Rodney Scott, pitmaster of the legendary Scott’s Variety Store and now Rodney Scott’s BBQ, met Douglas Oliver, pitmaster of the equally legendary Sweatman’s BBQ, for the first time while taping a Top Chef segment at Sweatman’s in Holly Hill last year.
The connection between the two men was immediate. “We started talking about how we cook hogs and walking around the pits,” says Scott. “It was almost the same. The only difference is they take the ribs out of the hogs and I keep mine in there. But the flipping, the firing are the same. The finish was different because they use mustard sauce.”
Sweatman’s pitmaster passed away in October, a fact we were alerted to earlier this week by a moving Twitter thread by writer and photographer Rien Fertel, who featured Oliver in his book “The One True Barbecue: Fire, Smoke, and the Pitmasters Who Cook the Whole Hog.”
Restaurant kitchens are full of unsung heroes, obscurity toilers, invisible workers like Douglas Oliver, who died last month. For over three decades, Douglas worked as a pitmaster at Sweatman's Bar-B-Que in Holly Hill, SC. He called himself a "worker ant." pic.twitter.com/esNU0jchLD— Rien Fertel (@rienfertel) November 27, 2017
For Scott, the loss of a man like Oliver, a soul brother of smoke, is hard to measure. “Man, it’s like a legend has left us,” he says. “Whole hog is not easy to cook. It’s a half-day journey, sometimes a whole day. How do you lose a guy who mastered it? Who’s next?”
Training the next generation isn’t an easy business. “You never stop training them,” says Scott. “How do you get them to be a guy like that who can just cook a whole hog and have it ready for you tomorrow? Where do you find the next one? Is he here? Does he exist?”
Christopher Behr at Sweatman's assures that Oliver, who they called Bubby, trained his next line of pitmasters well. "He helped ensure that things weren’t going to change when he stepped down earlier this spring," Behr wrote in an email. "He hadn’t cooked here in months as he was at home going through treatment [for cancer]. He’s in a better place now and is watching down knowing that we still do it the way he did it for years."