Lake E. High Jr. has a few cardinal rules about barbecue.
Real barbecue is pork.
Real barbecue takes 12 to 15 hours to cook.
Real barbecue needs smoke. No smoke, no barbecue.
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And most importantly: Real barbecue comes from South Carolina.
The 72-year-old Columbia native and barbecue connoisseur recently wrote a book, "A History of South Carolina Barbeque," in which he lays down the law on what the slow-cooked meat means to the Palmetto State.
"It was invented here," High said in a deep Southern drawl. "It's been around since the 1500s."
Native Americans barbecued pork on makeshift grills after the Spanish introduced the pig to the Americas. High cites the Port Royal area as the birthplace of barbecue.
But before High even mentions South Carolina in his book, he puts a few myths to rest. There are the tall tales that pirates brought barbecue to the continent (wrong), or worse, that the first barbecue restaurant was opened in North Carolina (so wrong). He chalks up the confusion to ignorant Northern writers and Hollywood TV crews, "sincere souls," he said, but souls who "wouldn't know barbeque if you hit them in the face with it."
As the president of the South Carolina Barbeque Association -- which he co-founded -- readers can trust that High knows what he's talking about.
"I guess I know more about barbecue than anybody in the state when you get right down to it," he said.
Most of that knowledge comes from years working for an electric cooperative, which required High to drive out to rural areas of the state several times a week.
"Every time I went, I mean every time, I would stop and eat barbecue at some little barbecue place," he said.
Soon, High became the go-to-guy for judging barbecue competitions around the state. Since starting the SCBA in 2004, he has been teaching others how to do the same. More judges are needed, he said, because "there has never been so much barbecue to enjoy, and it has never been better."
The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has recently acknowledged barbecue's imprint, and has released plans to promote a "barbecue trail," to lure visitors here for the iconic 'cue.
"Barbecue is one of the best ways to talk about South Carolina," said Dawn Dawson-House, the tourism department's public relations director. "It's at tailgates, it's at church events, it's that common thread all through South Carolina."
The state is spending roughly $1.2 million to promote the barbecue trail, including expanding its website to guide people through the state's barbecue history, its four special sauces, and where to find the best plate.
High helped with the trail effort, but has a few lists of his own on SCBA's website. There's his "100-mile" barbecue, which you would drive 100 miles to eat, and "Worth the Trip" barbecue, still very good and worth going a distance for, but not 100 miles. (Sgt. White's Diner in Beaufort and The Pink Pig in Hardeeville both made this list.)
His general rule of thumb, however, is to eat what you like.
"All taste is subjective. People should go eat barbecue at four places in a row, and the one they like best should be the one they go back to," High said.
Of course, if one wants to taste the best, one needs to eat barbecue in South Carolina. As High repeatedly thumps into readers, the South, and South Carolina in particular, is home to real barbecue. Nevermind that hippie California TV-producer gobbledegook or those misguided cooking attempts by confused Northerners. Bless their hearts.
FROM "A HISTORY OF SOUTH CAROLINA BARBEQUE"
Below is a kitchen-tested recipe from Lake E. High Jr.'s friend Craig Goldwyn. Goldwyn comments that he loves a good vinegar-and-pepper sauce on whole hog, and while he named this recipe "East Carolina Mop Sauce," on his website he also points out that it is the same as the "Lowcountry sauce" found in South Carolina.
EAST CAROLINA MOP SAUCE
1 1/2 cups of distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons sugar (white, light brown or dark brown)
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
About the vinegar: It seems to me that the best sauces in the area were made with distilled white vinegar, not cider vinegar. So I tried my recipes with both and I liked the distilled better. If you want to use cider, feel free.
1. Pour all the ingredients into a jar and shake. Let it sit for at least twelve hours to allow the flavors to meld. A week is better.
2. You can use this sauce as a mop sauce when you cook and/or as finishing sauce when you serve the meat. In the Carolinas, it is usually used as both a mop and a finishing sauce.
3. To use it as both a mop and finishing sauce, warm it, pour a few ounces into a cup and paint it on the meat with a basting brush once every hour or so while it is cooking. If you use it as a mop, the sauce in the cup can get contaminated with uncooked meat juices on the brush. That's why you don't want to dip the brush in the whole bottle. Discard contaminated mop and serve untouched sauce at the table.
Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.
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