Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ - Charleston
When people on this board mention barbecue places in the Charleston area, I don't believe I've read Home Team's name ever mentioned. Usually it's Momma Brown's, JB's Smokeshack, or Melivn's/Bessinger's. This is really surprising to me. I've had all those I just listed and none of them even seemed to be on Home Team's level. I wrote a review of Home Team for C of C's student paper which will be coming out this week, but since I doubt even the Charleston locals on here pick up a copy weekly I'm going to copy it over here for you all. Has anyone else been to Home Team? Thoughts on how it compares to the other local places?
"Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ opened in the space formerly occupied by Bunch's Gas Station on Highway 61 in late 2006, it causing a bit of a stir among Carolina barbecue purists. Critics complained about everything from the prices, to the atmosphere, to the way that they prepared their sides. None of that deterred Home Team's customers, however. A trip into West Ashley at about any point during their business hours will rarely reveal more than a stray parking space unoccupied.
The establishment's interior is split between the more family friendly side, where you order, and a bar area with a small stage for bands and several big screen TVs. Behind the counter, the massive chalkboard featuring a handwritten version of the menu which used to overwhelm first timers has been replaced by much more manageable printed signage, allowing customers to easily find what they want without feeling like they're holding up the line. No longer difficult to comprehend, Fiery Ron's menu features all the options you'd want from a barbecue joint, as well as several things you wouldn't expect, like wraps, tacos, and salads.
Whatever you choose, prepare to be impressed. Home Team features, without question, some of the best barbecue in the city, and some of the best I've ever had in general. All their meat is incredibly tender and juicy. The St. Louis style, dry rubbed ribs ($13.95 for a half-rack and two sides) fall from the bone. The pulled pork, permeated with a rich, smokey flavor, is wonderful in any form, but my personal favorite is their innovative barbecue wrap ($6.95). The wrap is, essentially, an entire summer cookout captured in one tortilla, with pork, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce all coming together in a harmony that you really must taste to believe. Also recommended are the tacos (three for $6.95), which you can order filled with their smoked pork, chicken, or grilled, marinated steak. Go for the pork taco, topped with cole slaw, cheese, and chipotle sour cream. It's an odd combination, but you can't argue with the results.
One of the main criteria for judging a great barbecue restaurant it its sauce. Home Team offers three distinct choices, each a success in its own right. Their tomato and vinegar based red sauce is peppery with just the right amount of spice. Their mustard sauce is pungent and tangy without overwhelming the flavor of the meat. The mayonnaise based, Alabama style white sauce has a great, light sweetness and just may be my personal favorite. If you can't get enough of their sauce, they also sell it bottled by the pint or quart.
One of the universal staples of a successful barbecue meal is an assortment of home style side dishes. Some may scoff at Home Team's mac n' cheese, which is really penne pasta in a thin cheese sauce, but they more than make up for it with their other offerings. Their poppy seed cole slaw is absolutely delicious, their creamy, stone ground grits have a buttery corn flavor, and I am yet to meet someone who didn't love the mashed potatoes.
Finishing a meal at Home Team is sort of bittersweet; you may have made a mess and be covered in sauce, but you'll find it a little difficult to bring yourself to wash that beautiful smokey smell off your hands and brush the last taste of the meat out of your mouth. I may be a Yankee, so you can tell me I don't know barbecue if you'd like, but you still need to give this place a try for yourself. If it isn't apparent by now, Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ comes with my highest of recommendations. "
Hopefully this will generate some good debate. I'm always up for finding out about new places for barbecue.
http://www.DavidGHeiser.com - One Charleston College Student's Guide to Restaurants and Film
I recently had my 1st experience at Home Team and loved it. I had the wings and one of the (HUGE) sliders with cole slaw (only available after 9pm for $1.75). The white sauce they serve is tangy and different than anything I've had on a BBQ sandwich. I discovered the grainy mustard sauce on my last visit-that seems to be good on anything. I was suprised that I enjoyed it so much since I ate at my all time favorite BBQ in Edisto-Po Pigs-a couple of days before.
I haven't been to the restaurant, but I did try their ribs at the BBQ and Blues deal at the Charleston Food + Wine Festival this year. I found the ribs to be a bit disappointing--not especially tender and the dry rub was grainy to the point of being distracting texturally. Maybe it was an off night for them. At any rate, they were "competing" with the likes of Ed Mitchell, Jimmy Hagood, and Dan Huntley (who stole the show, IMO, with his two-day slow-slow-cooked Caw Caw Creek whole hog), so they may have paled a bit in comparison.
I would like to try Fiery Ron's pulled pork some time and I've been curious for awhile about the wrap you describe. I can't decide if I think it sounds disgusting or genius. Let's hope it proves to be the latter when I try it.
IMO, the best restaurant BBQ in Charleston is at The Hickory Hawg on John's Island. Their pulled pork is great, their ribs are even better, and their Lexington-style sauce is the best I've ever tasted. Momma Brown's 'cue is decent, but really that place is all about the buffet. Go on catfish night and load up on fried Santee River fish, fried chicken, BBQ (both V&P and mustard style), hash, hushpuppies, red rice, and more. I usually leave feeling like I've grown (and filled) a second stomach.
And here's a "Chowhound-only" tip: though Jimmy Hagood's award-winning 'cue is only available through his catering business, on a visit a few years ago to his James Island kitchen, I observed someone picking up a small to-go order. I'm not sure if there is a minimum-order size, advanced order period, etc., but if you like BBQ, it's worth exploring. Jimmy's 'cue is surely world class.
re: Low Country Jon
I didn't attend the Festival, but I know that a lot of restaurants' catering food doesn't live up to the expectations you've established eating in their actual building. I think people like Jimmy Hagood, who does mainly catering, have the advantage because they are in that setting all the time.
