Monk: On a beautiful November afternoon, the Holy Smokes Barbecue Festival brought acclaimed pitmasters from across the US to South Carolina’s low country. In its second year, the festival moved to beautiful Riverfront Park in North Charleston amongst the remains of the old naval base. A beautiful setting for an alternatingly chilly and warm afternoon of barbecue, music, and good people.
The pitmasters were spread across four food “villages” and collaborated on dishes together. Walking in, the first villages you come across are the Traditional and Texas Villages. I started my day off at the Traditional Village with plates of whole hog two ways with cracklins, pit chicken, and a rib with side of hash and rice. The highlight for me was the whole hog and the hash and rice, both likely heavily influenced by Rodney Scott.
Fifteen minutes into the festival and I was already starting to get a little full. Uh oh. From there, friend of the blog Handsome Russ and I wandered towards the music stage and the Coastal Village. After taking in a few songs from Laurens, SC native (and Clemson fan) Warrick McZeke we tried plates of smoked oyster stew from Evan LeRoy and Matthew Register, smoked swordfish over rice from Elliott Moss and the Home Team BBQ guys, and shrimp and grits from Leslie Roark Scott from Ubon’s and local chef Jamie Hough. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the smoked swordfish and rice dish.
In addition to his fantastic oyster stew, a highlight of the festival was catching up with Matthew Register of Southern Smoke as well as his crew of Rodolfo and Cray. I spent a good amount of time chatting with those guys not only about barbecue but of course the usual soccer and college football banter. Great group of guys and I always enjoy catching up with them. I even got a chance to meet Matthew’s collaborator Evan LeRoy briefly and hope to get back to try out his barbecue again soon (my review of a visit during a smaller Sunday menu here).
From there, I really slowed down on food and focused in on the music stage where Asheville, NC’s Travers Brothership absolutely slayed the middle timeslot. As for the villages, I was in eyeshot of the New School Village and after an initial rush the lines mostly died down and the portions got bigger. By the time I stepped up, the smoked sirloin taco was sans tortilla (they had apparently run out) and I tried a fried hawg bawl, skipping the giant tri-tip sandwiches that were being put out as this particular village signaled that they were starting to get rid of food. Forgot to take any photos of my food though.
The Texas Village consistently had the longest lines and by the time I had worked up enough appetite to meander over as my fourth stop, they just had the cheese hominy sausages left, which packed a nice kick.
So I didn’t get to all of the food but next time around I’ll have a better plan going in. But all in all, the Holy Smokes Festival was a great success. In addition to chatting with the aforementioned Matthew Register and Evan LeRoy, I met Rodney Scott at his famed double burn barrel as well as Trey Dutton (and his wife Ellen) of Southern Keep, a childhood friend of Handsome Russ who makes some great-looking artisan jams and pickles in Charleston. I also picked up a beautiful handcrafted oyster knife from Middleton Knives, who was one of the vendors there.
Until next year, Holy Smokes!