Spotlight on the Carolinas: Agricultural traditions influenced regionally distinct stews
The story of barbecue is still being written, according to Robert Moss, author of "Barbecue: The History of an American Institution" and "The Barbecue Lover's Carolinas."
That's apparent in South Carolina where, not long ago, barbecue experts pinpointed four regions in the Southern state with their own distinct sauce styles.
The barbecue map used to show light tomato sauce in the upstate and heavy tomato along the Augusta border, with vinegar-pepper sauce on the coast. Mustard was mainly relegated to the middle part of the state.
Moss, who grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, said mustard sauce never touched his pulled pork. Now, he said, those lines are starting to blur.
"Those zones have merged," he said. "Now up in Greenville, there's mustard all over the place."
As mustard sauce consumes the state, traveling pitmasters spread styles that previously never would have crossed the rim of a barbecue platter in the Carolinas, like beef brisket.
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"Twenty years ago, you couldn't find beef in the Carolinas, and if you did you wouldn't want to eat it," Moss said.
But some newer barbecue restaurants in the Carolinas boldly flaunt dishes from afar, including Kansas City burnt ends and Texas brisket.
And some are exporting their own South Carolina tastes farther afield. That's the case at Asheville's Buxton Hall, where chef Elliott Moss brought chicken bog from the PeeDee region of South Carolina, where he grew up. The recipe is below.
Asheville, in the western part of North Carolina, is a prime example of a barbecue melting pot where just about anything goes.
"Old-timers like me would say there is no Western North Carolina style," said Robert Moss, who is not related to the Asheville chef. "There's eastern and Piedmont and, once you get past Shelby, there really was very little barbecue until recently."
At Buxton Hall, chicken bog is a fixture. The dish comes together much like a purloo, the word for rice pilaf in the Lowcountry, where rice-growing traditions run deep.
Chicken bog is traditionally a communal feast of chicken and rice, likely cooked in lard-rendering pots at whole hog roasts, another South Carolina tradition. The fact that chicken bog borrows from African traditions suggests it could have been created at the hands of enslaved people.
It's the same story for barbecue hash, a South Carolina dish that arose from a completely different agricultural tradition: raising hogs.
Robert Moss has turned up pre-war references to the regional dish. "I found interviews with people born into slavery and some recalled making hash before the Civil War on plantations."
Barbecue hash, traditionally a slow-simmered stew of lard and offal, was also born in the lard rendering cauldrons that were fixtures of pig slaughters.
"In the South, if you have a hog killing, they're very efficient," he explained. Pre-refrigeration, farmers would do the work of dispatching the hog in the winter to curb spoilage, working quickly to preserve every bit.
Tenderloins would be eaten on the spot while everything else would be cured or preserved in some manner. What remained went into the cauldron, head, offal and all, to simmer for hours into a gravy-like consistency. Today, it's most often served as a stew studded with pulled pork.
Especially in a barbecue world that's always evolving, it's important to protect its history, said Robert Moss. "It's important to highlight these unique regional dishes so it doesn't become brisket from coast to coast."
Buxton Hall Chicken Bog
This chicken bog is a hyper-regional recipe from South Carolina's PeeDee region, near where Buxton Hall Barbecue chef Elliott Moss was raised.
"While it's a simple and humble dish, a good bog is built on the homemade, slow-cooked chicken and stock," Moss writes in his "Book of Smoke," which includes this recipe. "So don't take any shortcuts with this recipe."
Serves: About 8 as a main dish, more as a side
For the Chicken Bog stock
1 whole chicken
1/2 cup whole black peppercorns
1/2 head celery, chopped
1 1/2 pounds of carrots, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup smoked hog fat or 1/4 cup butter
9 cups water
For the Chicken Bog
8 cups Chicken Bog stock
Chicken meat from the Chicken Bog recipe above
4 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 pound smoked pork sausage (like kielbasa), sliced
1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
2 cups frozen peas
Salt to taste
Make the stock: Place the chicken, peppercorns, celery, carrots, thyme, crushed pepper and fat in a large stockpot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl or container. Don't skim or otherwise remove the fat from the stock though — it will help flavor the bog.
Let the chicken cool and then pick the meat, setting it aside for the bog recipe that follows. The broth will store for up to a week in the fridge, but as you're using the meat for the bog, I'd recommend making the bog within 1-2 days.
Make the Chicken Bog: Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the chicken you set aside when making the stock, rice, sausage and black pepper. Bring back to a boil and taste for seasoning. You might want to add a bit of salt at this point.
Reduce to a simmer, cover with the lid, and cook on low for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice in the first 5 minutes and then leaving the lid on. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, add the peas and stir up everything.
Serve immediately. I like garnishing with Texas Pete hot sauce.
South Carolina Barbecue Hash
Barbecue hash is a South Carolina specialty, with about as many variations as there are barbecue restaurants in the Southern state. That stands to reason, as the barbecue microregions in the Carolinas are plentiful. This hash recipe, according to Buxton Hall Barbecue's Elliott Moss, pays homage to the center of the state. That's the home of the mustard barbecue sauce that helps lend this side a punch of piquant flavor, but you can substitute a different sauce. There is, Moss said, "No wrong way to make a hash."
Makes: About 6 one-cup servings
1 pound leftover pulled pork or whole-hog barbecue sauce
1/2 pound chicken liver, finely chopped or ground
1 medium onion, finely diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely diced,
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
2 cups red barbecue sauce
1 cup mustard barbecue sauce
8 cups water, divided
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Texas Pete hot sauce, or to taste
1 cup cooked white rice
Additional hot white rice, for serving
Add the pork, chicken liver, onion and garlic to a large pot. Season with the salt, pepper, and onion and garlic powders. Cook over medium heat until the meat is slightly browned Add both barbecue sauces, 5 cups of water, Worcestershire, Texas Pete and 1 cup cooked rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low so that the mixture is at a simmer.
Cook at a simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, uncovered, stirring frequently to avoid sticking. Add about 2 cups of water and continue to cook and stir for another 1 1/2 hours. Add final cup of water and cook for 45 minutes or until the water has reduced to leave you with a loose, meaty gravy-like consistency.
Serve over hot white rice. Garnish with additional hot sauce and soda crackers.
Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.