Charleston may be the state’s current barbecue capital, but word hasn’t reached Southern Living readers.
In an online poll to determine the magazine’s annual South’s Best awards, voters didn’t muster much love for any of the city’s smoked meat joints, despite choosing Charleston as the best city in the South. Nor were they moved to recommend one of the Midlands’ many well-known institutions.
Instead, among South Carolina barbecue restaurants, the largest share of the 22,000 votes cast went to Carolina BBQ in Spartanburg.
“I didn’t know we were nominated or anything,” owner Mike Hicks said when reached by phone. “We’ll take it.”
Generally, Carolina BBQ does more making than taking. Asked to speculate on the reason for his restaurant’s success, Hicks says, “We hickory-smoke all of our meats, make all of our sauces and make most of our sides.”
Although Carolina BBQ was selected as the best barbecue in South Carolina, it didn’t receive enough votes to crack the region-wide list, making South Carolina the only longstanding barbecue stronghold without representation in the top 10. North Carolina claimed one slot, while Texas and Tennessee nabbed two apiece; Southern Soul Barbecue in St. Simons Island, Georgia, was the overall top vote-getter.
Still, voters in those places may have been partly responsible for Carolina BBQ outranking every other smokehouse in the state.
“This has been a pit stop for years for people traveling between the coast and the mountains, or North Carolina and Atlanta,” says Hicks, who’s owned Carolina BBQ for about half of its 37 years.
One of those travelers was Southern Living’s contributing barbecue editor Robert Moss, who co-hosts The Post and Courier’s food podcast, The Winnow.
“It's long been my pick for one of South Carolina's under-the-radar sleepers — in my top 10 list of South Carolina joints for sure,” he says. “I was pretty surprised to see it get picked for top spot in South Carolina, but I'm glad to see them getting the attention.”
For Lowcountry residents who don’t have road trips planned, Carolina BBQ occasionally caters private events in the area.
“We have sent 4,000 hush puppies to a wedding down there,” Hicks says.