There are a lot of stereotypes about the Deep South that simply aren’t true. In the picture painted by popular media from Gone with the Wind to Steel Magnolias to…um, “Dueling Banjos,” the South has long been portrayed as a thing apart from the rest of America. A number of universities even offer classes in “Southern Studies,” as though we were another whole country (well, at one time we were, but that was briefly and a very long time ago).
So, hello—we, too, are living in the 21st century! Sumter, ranked eighth in size among South Carolina’s metro areas, is actually one of the most progressive cities in the state, continuously making great strides in industry, defense, and other important fields…but deep inside, we always remember that we’re Southerners. True to that spirit, there is still one truly volatile topic of conversation, one in which a difference of opinions can lead to arguments and offended silence between the closest of friends. It’s not politics, economics, or religion. The subject is BARBECUE.
The proper preparation and presentation (i.e., wood used for cooking, cuts, sauces, and side dishes) of “the noble pig” has an interesting history, strong regional associations, and even stronger loyalties. For the uninitiated, a great place to start would be the SC Barbecue Association website. For starters, do you know the four main types of barbecue sauce? (If you don’t, they are: vinegar and pepper, mustard, light tomato, and heavy tomato—the last one being the stuff found on supermarket shelves.) This site contains all sorts of interesting information on the development of the Southern delicacy, which dates back to Colonial times. Each variety has been refined and perfected over generations, and certain types are more popular in some areas than others.
There are also differences between “whole hog” style, the usual object of intense interest at a pig pickin’ that involves nearly every part of the pig except the squeal, and the type prepared from selected cuts. (Ribs are a different matter altogether.) What makes a Williamsburg native’s mouth water may sound completely horrifying to someone from the North Carolina Lowcountry, but somehow, all types continue to co-exist. Here in Sumter, we have several locally famous “pit masters,” and barbecue is found on the menu of most locally-owned restaurants—with several specializing in the dish and its traditional sides.
Lest you think I’m joking about the seriousness of this matter, the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism is currently sponsoring a national campaign to introduce the world to the delights of this distinctive cuisine—because, as the state claims, South Carolina is the birthplace of BBQ! With Southern Living magazine, FOX television, the Food Network, TripAdvisor, and many other media outlets on board, it’s obviously a matter of importance. And if you’re a true Southerner, you probably know that driving distance is no object in acquiring the perfectly prepared pig. I remember being actually quite shocked some quarter-century ago to discover that my stepfather journeys to Kingstree to buy his. And although it is very good, that’s a little extreme when we have some equally great tastes right here in Sumter.
To find out just how seriously we take our barbecue, why not check out the Captain Tom Garrity Firefighter BBQ Challenge? In between emergencies, the Sumter Fire Department has managed over the years to develop a barbecue that has been served with pride at many City-sponsored events, and even to visiting dignitaries. However, since it’s unavailable in restaurants, many people who live or visit here haven’t had the opportunity to try it.
This Saturday, November 23, 2013, the BBQ Challenge will give the general public a chance to savor the years-long labor of love that has resulted in some truly delectable textures and flavors. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., join our firefighters at G&G Metal/Fire Equipment Services, 1665 Stamey Livestock Road (off US 378W), and find out how it’s done! Admission is $5.00 per person, and includes tastes from our local talent and a chance to vote for the official “Fire Department Pit Master.” If you plan on bringing a healthy appetite, full portions will be for sale at $3.00 for sandwiches and $7.00 for barbecue by the pound. Soft drinks and desserts are $1.00.
The proceeds of this friendly (we hope!) competition and benefit event will go to the American Red Cross. For more information, please contact the Red Cross Sumter office at (803) 775-2363.
Now, for those who insist upon using the word “barbecue” to refer to any meat other than pork, or calling the finished product “pulled pork,” well, bless your hearts—I’m not sure that I can help you. But if you attend this event, your education has begun! Bon appetit!
By Colette Daniels