I was skeptical about the wrap myself, but it ended up being my favorite thing on the menu. The ribs are a close second.
I thought Hickory Hawg's ribs were good, but they didn't blow me away enough to justify me driving all the way out to Johns Island for them. Momma Brown's just didn't click with me at all. I thought the mustard sauce tasted too much like straight French's and overpowered the meat. I'll have to give them another shot on catfish night though.
I grew up in Memphis and have been eating bbq all my life. Home Team was the first bbq place I'd ever been to in Charleston, and I was disappointed. First of all, the atmosphere is way too corporate. Wraps at a bbq place? Blasphemy. The bbq itself is not bad. It's not great, but it is lacking in the rich flavor of Memphis bbq. One problem with Charleston bbq joints is they don't focus on bbq. In Memphis, there's only two sauces to choose from (hot and mild) and three or four sides to choose from (traditionally cole slaw, potato salad, and baked beans, and maybe some fries at select places). The real focus is the 'que. I would disagree with the statement that "one of the universal staples of a successful barbecue meal is an assortment of home style side dishes." It seems the fewer selection of sides, the better the actual bbq is. Keep the menu simple.
The best barbeque I've had in the area is at Ray's in Mt Pleasant. The mean has those crunchy bursts of flavor like Memphis 'que. While they do offer a wider range of sides, they are all excellent. The mac'n'cheese is some of the best I've ever had. I think they even bake the buns there.
I tried Ray's shortly after they opened, and while I appreciated how they chopped the BBQ to order, I found the meat itself a little on the dry side. None of the sauces or sides blew me away either.
The many sauces/many styles of BBQ you describe is not a Charleston thing per se. It is more a reflection of the success of competition BBQ and the corporate franchising of BBQ chains where the idea is to appeal to all tastes. Charleston's original BBQ tradition, the coastal Carolinas' style of whole hog with vinegar and pepper sauce, is the oldest continually-practiced BBQ tradition in the country and the forefather of all other styles in America, from Memphis to KC to Texas (though Texas incorporated some other influences along the way). Unfortunately, this style is not as easy to come by in SC as it used to be (my home state of NC is much more famous for it) and the only restaurant in the Charleston metro area that specializes in it is Momma Brown's (and they still offer a mustard sauce as well). You can probably thank the Bessinger brothers and their migration to the Lowcountry from the Midlands for the popularity of mustard sauce and ham BBQ here.
I've not been to Memphis so I won't attempt to compare the quality of 'cue there with that to be found here, but I have seen on TV the ovens, I mean in-kitchen smokers, many of the Memphis places use, and they definitely represent a more modern style of BBQ. Try visiting a place like Sweatman's out in Holly Hill for a sense of what old school BBQ was all about--cooking whole hogs on open pits over smoking coals reduced from hardwood. I'm personally not sure the 'cue is worth the drive (perhaps the ribs are), but the experience is, if you've never been exposed to it before. Better yet, or so I hear, try Scott's Variety Store in Hemingway, where they also practice the old art but with vingegar and pepper sauce (often described as "atomic") and no sides to speak of (unless you count white bread and pork skins perhaps). The descriptions of this place sound very similar to the Skylight Inn up in Ayden, NC where the Jones family has been preparing whole hog 'cue in very much the same way since the 1830s.
All of this is to say, don't mistake Fiery Ron's or Jim n' Nick's or Sticky Fingers or Ray's (as good as any of them may or may not be) as representations of true regional BBQ around here. It can still be found, but it does take some digging.
re: Low Country Jon
I'll have to give some of those "real" barbecue places a try when I get some time to venture out of the city.
Although Home Team has just one location, it still feels very corporate to me. I'd be willing to bet that they are planning to franchise this place. I'll return there, but I'll have to learn to appreciate it for what it is. I love Jim 'n' Nicks, but I never expected to get real barbeque there. What I appreciate it for is a casual, inexpensive, Southern-style sit-down restaurant with good food. Much better than going to Chili's or Ruby Tuesday's but a different experience than a real bbq joint.
I'm surprised you'd call Home Team corporate. There is only one location and it's owned by the chef and his business partner. I think it's just a little to clean and modern for a lot of traditionalists' liking. I don't think my point was that you need to offer 12 side dishes for the meal to be a success as a restaurant. I was referring to an individual meal and thinking more along the lines of a "meat and three" plate as having "an assortment" of sides.
I haven't been to Ray's yet, but it sounds like I'll have to give it a shot.
You probably don't see it posted on here very much because it's not that great. Their sides are disappointing and both the sauces they put out are vinegar and more vinegar, IMO. I like all kinds of regional BBQ, but this is not my pick. I know it's a chain (small) but JIm n NIcks has great ribs. I don't care for Ray's either, too many pieces in the chop that I don't want to see. The best ribs are from Duke's. I can't remember where it is but its kind of far out. Or you can head way up King St. (near the Food Lion) on any Sat. around noon and there will be several different guys with huge pull behind smokers selling ribs and chicken. Now this is good! No sides just a stack of white bread and a bunch of napkins. There are usually a couple guys within a few blocks of each other. If you dare to leave the comfort of the Sat. farmer's market at Marion Sq. and head way up King St.,past Huger...I highly recommend it.
I still disagree with you about Home Team, but I decided to try out the guys on King St. you suggested this weekend and you were right!
I got mine from a guy named Lawrence Frazier, "The Rib Man"...$14 for a half rack with his home made sauce...great stuff. Any Charleston locals who haven't been up King Street for ribs on a Saturday need to get on that!
http://www.DavidGHeiser.com - One Charleston College Student's Guide to Food and Film