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Rodney Scott Wants To Take Over The World With Barbecue

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It takes a long time and a lot of work to barbecue a whole hog over a wood fire. Rodney Scott knows because he's cooked them for years. And he remembers falling in love with the work when he started listening to music.

RODNEY SCOTT: While I'm cooking, I would be listening to tunes, and that kind of helped me get through the long 12-hour cooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AIN'T NO JOKE")

ERIC B AND RAKIM: (Rapping) You can't cope. You should've broke because I ain't no joke.

SCOTT: You know, you don't want no hardcore stuff playing, you know, to give you the wild moods, where you're throwing too much seasoning on a hog.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC B AND RAKIM SONG, "I AIN'T NO JOKE")

INSKEEP: What follows is a story of how a man learned to cook and went for it, whole-hog.

You know, all my life I've heard people say they go for something whole-hog, meaning you're totally committed. And I'm realizing that's probably a reference to what you do.

SCOTT: You have to be totally committed with that whole hog.

INSKEEP: Which he seems to be. Rodney Scott owns popular restaurants in Charleston and Birmingham. When we found him, he was staying in Texas for a TV project. He has a new book out called "Rodney Scott's World Of BBQ," which describes his upbringing in rural South Carolina.

SCOTT: Low country area. It's kind of warm and humid in the summertimes and rural, spread out.

INSKEEP: He grew up in a town called Hemingway...

SCOTT: Hemingway is a very small town.

INSKEEP: ...Where his parents made a living running multiple businesses at once. His father's barbecue place was just one. There was also the gas station, the variety store and the farm.

SCOTT: If you were out of school, you were at work. If you were free for the summer, you were in the fields farming. You were constantly working. You didn't get a chance to sit around. They had to sing that - the idle mind is the devil's playground.

INSKEEP: Sometimes when he was a little kid, Rodney Scott got to watch his dad cook and even help a little. The work happened outside on a barbecue pit made of concrete blocks. And then the father who pushed his son to work gave him a test.

SCOTT: I was about 11 years old, and my dad gave me the opportunity to go to a basketball game that night. And the choice was, you have to cook the hog, or you don't go to this game.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRACKLING FIRE)

SCOTT: I had to maintain the fire all day and keep the temperature up on the hog all day. And then when it was time to flip it over, I was so nervous. And the way that we operate with cooking hog, we always, you know, get on one knee and look under the hog to see it while it's cooking to make sure you don't burn it. So all day long I'm looking under this hog, nervous. I'm this kid. And this guy was watching me from a distance to make sure I didn't screw it up. And when they flipped it over - man, you talking about feeling accomplished. Wow. You couldn't tell me anything that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF COOKING AMBIENCE)

INSKEEP: It's a skill he now applies in his Charleston restaurant, where the sign on the brick wall says, Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ. We're hearing sounds of cooking in the smokehouse out back.

SCOTT: Our source of heat is wood, and we would take the wood and kind of put it in a barrel, and with rebar or either truck axles - anything that was strong enough to hold the wood while it was burning - we would always throw the wood on top of that and start the fire, and we would cook with the hot coals off of the wood - not the wood itself because the wood itself gave off this bitter smoke. But once it burned in the hot coals, it was nice and clean.

(SOUNDBITE OF COOKING AMBIENCE)

SCOTT: We get the fire started, and we throw the wood in the top, and it goes down to the where the rebar sits, and it burns until the embers fall through the rebar, and we would scoop those hot coals out and put it under the hog.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCOOPING COALS)

SCOTT: This process is very physically difficult. You have to lift the whole hog.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUD)

SCOTT: If you don't have anybody with you, you've got to put it on your shoulder, you've got to walk it over to the pit, and you have to load it right or else you have to straighten it out. Once it lands on the pit, it has to be in an angle where you can still grab the wire because once you're about done in the 12th hour, you've got to flip it over. So you want to place it on the wire correctly. Not to mention, you got 12 hours of walking back and forth, throwing wood in, maybe splitting some in between, shoveling coals. I think the average steps back and forth is somewhere between a mile and a half to three miles. That's if you're just going to the burn barrel and back to the pit. And then in that 12th hour, you still have to flip that hog over and lift it back off that pit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One, two, three.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)

INSKEEP: His skill at barbecue is the basis of Rodney Scott's business, but success came at a price. As he began gaining recognition, he slowly broke up with the father who taught him.

SCOTT: His objection was, you didn't start this; you're not the barbecue guy. You know, those were his kind of thoughts and things that he said to me. And I'm like, OK. And he said, you know what? Just go open your own place; get away from here.

INSKEEP: Rodney Scott did. He opened his own restaurant in Charleston but says he lost his father.

SCOTT: Sometimes I would pass him in certain areas, and he would kind of turn his head. He wouldn't even wave if he saw me wave at him.

INSKEEP: When you look around that restaurant and you think of all the work that went into it and the difficulty in your family and everything else, do you look around and say, this has been worth it?

SCOTT: I do. I look around every day. I look back at everything. And I look at the restaurant. I look at my physical health, my mental health. You know, I look at my family and the smiles on their faces and said, it's definitely been well worth the move to Charleston.

INSKEEP: What do you want to do now?

SCOTT: I want to take over the world with barbecue.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) That's a small goal. OK. Going to be a chain everywhere. What are you going to do?

SCOTT: Man, I don't know. I feel like we could take barbeque, man, and change the entire globe. You could put a whole hog in front of some people and you're going to get at least 50 to 100 people that's going to come together and eat. So in my mind, why not - everybody around the world fire up a hog, and I bet you it'll be some joy, a whole lot of partying, a lot of smiles, and the world would be a better place.

INSKEEP: Rodney Scott is the author of "Rodney Scott's World Of BBQ." It's a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

SCOTT: Pleasure's all mine. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANKIE BEVERLY AND MAZE SONG, "BEFORE I LET GO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.