JIM CARTER (this article was originally published May 23, 2012)
This is the second in a three-part series on South Carolina Barbeque. Click here to read the first installment, “Just a Little Respect: South Carolina Mustard-based Sauce.”
At the end of March we followed up by visiting Shuler’s again. Norton, Lynn and their son, Shuler gave us a tour. Norton’s grandmother was a Shuler, descended from one of those German immigrants. His father was called Shuler and his middle name is Shuler. Why am I telling you this?
Because it seems the best South Carolina barbeque comes from restaurants with multi-generational ownership. Norton learned barbeque from his father, who sold it from his country store in Sellers, South Carolina. His son, Schuler, will someday take over the restaurant.
Norton says, “Barbeque is meat cooked long and slow over coals, so that the fat can drip onto the coals. Meat cooked over indirect heat is smoked meat, not barbeque.”
When asked the secret of the success of Shuler’s, Norton replied with a four-letter word, “love.” He and Lynn love what they do; they love creating high quality barbeque and other items on their buffet. Another reason for the quality of their barbeque is their cooking method. In addition to being cooked long and slow over coals, they put their meat on a home built rotisserie. That’s right, as the business grew, Norton switched from a traditional South Carolina pit to a rotisserie inside a pit large enough that several men could stand in it, if there were no rotisserie. With the rotisserie, they get more even distribution of heat and do not have to spend as much time tending the cooking process.
They have barbeque chickens, pork shoulders, and ribs. Norton recalls when his father barbequed whole hogs when he was young. His father switched to shoulders and Norton has always cooked shoulders. He rubs them with only salt and pepper prior to cooking. Afterwards, they are finished they are pulled, mixed with a little sauce and put into the cooler to absorb the sauce. That’s on Tuesday and Wednesday, typically before show time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There is no thermometer on the pit. Willie, the experienced pit master, cooks from experience. The temperature is between 225 and 240 degrees fahrenheit and the meat is cooked until done – depending on what is being cooked, this could be eight to ten hours.
Shuler’s sauces, mild and spicy, are not typical of most South Carolina mustard-based sauces. The restaurant is on the border, or maybe over the border of the mustard based sauce region of South Carolina and into the vinegar and pepper sauce region. Vinegar and pepper sauce is typical of the low country region of South Carolina that abuts North Carolina and, of course, typical of the coastal region of North Carolina. So, Shuler’s sauce is, well, one could say, a combination of the two. It has a little more vinegar and pepper than the typical South Carolina mustard based sauce.
Shuler’s, like many South Carolina barbeque restaurants, presents a buffet. One pays when they enter for “all-you-can-eat”. While this article is about barbeque, it should be noted that the fired chicken, vegetables and desserts are all made in house and are wonderful. The deep fried corn on the cob is a local favorite. And like many South Carolina barbeque restaurants, the banana pudding is a specialty.
Don’t just take our word for the barbeque at Shuler’s. And don’t just take the word of so many diners who have commented online. Rather, take the word of the judges of The South Carolina Barbeque Association. Many of them think Shuler’s is the best in the state. These judges, perhaps the best trained in the nation, know what they are talking about. Before becoming a master judge, one must attend a daylong seminar, judge four cook-offs under the supervision of a master judge, cook with four competitive teams, and judge 30 cook-offs on his or her own. And they don’t pull punches. Writing about Shuler’s sauce, they say it is too “vinegary”.
Of course, there are a lot of other excellent Midlands barbeque locations. In the past we’ve tried Bessinger’s, Jackie Hite’s, Big T’s, Maurice’s, Bar-B-Que Hut, and Duke’s, among others. Since the quality at a given location can ebb and flow, the South Carolina Barbeque Association can be a guide. Their website (www.scbarbeque.com) has two lists of barbeque restaurants with up-to-date reviews of each. The top list is called “100 Mile Barbeque”. This is barbeque said to be worth a 100-mile trip. The other is “Worth the Trip Barbeque”.
1602 Savannah Hwy
Charleston, SC 29407
Jackie Hite’s Barbecue
467 West ChurchSt.
Batesburg-Leesville, SC 29006
Maurice’s Gourmet BBQ
Numerous locations around Columbia, SC
419 Highway 38 W.
Latta, SC 29565
S. Guignard Dr.
Sumter, SC 29150
Big T’s Bar-B-Q
7535 Garners Ferry Road # C
Columbia, SC 29309
1298 Whitman St.
Orangeburg, SC 2911803-534-2916