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Rodney Scott and Darius Rucker heated up last night's BBQ-centric episode of Top Chef Charleston

Rodney Scott and Padma Lakshmi

TOP CHEF -- "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em" Episode 1405 -- Pictured: (l-r) Rodney Scott, Padma Lakshmi -- (Photo by: Paul Cheney/Bravo)

Is every local food lover obliged to watch "Top Chef Charleston"? Not necessarily: The Post and Courier is keeping an eye on the show so you can take Thursday nights off. Throughout the season, we’ll provide a quick rundown of the latest episode, supplying you with all of the information you need to sound savvy at parties when talk turns to the reality cooking show.

Episode: “Smoke ‘Em If you Got ‘Em”

Original airdate: Dec. 29

Premise: Because there are two barbecue camps in South Carolina (Hold your e-mail! This is how “Top Chef” characterizes the state’s smoked-meat situation, despite many experts’ contention that South Carolina is home to four distinct barbecue sauce styles), contestants are directed to form four-person cook teams and create vinegar- or mustard-based barbecue. All three teams are required to prepare a whole hog, so chefs have to demonstrate their stamina for staying up all night, along with the skills necessary to prepare matching side dishes.

Featured Charlestonians: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome pitmaster extraordinaire Rodney Scott to the set. Beyond the food sphere, Darius Rucker is also in residence: He performs a few songs at a backyard party before the chefs serve their barbecue to an oddly homogenous group of 150 “barbecue fans.” Both Scott and Rucker join the judges’ panel.

Featured Charleston locations: There aren’t many shots of Charleston proper, but Scott takes the contestants on a comparative sauce field trip to Sweatman’s BBQ in Holly Hill and his family’s barbecue joint in Hemingway. Also, Sheldon Simeon pays a visit to Trident Medical Center in hopes of soothing his aching back.

Dunderheaded decision: Even though Katsuji Tanabe specializes in kosher cooking, he garnishes his beans with plenty of pig parts with which he’s only faintly familiar, including glands that create a funky, off-putting flavor. The judges dismiss his contribution as slimy and sour.

Smart decision: John Tesar is short on all-purpose flour for his macaroni-and-cheese, which he typically makes with a roux. So he borrows a trick from modernist cooking, substituting xanthan gum as a thickener. His dish is judged the overall winner, bringing Tesar his first individual victory over multiple seasons of Top Chef competition. “I can’t believe it comes down to making mac-and-cheese to have joy and happiness on Top Chef,” he says.

Best line: “Anywhere I can use a power tool to break down an animal, I’m strangely excited about that,” from Brooke Williamson, who keeps turning out dishes that appear to be on a higher level than almost anything her fellow competitors have produced.

What viewers learned about Charleston: According to Scott, South Carolinians will think twice about trying potato salad if it’s not made with mayonnaise.

How Emily Hahn and Jamie Lynch fared: The Quickfire challenge revolves around biscuits, although there isn’t a judge on hand to explain what the contestants are supposed to do: It’s up to them to deduce why the kitchen pantry is stocked with buttermilk and flour. Lynch isn’t the first to make the connection, and may never have grasped the point of the challenge if other contestants hadn’t figured it out.

“I have never made a biscuit in my life, so I’m winging it,” the Charlotte chef admits. Contestant Casey Thompson, who at one point was celebrated throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area for her biscuits, is aghast: “Are you kidding me?” she asks, reminding viewers that Lynch has restaurants in the South.

Still, guest judge (and frequent Charleston visitor) John Currence of Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, Miss. names Lynch’s play on biscuits-and-gravy as one of his three favorite entries. “Incredible stuff,” he rules.

After last week’s starring turn, Hahn is mostly in the background for this episode, although Tanabe mentions he doesn’t want to work with her because “she complains about everything.” Instead, she partners up with Williamson, Simeon and Tesar. Hahn ends up undercooking beans for the main challenge, but the judges excuse the mistake. “Her sauce was clear and bright,” judge Padma Lakshmi explains.

Who won, who lost: Williamson won the Quickfire; Tesar won the main event and Silvia Barban is sent home for bringing Italian potato salad to a South Carolina whole hog barbecue. “If I were to see that at a party, it would be the one dish I wouldn’t touch,” Scott says.

Next week: The highly anticipated Edna Lewis tribute episode at Middleton Place.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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