CLEVELAND, Ohio — Every day is a good day, says Rodney Scott. And, if I were Rodney Scott, I’d have to agree. The renowned maestro of whole-hog, pit barbecue has two very successful restaurants in Charleston and Birmingham, and another that just opened in Atlanta to great acclaim and long lines of happily hungry customers. He is the recipient of a coveted James Beard Regional Chef award, the first African American to win the Southeast division, and only the second barbecue pitmaster to be recognized for his culinary achievement. And according to those who know, he’s a nice guy who appreciates all the good things in his life. When he says that every glass is half full, he truly means it.
And now, he has a new book that’s on the bestseller list. “Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ” is a great cookbook. It’s replete with intriguing recipes for cooking meat, fish, snacks, salads, desserts, and even mixing a few cocktails with a BBQ bent, plus a complete primer on barbecuing a whole hog.
You can even get a sense of the real Rodney in the fun and folksy headers on each recipe. But we’ll talk about all that in a bit.
The book is also about Scott’s journey to those good days. Almost a quarter of it is dedicated to his hardscrabble upbringing in tiny Hemingway, South Carolina, currently population 529, in the heart of tobacco, feed corn, and vinegar-pepper barbecue country. His father had several farms and owned various businesses, including a variety store that sold barbecue on the side, none of them being particularly successful. Rodney labored at them all from a very young age. “If you can walk, you can work” was his father’s motto, and Rodney lived it every day. It was a rough Dickensian childhood, if such a thing is possible in the very rural, poor Black south.
Eventually, the Scott Barbecue — whole hogs smoked overnight over hardwood coals on vast grills made of cinder block and heavy, metal screening — gained traction, and various barbecue aficionados started making pilgrimages to Hemingway. I won’t give away the rest. There’s a lot of still-ongoing smalltown skullduggery and drama, sort of a Peyton Place with barbecue baste supplanting the sex. But suffice it to say that Scott is doing just fine now, and this book is an inspirational affirmation of taking the high road.
As to the rest of the book, it truly is Rodney Scott’s BBQ world. Pig, in all its permutations shows up in almost every category. From the whole hog and a fine rack of ribs to decadent Loaded Pork Skin “Nachos” and Coco’s MIA Pigtail Perloo it’s a swinish world. There are intriguing pigless recipes, too, from spatchcocked Holiday Turkey and Grilled Vegetable Salad to a fine-looking Coleslaw and irresistible Macaroni & Cheese. Even some of the more interesting cocktails are often flavored with one or more of Scott’s truly excellent sauces.
There are also a few beef recipes, including a relatively quick, but super-delicious BBQ burger, with or without bacon.
You could make a great Labor Day meal, or two, just using recipes from the book. There are a few to start you out below, including a very good, not-too-sweet Blueberry Cornbread Pound Cake that plays well with pig.
But for a truly porcine adventure, you could assail the whole hog.
All the instructions are in the book. Scott doesn’t pull any punches about the difficulty, but he does make it seem accessible if you really want it. And to point you in the right direction for ingredients, Trevor at Ohio City Provisions can supply whole split and splayed well-provenanced pigs. If you want it for Labor Day, call now. These things, like great BBQ itself, take time. I won’t boar you with the many details, the book takes care of that, but like all things in life, as Rodney Scott well knows, you eat what you sow.
Rodney’s Spare Ribs
In this recipe I’m talking strictly about pork spareribs with the rib tip at the top intact. The first thing we do is “peel” the ribs by removing the membrane that covers the bone side of the slab. The membrane makes the ribs tough to eat. Peeling off the membrane also allows more seasoning to get into the meat, from the rub to the sauce; in fact, the vinegar in the sauce doesn’t just flavor the meat, but also tenderizes it. Now, there’s always going to be preferences within barbecue. Some people think the rib tips are too bony or too tough compared to the meat between the ribs — but I don’t mind. I like the slight resistance you get when you bite into our ribs — I consider them perfect. That said, this recipe will work for St. Louis cut ribs (which have the rib tips removed) and tender, quicker cooking baby back ribs, too. For St. Louis cut, flip the ribs after 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes of cooking, while baby backs will be ready to turn after 30 to 45 minutes.
3 slabs pork spareribs, membranes removed
1½ tablespoons Rib Rub (see below)
2 to 3 cups Rodney’s Sauce (see below)
Fire up your grill to between 200°F and 250°F
Season each slab with the rib rub. Make sure you get under the flap, the little piece of meat that dangles on the bone side of the ribs.
Place the seasoned ribs on the grill grate bone-side down, with the fatty end toward the middle of the grill. The middle of the grill tends to be hotter, so that will ensure that the thicker part of the rib gets cooked properly. Close the grill and cook: You are looking for caramelization on the rib before you flip them. That should take about 1½ hours. Open the grill and look for caramelization on the bone.
If it’s ready, use the mop-flip-mop method (mop the visible side of the meat with sauce. Flip the meat over. Mop the meat again). Close the grill. Bring the grill back up to temperature between 200°F to 250°F. Cook the ribs until the second side gets that same caramelized look. To check doneness, we pick up a slab of ribs with a pair of tongs and check how much give there is. When you pick the slab up, it should sag or flop easily. If a slight tear develops in the meat between the bones, that’s another sign of doneness.
Makes 2 cups
½ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt
¼ cup Jesus’s Tears (aka MSG)
¼ cup freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup paprika
¼ cup chili powder
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all of the ingredients and place them in an air tight container.
Cover and store in a cool dry place until ready to use.
