BBQ legend Rodney Scott on what to see, do and eat in Charleston, South Carolina
Chef Rodney Scott grew up in Hemingway, South Carolina, 90 miles from Charleston, and started making BBQ with his father at the family business when he was 11-years-old.
Fast forward and you'll find Scott on the big screen, featured in the latest installment of the "Chef’s Table" series on Netflix, which premiered on Sept. 2.
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Warning: If you’re a plane crier, you’ll want to have the tissues handy. In addition to shedding a few tears, you’ll also need to be prepared to listen to your stomach growl for the next 45 minutes.
Scott was in the pit full-time as soon as he graduated high school. Working 12-hour graveyard shifts, he would spend nights spreading coals and dreaming big. A whole lotta love, a few innovations, innumerable pounds of pork and a New York Times write up in 2009 would change his life.
This culmination of hard work led to the business growing exponentially, and Scott officially took over operations in 2011.
Scott eventually expanded from his outpost in Hemingway and opened Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston in 2017.
But first, Scott had to take his whole-hog show on the road to raise capital after a fire destroyed the original pit back home. Scott stopped at a half-dozen cities in the span of a mere 18 days, raising $80,000 on his tour de force.
He built a brand-new 2,000-square-foot pit, which resembles a mini airplane hangar, painted in the company’s signature white and Carolina blue.
All those nights tending the fires had paid off: In 2018, with a second location and business booming, Scott was nominated for and won a James Beard award for Best Chef, Southeast.
Today, Scott has another location in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the first places he served whole-hog BBQ outside of South Carolina. When he first tested his fare there, the crowd went (hog) wild.
Scott, who remembers watching the planes fly overhead as a kid, now spends two to four days a month on the road (well, pre-COVID). He’s even traveled as far as Melbourne for its food and wine festival.
Scott’s "Chef’s Table" episode was filmed back in November 2019, long before the coronavirus shut things down. Today, his restaurants are fully open for dine-in, outdoor dining and take-out, with social distancing measures in place.
Scott said tourism in Charleston is slightly slower than usual, and that things are not as busy as they were, but that people are still coming through from all over to get their BBQ fix.
Now that you know where to find the best BBQ in Charleston, we asked Chef, who is busy getting ready to open up shop in Atlanta and two more spots in Alabama, to help us fill in the rest of the itinerary for a perfect weekend down south.
Where to eat in Charleston
Big Bad Breakfast
“Start your day off right. I love the chicken and waffles. I’m there all the time,” says Scott. James Beard Award winner and New Orleans native John Currence has always had a self-proclaimed "love affair with breakfast," and it shows in made-from-scratch biscuits, jellies and bacon.
Charleston may not be the first place you think of when you are on the hunt for good Italian, but Melfi's might just change your mind. A slick dining room makes for a great date spot, a fun dinner with friends or the perfect pizza-for-one pit stop on a solo trip.
The Ordinary is anything but. Set in an old bank, the food here is as stunning as the space. Pro tip: Grab a seat at the bar (they have an excellent drink list) and order the smoked oysters, and then order a second round. They are that good.
Nana’s Seafood & Soul
If you know, you know. And now you do. Get your shrimp fix here but don't miss the potato salad: It's made with Duke's mayonnaise, the only mayonnaise if you're in the South. This local joint is about 15 minutes outside of downtown Charleston, but definitely worth a trip.
Delaney Oyster House
Delaney's mission is to revitalize "Lowcountry’s place in the history of America’s traditional oyster houses," and if you ask us, it's mission accomplished. Set in an historic Charleston home, this cozy restaurant offers plenty of oysters, caviar service if you're feeling fancy and cheddar bay hushpuppies — what else is there?
And, of course, you have to stop for a little BBQ before you head for the airport. For out-of-towners, Scott says the perfect order is a Rod’s Original (the house pork sandwich topped with cracklins). “Roll it all together, add a little sauce and it’s a great bite,” Chef says. He also recommends trying the ribs, chicken and what Scott says is “real, Southern" sweet tea. If you aren’t ready to hit the road just yet, you can order a jar of Rodney’s Sauce online until it’s time for the real thing.
What to see and do
Take a Gullah Tour
Gullah tours explore the "places, history and stories that are relevant to the rich and varied contributions made by Black Charlestonians," a culture that still thrives today in and around the Charleston area. Don't miss your chance to explore this vital part of Charleston with Alphonso Brown — who was born and raised just south of Charleston — the authority when it comes to all things Gullah. He is the author of the best-selling "A Gullah to Guide Charleston," and is also a lecturer on the Gullah language and Black History of Charleston.
Make a trip to the Charleston City Market
And don't miss these two spots at the Charleston City Market: Art from Gallery Chuma and sweetgrass baskets by the acclaimed Corey Alston, says Scott. Artisans have been weaving baskets from marsh grass in the area since the 17th century. Bring home a contemporary version from your Charleston getaway. The market, in a Greek Revival-style building built in 1841, is open daily and operates from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Hit the beach at Sullivan’s Island
A short drive from downtown, Sullivan's Island is where you go to get away from it all, without having to go very far. Walk off those fried shrimp with a walk down the three-mile beach, or try your hand at kayaking, sailing, fishing, kiteboarding or paddleboarding.
Walk across the Ravenel Bridge
The Ravenel Bridge is an iconic fixture in the city. Built in 2005 over the Cooper River, the cable-style bridge has both a pedestrian and bike lane, and is home to the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K held in late March.
Scott’s final words of wisdom for those planning a trip to the Holy City? “Bring your appetite and your comfortable shoes.” You don’t have to tell us twice.