Chef Rodney Scott is a barbecue pitmaster, James Beard Award winner and owner of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, one of America’s most famous barbecue restaurants. However, writing a cookbook was a project he never intended to tackle.
“I was a little hesitant because I knew a book wasn’t an overnight thing,” Chef Scott tells The Manual. “Two, I didn’t know what I would put in a book or how I would write it. Whether it’ll be a 100% percent cookbook or a short book, I just didn’t know if I had enough to talk about or if my life was interesting enough.”
In reality, Chef Scott possesses a wealth of knowledge on the art of American barbecue. At the age of eleven, Chef Scott began his barbecue journey at his family’s barbecue restaurant in Hemingway, South Carolina. By the time he was seventeen, barbecue had become his full-time career. Now, decades later, Chef Scott is one of the most prominent figures in American barbecue with countless media appearances. He has starred alongside Anthony Bourdain in Parts Unknown and was also a guest on Top Chef. In 2020, he was profiled on an episode of Chef’s Table: BBQ, showcasing his style of South Carolina whole hog barbecue.
Its this lifelong journey of experiences that’s showcased in his new cookbook:. Amazingly, Chef Scott’s book is the first barbecue cookbook ever written by a black pitmaster. For Chef Scott, the news was surprising. “I think a lot of black pitmasters just haven’t gotten around to writing a book yet. And I don’t know many guys that would be willing to even write a book,” said Chef Scott. “At least at the moment. Right now, I guess everybody is still trying to gather their resources.”
As a pitmaster from South Carolina, Chef Scott is a proud advocate of the state’s regional style of barbecue — slow-cooked whole hog. Its an incredibly complex process — an average whole hog takes about 12 hours to cook fully. A laborious and technique-driven affair, it takes about one year of continuous practice before a barbecue cook becomes competent enough to handle a whole hog. But that’s only the beginning according to Chef Scott. Small details like variations in the weather, temperature, and wood can drastically alter how a hog is cooked. Even for Chef Scott, who can walk up to a pit and “smell what stage of the cooking process is at,” whole hog remains a constant and lifelong pursuit of perfection.
But the cookbook is also filled with unique recipes outside the realm of whole hog. Every recipe in the cookbook is directly related to an aspect of Chef Scott’s life and cooking journey. “This is more of my world, my existence, my life, in chapters,” said Chef Scott. “This is my transformation from childhood all the way to current day.” One of these innovative recipes is the honey butter catfish, a dish created entirely by accident. On a seemingly average day, Chef Scott was in his restaurant during lunchtime. He was hungry but unsure of what to make. A cook next to him had a suggestion — catfish. Inspired, Chef Scott took the catfish, added some rib rub, honey butter and wrapped it in foil before placing it in the barbecue. The result amazed him. “It was a great combination. And it was fish,” said Chef Scott. “That was one of my favorites that went in there (cookbook). You never how you’ll be sitting around and just throw something together. Who knew I’d even share it?”
The inclusion of catfish in a barbecue cookbook is unique because fish is not commonly smoked for American barbecue. But this creative understanding of barbecue is evident in the cookbook. Chef Scott is not a strict traditionalist when it comes to barbecue regionality. Even his specialty, whole hog barbecue, is something he believes can be reproduced outside of South Carolina.
“I do absolutely believe that you can reproduce this flavor elsewhere,” said Chef Scott. “I’ve done it. I’ve experienced it myself personally. I’ve done whole hog in different countries. I’ve done whole hog in California, Texas, New York, Tennessee. And I say that to say that the same flavor you get in Charleston, I tasted that same flavor while we were on the road.”
For Chef Scott, barbecue is a universal language, a common denominator that transcends borders and language. People from all over the world can understand and enjoy food cooked over fire. It’s this all-embracing aspect of barbecue that leads him to believe that American barbecue has yet to reach its peak. “The future of American barbecue is going to be more appreciated, so much more recognized,” said Chef Scott. “Your going to be able to walk down the street and see fine dining on this block and right down the same block, there’ll be barbecue as well.”
At its core, Chef Scott’s new cookbook is a way to present his world, his understanding of barbecue’s universal language and to showcase the countless people he encountered as a pitmaster. “Which is why we titled it ‘Rodney’s Scott’s World.'” said Chef Scott. “This was my world. This is not saying that your barbecue is wrong. This is my eyes through the world of barbecue. Here’s what I think, and here’s what I believe.”
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