So what's the big deal about BBQ, anyway? A Sumter guide.

BY DANNY KELLY
danny@theitem.com
Posted 1/25/19

If you’re not from the South, then you may not know why people in this region of the country obsess over it religiously. To some, having the best barbecue in town is just as important, if …

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So what's the big deal about BBQ, anyway? A Sumter guide.

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If you’re not from the South, then you may not know why people in this region of the country obsess over it religiously. To some, having the best barbecue in town is just as important, if not more important, than winning your college football rivalry game. And that’s saying something.

Barbecue is not on-size-fits-all. What makes it so alluring is the variety of ways in which people cook it, what kind of sauce they use and what sides they use to complement it, just to name a few things. And all this culminates to one very important end-game: taste.

If I’ve managed to make you hungry, the following contains an inside look at six prominent barbecue establishments in the Sumter area from restaurants to food trucks to made-to-order caterers, with insight and tips from professionals who have been in the business for years.

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SMOQUEOLOGY BBQ

Adrian Bradley – The Food Truck

Where: Mobile food unit set up at different locations around town, also does catering.

• How long: Bradley has been smoking meat for seven years, but Smoqueology just got rolling last year.

• Why he does it: He said there are not a lot of barbecue trucks here in town, love of barbecue, not a lot of plac­es in town for brisket.

• Best item: Brisket “by far.” Pulled pork also sells. Mac and cheese brisket is the most popular brisket item – bed of mac and cheese topped with smoked brisket, ja­lapenos and barbecue sauce. New item: Brisket grilled cheese – two slices of Kraft bread, choice of cheese (gouda is most popular) on top of brisket and sauce in the middle. “People have been liking it.”

• Style: Red vinegar-based and mustard-based sauce (most popular)

• Tips: Cooking brisket: “Don’t rush it, let it take its time. Use salt and pepper, and season it good. Smoke the brisket for 10 to 14 hours depending on its size. Some are upwards of 16 hours.”

• On the side: “Real barbecue doesn’t need sauce.”

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SCOOTER'S FIREHOUSE BBQ

David Bagwell – The Pitmaster

• Where: Certified judge with the state barbecue association; cooks for Bethesda Church of God and around town.

• How long: About 20 years

• Why he does it: “Barbecue is a big part of South Carolina history. It’s a bit of an art.

That’s where the bug bit me.”

• Best item: Shoulder or Boston Butt

• Style: Prefers mustard and brown sugar for a sweet mustard-based sauce

• Tips: “Patience is important. It’s a slow process. Use low heat and a lot of smoke.

Low and slow is what they say in the barbecue business.”

• On the side: “An old barbecue guy told me, ‘There’s no such thing as bad barbecue, just good barbecue or better.’ It just kind of stuck.”

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SIDEBAR

Danielle Thompson – The Restaurateur

Where: 30 N. Main St.

How long: Three years

Why she got into it: Having opened Hamptons downtown, she wanted something more casual to bring more people with more affordable menu options and to get into barbecue.

Best item: Biggest seller is the true Texan-style smoked brisket

Style: Let people put on their own sauces, choice of mustard-, vinegar- and tomato-based.

Tips: “Maintain fire and smoke at 275 degrees; people smoke a lot lower than that. Let brisket and ribs sit for an hour until room temperature to soak in the salt and pepper. For ribs, wrap them, and put them down on the smoker. Then leave them unwrapped for two hours, and let the juice flow down to the meat to give it flavor.” – George Cain, Sidebar head chef.

On the side: “Attention to detail (is important) every time you smoke. It’s different because each piece of meat is different.” – Cain

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KIRBY Q LLC COMPETITION BBQ AND CATERING

Richard Kirby – The Caterer

• Where: Food truck (catering and vending)

• How long: Cooking and catering professionally for six years

• Why he does it: Started cooking at age 7; cooked a hog for the first time and gained a love for it.

• Best items: Pulled pork and barbe­cue sundae – From top to bottom: Baked beans, pork, coleslaw, barbe­cue sauce in a clear cup or mason jar. “People rave about it, and I love it myself.”

• Style: Sweet vinegar-based sauce

• Tips: “A lot of people think it’s just throwing meat on the grill. You have to do prep work, and cook the meat at the right temperature for the right amount of time. You have to have a love for it. There’s more work in the prep of it than anything else; people don’t realize it’s hard work.”

• On the side: “My favorite thing about cooking is watching you eat my food and enjoy it. It makes the late nights and long hours worth it.”

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WARD'S BAR-B-QUE

Charles Hodge (owner) and Julie Bochman (operations manager) – The Local

• Where: Four locations in Sumter – 416 E. Liberty St., 1087 Alice Drive, 12 Pine­wood Road, 3330 U.S. 15 S.

• How long: In operation since the 1950s

• Why and how they got into it: Thad Ward Sr. had a store on Boulevard Road and someone owed him money and paid him with a hog. Ward Sr. decided to use the hog to sell barbecue sandwiches, and eventually decided to open his own barbecue restaurant. Hodge ended up buying the business from Ward Sr.’s son, Thad Ward Jr., in 1996.

• Best item: Hash. “The hash is different. Oth­er barbecue places don’t have the same type of hash. Some people will buy four to six quarts of it and bring a cooler. The meat is (also) delicious; I love the sauces developed by the Ward fami­ly. The chopped pork sells more than the others (pulled pork, chicken and ribs).” – Bochman

• Style: Mustard-, ketchup- and vine­gar-based. Also, the hot sauce has a lot of black and red pepper in it.

• On the side: “Our recipe is the same (as it’s always been). We figured what was tried and true (works).” – Bochman

BAR-B-QUE HUT

Jimmy Condrey – The Spinoff

• Where: 1380 S. Guignard Dr.

• How long: 25 years in April

• Why he got into it: “I hated what I was doing otherwise. My brother-in-law (Thad Ward Jr., former owner of Ward’s Bar-B-Que) was in the business and I had done it before, but it didn’t work. Thad sold me the business in 1994, and I changed the name three years later.”

• Best item: “Everything I got is good. Fried chicken, barbecue chicken, pork. Naturally, I sell more barbecue than anything.” – Condrey

• Style: “It’s basically the same as Ward’s; it’s a combination of ketchup-, vinegar- and mustard-(based). It’s something I started doing from Thad, but I changed it a little bit.” – Condrey

• On the side: Bar-B-Que Hut has been in its current building for 19 years, but before that it was where the Piggly Wiggly is now. The old building was torn down and the new one was built in 1999.