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Scott's Bar-B-Que chef and pitmaster Rodney Scott cooked his first whole hog over a firepit when he was just 11 years old. His dad (who was the restaurants pitmaster at the time) gave him an ultimatum: his son could go to the basketball that weekend if he cooked the hog correctly." He had someone watching me making sure that I did what I was supposed to do," says Scott. "I went for 12 hours doing my thing, doing it how he'd taught me. It turned out pretty good and I got to go to the game." (It's worth noting that Scott's dad let him roast it, but not season it. There were traditions to uphold, after all).
Back then, Scott wasn't that interested in the family business - a roadside barbecue joint in Hemingway, a couple of hours north of Charleston in South Carolina. By the time he turned 17, however, he was hooked, working full-time for the family business and living and breathing fire, crackling and the low-and-slow method of cooking over coals.
Scott was in Sydney earlier this week to cook his signature whole hog barbecue alongside Morgan McGlone, whom he met almost five years ago when McGlone was cooking at Husk and living in Nashville. During his two-day takeover at Harpoon Harry in Surry Hills, Scott took us through the family's golden rules of barbecue.
Be excited (but careful) when playing with
"If you want to cook with fire, first of all you gotta be careful - the least amount of grease fat can blaze up and cause a fire. Then, you gotta be excited. It's amazing what a barbecue can do. Cooking meat over open flame draws in people's attention. It leads to exchanging stories and you meet good people."
Use the right wood
"You can't get the same effect cooking in an oven - you just don't get that same smoke flavour. In Hemingway, we go through at least four 16-foot trailers of wood a week. We use mostly hardwood. We like oak, hickory, pecan woods and some cherry. According to where you are you can get some peach or apple wood, too; those are also great for barbecuing. Of course not everyone is going to have a firepit. In Australia, you could use a smaller grill and keep your fire as small as you can."
Source quality product
"At home, I do as many as 20 hogs at once. I deal with the one farmer because he's the most consistent in our area and the most affordable. They're the best hogs. They're not beat up or bruised or anything like that, he takes good care of them. You gotta have a happy animal."
Get the dry rub and the marinade right
"It's a combination of the dry rub and the sauce that makes it. We start out dry seasoning and then do our mop sauce [the sauce used to baste the meat]. I like to layer my rub. We've put it all together in a recipe before, and it still works, but I like to do it one by one so I can see what I'm working with. You'd do a salt rub, a pepper rub, a couple of secret ingredient rubs. My dad was very strict on not too much salt, not too much pepper. Our mop sauce is a vinegar and pepper sauce with a little citrus in it. It helps to blend the 'secret love stuff' that we add to the dry rub."
"If you want good barbecue then there are no shortcuts. Taking the time to put that flavour in the meat that you want, that love that you want to share, that's great barbecue. Bad barbecue, on the other hand, is just doing whatever: not wondering about how it's going to taste and not caring about the product. It's all about patience."
Go for gold
"When it comes to hog barbecue we're looking for tender juicy meat and crisp skins. You don't want it charred or burnt; you want a golden colour. It's an unexplainable and unique golden colour that's just perfection. Add more heat to crisp the skins up. Once the skins are done, the hog is done."
"Nothing has changed since the '70s when my parents started Scott's - it's the same recipe and ritual every time and I think that's part of our success. Find some folks that'll tell you the truth when they taste your barbecue, always, and when you nail it don't change it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Keep it simple
"I like to serve barbecue with white bread, one slice folded in two, some crackling (or skins as we call 'em) on top, and a little extra mop sauce drizzled over. You let it run into the bread just a little bit - oh god, it's so good."
Team it with something sweet
"We're not licensed to sell beer at Scott's so on the drinks front, sweet tea is the match, or we have a strawberry soda called Red Rock back home. I think the sweet with the spice is the perfect combination."
Put some love into it
"I'm just a pitmaster from South Carolina trying to spread the love. You gotta have love. The secret recipe is love."
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