Pigs sizzling over hot coals seep deep into the Lowcountry soul.
They say it's been going on in our county since Spanish explorers arrived with pigs and found Indians with wood coals slowly burning.
Today, barbecue is a family affair, as presented this weekend at Whitehall Plantation on Lady's Island. The High on the Hog BBQ Festival will raise money for Lowcountry Habitat for Humanity. Pig-cooking teams from all over the South are to compete for trophies awarded on Saturday by certified judges. People buy wristbands to sample the results.
Barbecue festivals are a relatively new way to experience the glory of a hog cooked over wood. It's something "barbecue men" used to provide for large church and political gatherings before moving inside to cinder block emporiums open only on the weekend.
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South Carolinians rate barbecue by how far they'll drive to get it. But today in Beaufort County, we have barbecue joints on Bay Street in Beaufort, Paris Avenue in Port Royal and William Hilton Parkway on Hilton Head Island. And in Bluffton, barbecue man Ted Huffman sits on Town Council, the greatest sign of a community's good health since some fatback fell into the collards.
Barbecue has not always been so mainstream.
In the early 19th century, a gentleman's club known as the "Barbecue Shed" was part of "wicked Beaufort," historian Alexia Jones Helsley tells us.
Alexia, a child of Beaufort when her daddy, George A. Jones, was pastor of the Baptist Church of Beaufort, reports in her book, "Wicked Beaufort," that the Barbecue Shed stood near the corner of Bay and Church streets.
She quotes Beaufort native William John Grayson saying it was famous for "good cheer where the race was run, where unmeasured quantities of ham and turkey, of beef and mutton, of old Jamaica (rum) and gin and wine and punch were consumed."
Robert Moss of Charleston, who wrote "Barbecue: The History of an American Institution," reports that the shed was tied to the Beaufort Hunting Club and drinking was not optional.
Whether it was the boozing or the fact that they called beef barbecue, the shed was destroyed by an act of God. After it was leveled by the great storm of 1804, Beaufort College professor James E.B. Finley wrote a humorous poem, "On the Fall of the Barbacue-house at Beaufort, S.C., During the Late Tremendous Storm."
He called the shed a "rural seat of the ancient Pan" where "the jovial Sons of Pleasure oft convene, Brushing the rubbish rust of rustic life with attic humour -- sportive jest and song."
The "sacred Temple, Mirth, that long withstood the wasting tooth of time" lay wasted, but Alexia says a great revival was near at hand, and strong preaching would replace strong drink and gambling as the center of social life.
But when the smoke cleared, pigs sizzling over hot coals still seep deep into the Lowcountry soul.