S.C. 453 between Holly Hill and Eutawville, about two miles from their own farmhouse.

It's way off the beaten path. They had no advertising to speak of, and it didn't even have a telephone, but people have come to knock down half a ton of pork every weekend.

It's in a brown-shingled wooden house about a century old, surrounded by pecan trees, its cozy rooms decorated with mounted fish and such. Jane and Michael Stern wrote in their coast-to-coast restaurant guide: "Sweatman's takes the prize as the South's most beautiful barbecue parlor."

The slow-cooked, well-trimmed barbecue, ribs, pork skins, smoked chicken, red hash over white rice, cole slaw, white loaf bread, pickles, banana pudding and crisp sweet tea have pulled in the big reviews. From Southern Living to Anthony Bordain's "No Reservations," Sweatman's has left them all babbling for more.

Bub and Margie's two daughters, Patricia Sweatman Wolpert and Susan Sweatman French, who I watched grow up in the restaurant, have sold it to family friends, Mark and Lynn Behr of Holly Hill. They promise to do it the same old way, open Fridays and Saturdays, but now with a website -- www.sweatmansbbq.com -- and a telephone, 803-496-1BBQ (1227).

The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg reported that both the sellers and buyers did a lot of praying before making the big decision.

That's a good sign. It has a rare ring of truth to it in an era when citified barbecue restaurants are more apt to put faith in their "concept" and "market segment."

And it would please Chalmon Smalls, the original pitmaster at Sweatman's and Bub's main man. Chalmon would preach to you if you ventured into his smoky lair. I found him resting in a wheel barrow one night between his slow, steady treks with a shovel scooped full of red hot wood coals.

"You can live a happy life if you stay in touch with the Lord," he said.

Standing there by his cinderblock pit, pig fat sizzling, transistor radio scratching out rhythm and blues gospel, I had to rub my eyes to see if Chalmon wasn't St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Lord, help them not to mess up Sweatman's.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content

  1. Sweatman's Bar-b-que
  2. Sweatman's gets new owners

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