Never Ignore This Red Flag At A Barbecue Restaurant

There's some old wisdom about how to identify good barbecue restaurants, which says three things will tell you all you need to know. One item on the list of folksy observances is that the best BBQ places have gravel parking lots. Second, if a pork barbecue place has an anthropomorphic pig on its sign — which is a fancy way of saying that the sign includes a cartoon pig doing something human, like wearing an apron or driving a pickup truck loaded with wood — that is another indication that the barbecue served up inside will be great. And third, the old bit of wisdom holds that any good barbecue joint will have burned down at least once during its time in business.

Of course, there are more serious ways of judging whether a barbecue joint is going to offer a great experience or something less. As outlined by Garden & Gun, gas-fired barbecue cooking pits are a break with what traditionally defines a good barbecue joint, where wood smoke imparts flavor to the meat. Garden & Gun goes on to say that great barbecue joints should have something unique on the menu, like smoked bologna, sweet potato muffins, or even chicken stew. Also according to Garden & Gun, barbecue joints should have a sense of place, meaning that Texas joints should serve brisket, mustard sauce should be on tables in South Carolina, and hush puppies should be offered as a side dish in eastern North Carolina. 

Real talk on what makes a good BBQ joint

Recently, Insider talked with Charleston, South Carolina, BBQ pitmaster Rodney Scott. The first things to look for, Scott told Insider, are a pile of wood, or smoke wafting around the place, or even the pits where barbecue is smoked, to know that the barbecue is cooked on-site. If your eyes or your nose do not tip you off, Scott said, you should assess the location of the joint, determining whether it is located in a venue likely to have the space for smoking, along with a chimney or other air-handling equipment needed to vent smoke. If you are still unsure, Scott recommends walking by the barbecue restaurant and smelling the meat cooking. 

For instance, Scott told Insider, a barbecue joint in an airport "would put a question mark with me. Because how much smoke do you see going around an airport?" Scott explained he'd wonder where and how the barbecue was cooked. Not being able to see or smell a smoker is also a red flag in a Fox News look at barbecue joints. Tuffy Stone of Virginia's Q Barbeque told Fox, "You should see a smoker either outside the building or in a smokehouse." 

Other warning signs, according to the Fox News piece, are barbecue served with sauce already applied, a menu offering an array of 'cue styles, from Texas brisket to Carolina pulled pork to Memphis ribs, and any radical departure from side dishes like coleslaw, baked beans, and potato salad.

What makes Scott an expert?

Pitmasters take their BBQ craft extremely seriously and spend countless hours and money perfecting their preferred barbecue cooking method. So if there's anyone qualified to determine what makes a real barbecue joint, it's Rodney Scott. American chef and pitmaster from Hemingway, South Carolina, Scott specializes in whole hog barbecue. After opening his eponymous BBQ restaurant in 2017, Rodney Scott BBQ, Bon Appétit Magazine named it one of the 50 best restaurants in the country (via Charleston Wine + Food). Scott was also awarded the James Beard Foundation's award for Outstanding Chef Southeast in 2018. But his awards and achievements did not stop there. After opening a second location of Rodney Scott BBQ in Birmingham, Scott was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2021, per American Royal Association. Besides appearing on television alongside celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain and food critic Andrew Zimmern, Scott also starred in Season 1, Episode 3 of the Netflix show "Chef's Table." 

Scott is credited with putting whole hog BBQ on the map. In fact, many claim that he is the reason why this BBQ style still remains in fashion. According to Eater, whole hog involves slow cooking an entire pig over a wood-fired pit until it's perfectly tender with crispy skin. This style of barbecue is typically a regional speciality in the Carolinas and Tennessee. Even though Scott's specialty is whole hog BBQ, after appearing as a judge and mentor on Food Network's BBQ Brawl, he learned his way around several BBQ styles.