To be a small state, and not heavily populated, South Carolina’s influence stretches farther than I ever expected when I moved away from my home state.
When I was growing up, Sen. Strom Thurmond was a towering figure, and along with “junior” senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, the state’s political leaders enjoyed prominent positions at the tables of the powerful. I never would have imagined Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, however many years later, would wield comparable influence.
Not to mention House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who undoubtedly saved Joe Biden’s political aspirations when he endorsed the future president to South Carolinians on the eve of Super Tuesday.
From A (comedian Aziz Ansari’s eloquent TV series, Master of None) to W (Wakanda, fictional home of the comic superhero Black Panther, personified by Anderson’s Chadwick Boseman), South Carolina’s fingerprints are all over popular culture.
In sports, there’s a school up in the Golden Corner where they play some pretty good football, I hear. Must be something in those hills. I can’t overlook Limestone’s dominance in lacrosse, the Midlands, where the women’s basketball is top-notch, or the Lowcountry, where Coastal Carolina’s Chanticleers were the best story in college football.
But the influence that surprises me the most is how often I run into people and places trying to serve what they consider “Carolina” versions of foods. Lord hammercy.
The worst offenses have come from places that serve barbecue. They just can’t seem to get “Carolina style” right. Many South Carolinians enjoy the mustard-based sauces the state is known for. I hear that is a claim to fame for Maurice’s popular restaurants. But (whispering) I hate it. I’ve never had a mustard-based sauce that wasn’t too mustardy or too sweet, and few places ask if I want their mustard sauce on the side.
There’s a place here in Savannah I won’t name that I visited my first week living here. They claimed to have some of the best barbecue around. What was brought to my table was obviously reheated meat covered in one of the nastiest mustard sauces I’ve ever experienced. That visit was a twofer: my first and my last.
I much prefer the vinegary pepper sauce popular in eastern North Carolina. That’s what I grew up on, that’s what I love, that’s what barbecue tastes like to me.
I was pleasantly surprised while watching Netflix’s Chef’s Table Barbecue to find out world-famous, award-winning Rodney Scott’s BBQ’s sauce of choice is a vinegar-pepper sauce. The Hemingway native won a James Beard award for his culinary artistry. Places outside the Carolinas just can’t nail the balance: their sauces are too thin, too thick, too vinegary, or bland mixes of black pepper, hot sauce and water.
I once ordered the Carolina slider at The Tipping Point, a restaurant and bar nestled in an upscale subdivision in Montgomery, Ala. It was a nice portion of pork and vinegar-pepper sauce. The cook seemed pleased when I told him I was from the Carolinas and his version of “Carolina style” was credible.
The last time I looked, though, the Carolina slider was gone from their menu. In its place is a “Carolina Dog,” a quarter-pound beef frank topped with barbecue pork, “Carolina Sauce,” mustard and slaw. Yeesh. I try to stay away from menu items that sound like something Guy Fieri would decline as being “a little overboard.”
Other places can’t get sweet tea right. Some have no idea what grits are. And I wish I had photos of the faces made over the years by grocery store employees I have asked about livermush.
And hash! Oh, my beloved July 4 favorite. (Sigh) God help the next person who says, “Oh, you mean Brunswick stew,” when I talk about hash. I’m not talking about Brunswick stew!
I’m talking about that heavenly slow-cooked mixture of beef, pork, onions, butter and black pepper that I think of every time the Fourth of July comes around. Back home, the best always comes from the local VFW or one of the fire departments that cook and sell it as a yearly fundraiser. It is a staple for my family – and apparently no one outside South Carolina has ever heard of it!
Maybe that’s for the best. Given the track record of people outside the Carolinas trying to make “Carolina style,” they would just mess it up anyway.
Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.