Many no doubt dream of strolling down Lover’s Lane or sauntering along Easy Street.
Me? I want to ramble South Carolina’s Barbecue Trail.
You won’t find the Barbecue Trail on a map, at least not yet. The trail is being charted by folks with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for an advertising blitz to draw visitors to the state’s barbecue joints.
State lawmakers allocated $1.2 million for the campaign, which is aimed at barbecue aficionados within 350 miles of the state. Tourism officials hope to lure them to the dozens of small, family-owned eateries that dot the rural parts of the state.
The idea behind the ads is that, in all likelihood, there’s a fine barbecue joint on the way to wherever you’re going in South Carolina. The ads will appear on TV, in newspapers and on the Web beginning at the end of August – just in time to snag travelers on their way to college football games.
I suspect this ad campaign will be a boon not only for Georgians and North Carolinians but also for South Carolinians who haven’t discovered some of the pig-centric bistros in their own state. Traveling the Barbecue Trail will be an adventure no matter where you might hale from.
This is a brilliant campaign for several reasons. First, it capitalizes on a commodity that already exists and which ranks as one of the most tempting delights the state has to offer. Second, the ad blitz is designed to appeal to people who are coming here anyway but who might not be aware of the joy that awaits them on the Barbecue Trail. And third, it draws people to some of the out-of-the-way rural areas of the state they ordinarily might drive around or through without stopping.
But the biggest benefit of this ad campaign would be to lead the hungry to genuine, honest-to-goodness ‘cue. Not the factory-produced stuff injected with liquid smoke and finished in a pressure cooker like a lab experiment, but the real McCoy.
We should be able to follow the trail to homely little shacks, converted gas stations, plain cinderblock boxes with wooden picnic tables or tables with chipped linoleum inside. No candelabras or white linen tablecloths, please.
Out back, we should see a pile of hardwood – pecan, oak, most likely hickory. That’s mandatory! Authentic barbecue must be spiced, then smoked for hours. Otherwise, it shouldn’t call itself barbecue.
This means we should be able to follow our noses along the trail to these unpretentious dining establishments. That salty, sweet, smoky smell of flavorful fat dripping on embers is irresistible, a magnet for meat eaters.
It could be ribs or chopped shoulder or the whole hog, but it most certainly will be pork of one form or another. And it almost always will be accompanied by slaw, pickles and some kind of bread, either sliced white bread or buns. And sometimes there will be rice and gravy or hash or potato salad as well.
With sweet tea, naturally.
If you don’t think we have something here to sell visitors, take a trip to Maryland as I did recently. Every ’cue joint up there features “Carolina-style pulled pork barbecue.”
They love the musical alliteration of the words “pulled pork” but the meat most likely is chopped smoked butts (not really butts but shoulder meat that used to be packed in large casks known as butts for transport). Anyway, why would I eat “Carolina-style” barbecue when I could eat Maryland crab cakes, crab soup, crab salad, crab imperial or crab on a cheeseburger?
The point is this: Everybody loves pork barbecue. And South Carolinians do it as well as anybody – be it Lowcountry vinegar-based, Midlands mustard-based or Upstate ketchup-based.
My fervent hope is that someday South Carolina’s pit masters will give the noble beef brisket the respect it deserves and lavish upon it the same spicy, low-and-slow-cooked care they give to pig parts. In that respect, this state’s barbecue chefs could learn something from their brethren in Texas.
But that can come later. For now, there are plenty of stops along the Barbecue Trail.
And I can practically guarantee it won’t be the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.