The importance of barbecue in the South cannot be overstated. It’s a noun down here, something you eat rather than a verb that you do. To the Southerner barbecue is both delicacy and staple: one of life’s greatest luxuries, but one without which a person cannot be said to be truly living.
Among all states, South Carolina  holds a rare distinction. It’s the only state in the union that represents all known variants of barbecue sauce: vinegar and pepper, light tomato, heavy tomato, and the Palmetto State’s own contribution, a hot, sweet, mustard-based sauce. A culinary legacy of the German settlers who numbered heavily in that interior region, this indigenous mustard sauce is found mostly in the central Midlands portion of the state from Newberry  almost to Charleston .
The extreme Upstate  leans toward the heavier tomato-based sauce, while a sweeter, ketchupy sauce is the trend along the Savannah River. The vinegar-and-pepper concoction — an eastern North Carolina transplant — holds sway everywhere else, especially east of the Wateree River in the Pee Dee region .
As for the meat itself, in all regions there’s no question about what kind you mean when you say barbecue. It’s always pork, period. And connoisseurs agree that if it isn’t cooked whole over an open wood fire, it isn’t authentic barbecue, merely a pale — if still tasty — imitation. Sides are important in South Carolina, especially the item known as “hash” made from pork byproducts served over rice. In any genuine barbecue place you’ll also encounter “cracklin’s” (fried pork skin), whole loaves of white bread, and of course sweet iced tea (called simply “sweet tea”).
Aficionados further insist that a real barbecue place is open only on Fridays and Saturdays — some generously extend the definition to include Thursdays — chops its own wood, and proffers its pig not à la carte but in a distinctive “all you care to eat” buffet style, which generally means one huge pass at the buffet line.
So where’s the best ‘cue joint in Carolina? I don’t want to start a second Civil War, so I’ll defer that question.
Key purveyors of the culinary art form include:
109 Main St., New Ellenton
Thurs.–Sat. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., $7.50
240 Wade Hampton Blvd., Greenville
Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., $4–10
480 N. Brooks St., Manning
Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–9 p.m., $10
2410 Hwy. 174, Edisto Island
Thurs.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., $4–10
1313 Gemini Dr., Holly Hill
Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., $8 (cash only)