Makes 1 Gallon
1 gallon distilled white vinegar
1 lemon, thinly sliced
½ cup ground black pepper
¹⁄₃ cup cayenne pepper
1¼ tablespoons red pepper flakes
2 cups sugar
In a small stockpot, warm the vinegar over medium-high heat. After about 5 minutes, when the vinegar reaches150°F on an instant-read thermometer, just before it starts to simmer, add the lemon slices and continue to cook until the lemon peels begin to soften and wilt, about 10 minutes more. Whisk in the black pepper, cayenne, pepper flakes, and sugar. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the sauce reaches 190°F, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool and remove the lemon. Allow to completely cool before using. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 8 weeks. (Cook’s note: this recipe can be reduced by half or quarter with impunity, but you may just want to make it all and share with your BBQ brethren.)
BBQ Bacon Burgers
Makes 4 Burgers
I am a man who loves a good burger. Growing up, Juliette Pasley served my favorite one at Pasley’s Cafe. I’m not sure that it was so special. It might have been just a plain old cheeseburger, probably less than a quarter pound of beef, but when I think of happiness and burgers, that’s the one I go back to. At the restaurant, I developed what I call “burger sauce.” It’s the combination of 1,000 Island Dressing and The Other Sauce. In this recipe, instead of combining them into one sauce, the dressings stay separate and then the burger gets finished off with the barbecue sauce.
For the sautéed onions:
¼ cup canola oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 teaspoon Rib Rub (see recipe above)
For the burgers and peppers:
2 pounds ground chuck
Canola oil, for the grill
4 jalapeño peppers
4 teaspoons Rib Rub (see recipe above)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
4 slices white American cheese
4 Martin’s potato rolls (or other soft sandwich buns)
½ cup 1,000 Island Dressing
4 slices thick-cut bacon, fried crisp and cut into2-inch pieces
¼ cup The Other Sauce (see recipe below)
Make the sautéed onions:
In a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Once the oil is hot, add the onion slices. Stir occasionally so they don’t stick or burn. Cook until the onion is tender and slightly caramelized,10 to 12 minutes. Then season it with the rib rub and set aside.
Fire up your grill. Heat the grill to 225°F to 250°F.
Make the burgers:
Divide the ground chuck into 8 equal portions (4 ounces each) and form each into a 1-inch-thick patty.
Char the peppers: Use grilling tongs to lightly brush the grill grate with a canola oil-soaked cloth. Place the jalapeños on the grill until evenly charred and black, turning them every 2 minutes for 10 to 12 minutes. While the peppers are still hot from the grill, place them in a bag and close it, or place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to steam for about 5 minutes. Take the peppers out of the bag and use a spoon or gloved fingers to remove the skin. Discard the skin, stems, and seeds (and take care not to touch your face or eyes)
Crank the heat on the grill up to between 400°F and 450°F, by opening the vents three-fourths of the way for a few minutes. Once the temperature has risen, close the vents slightly to maintain temperature and avoid flare-ups. Cook the burgers: Season both sides of the patties with the rib rub, place them on the grill and close the top.
Cook until each side has developed a slight brown crust, and some dark grill marks, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Put cheddar cheese on 4 of the patties and white American cheese on the remaining 4 patties.
Split and toast the potato rolls on the grill, flat side down, for 30 to 45 seconds, depending on your preference of doneness. Spread the 1,000 Island dressing on both the top and bottom buns. Stack a cheddar-topped burger on top of an American cheese-topped burger on each bun. Top with the sautéed onions, bacon, and The Other Sauce. Place the top bun on top and serve with the grilled jalapeños on the side.
The Other Sauce
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
½ cup hot sauce (preferably Texas Pete)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, brown sugar, chili powder, salt, pepper, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Allow the sauce to cool at room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. It will keep for up to 3 weeks.
Roscoe’s Blueberry Cornmeal Pound Cake
Roscoe Hall is the former manager of the Birmingham, Alabama, location of Rodney Scott’s Who Hog BBQ. The “Top Chef” season 18 contestant is the grandson of the founder of Dreamland Bar-B-Que in nearby Tuscaloosa.
Why we had blueberries hanging around the restaurant I do not recall. Why Roscoe decided to put them in cornbread, I can only answer, “That’s Roscoe. Always playing with his food.” Roscoe comes from the lineage of Dreamland Bar-B-Que people, and he has also cooked at some outstanding white-tablecloth restaurants around the country. So, he has his foot in two camps: the traditional Southern-cooking camp and the fancy fine-dining camp. When he plays around in the kitchen, he always produces something delicious. Of course, when I asked him to write up the recipe for the book, he had to go and dress it up with the bourbon Chantilly cream. Roscoe!
For the Pound Cake:
Butter, for greasing the skillet
2 cups finely ground cornmeal
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
3 cups buttermilk
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups blueberries
For the Macerated Berries:
4 cups blueberries
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
For the bourbon Chantilly cream:
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with some butter and set aside.
Make the pound cake: In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. Add the buttermilk mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir them together. Don’t work the mixture too much or the cake will become tough and not rise as much.
Pour the batter into the prepared skillet, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the blueberries over the batter. Bake the corn bread until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
Macerate the berries: Place the berries in a medium bowl. Add the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Toss all the ingredients until the blueberries are coated completely. The sugar and salt will draw out the juices from the blueberries. Cover the bowl and leave it at room temperature for 2 hours, then refrigerate. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5days.
Make the Chantilly cream: In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), whip the cream, powdered sugar, and bourbon on medium speed until you have stiff peaks (meaning when you remove the whisk from the cream, the whipped cream makes a point that stands straight up).
To serve, cut the cake into squares or wedges and top with the macerated berries and bourbon Chantilly cream.
“Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ”
By Rodney Scott and Lolis Eric Elie
Clarkson Potter 2021