Meet the James Beard Award-winning pitmaster behind Rodney Scott’s BBQ
CM: How did you get into barbecue?
RS: My family has always been barbecuing in Hemingway, so I got into it by default. Helping out at our parents’ general store and making barbecue sandwiches were just a couple of the chores my siblings and I were expected to do. Eventually, I was the one cooking, and I was curious about everything. I’d ask my dad, “What are you doing with the mop?” and “Why are you flipping the hog over?”
CM: What brought you to Charleston?
RS: I did my first mobile event at Charleston Wine + Food in 2010, and the festival was so inviting and warm. My business partner, Nick Pihakis, said, “Why don’t you just come to Charleston?” I thought he was crazy, because I was good in the country. But then every time I’d come down here to visit, the city was just so charming, the people were great, and all of the other restaurant owners were welcoming and accepting of what I did, so I decided to take that leap of faith.
CM: How did you pick this location?
RS: I was looking in other areas, like East Bay Street, but I never came north of Huger Street. Then one day, someone said, “Why don’t you check out this place by Food Lion?” and I was like, “Whatever, man.” I tried to brush him off, but I was very excited. I saw the place, and I loved it.
CM: What did you want to do differently than your family?
RS: I wanted to smoke as many meats as possible as consistently as possible. Instead of just chicken, pork, and a little steak, like in Hemingway, I wanted to do some different stuff, like childhood favorites—catfish, turkey, that kind of thing. The ribeye sandwich was a sleeper on the menu, but that’s been one of our biggest sellers.
CM: What are some menu items people come in for every week?
RS: The sweet tea, because it is very sweet tea—it’s how I like it. Every few minutes, we’re replacing the tea, because we sell so much of it. We have a couple people that say, “Man, that’s way too sweet!” and I’m like, “Good.” If you’re going to live, live on the edge. Party like it’s your last. I like pushing the envelope with the tea.
CM: Where do you find inspiration?
RS: I’m inspired by other barbecue joints—maybe they have a cool technique, or the way their pit is designed is interesting, or their meats are just crazy good. But I find role models in people from all over.
CM: Tell us about winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.
RS: I had already won, just being mentioned among the finalists. Then actually winning it made me want to sit back and pay attention to all of the hard work and effort that goes into it. I realized, “You are making a little bit of difference here, so you should continue to strive and go for it.” You can’t match the joy of walking on that stage.
CM: How did you celebrate?
RS: First, I had to get myself together. I had a drink backstage to calm my nerves. Then later on when I got my appetite back, I celebrated with the people who were there that I started with, like Nick and the rest of the team, as well as John T. Edge. Without them, I’d probably still be in Hemingway right now.
CM: What’s next for you?
RS: We’re opening a Rodney Scott’s in Birmingham this fall, and after that, I want to take it to as many places as I can.
Photographs By (Sam Jones’s Sandwich) Denny Culbert & Courtesy of (Water’s Edge Cabana Bar) Water’s Edge