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Sweatman's BBQ - Holly Hill, SC

JayL Feb 6, 2009 06:18 PM

Recently made the trip from Charleston to Holly Hill specifically to try out Sweatman's. This place has a lore that makes you feel like you MUST go try it. All the reviews on the internet seem to be good ones...so we made the hour and a half journey.

Thanks to the GPS we got there without a hiccup. Without the GPS I would have had to print the directions from the computer...and still would have probably had a hard time getting there. It's really out of the way, but so are a multitude of good bbq joints so I felt at ease.

It was a little past 1:00 on a Friday and the charm of the old house mesmerized us. We were excited. Evidently the lunch rush was over as there weren't that many people there...maybe six or seven vehicles. We paid and dove right in to the buffet.

The buffet is simple and straightforward. There's rice & hash, two pans of pork, ribs, skin, slaw, and pickle chips. Two sauces are offered; a pretty standard South Carolina mustard sauce and a "spicy" ketchup sauce (the lady behind the counter called it spicy...it really wasn't).

The hash was some of the best I've had. Growing up in Eastern North Carolina I had never been exposed to hash until I started visiting South Carolina Lowcountry nearly four years ago. I have only found two or three hash recipes that I have liked. Sweatman's hash easily makes it on that very short list. I'd definitely have it again. On a scale of 1-10, I have no problems giving the hash a solid 9.

The two pans of pork on the buffet consisted of the semi-flavorful "outside brown" portion of the hog, and the tasteless inner "white meat". One of the things I REALLY don't like for bbq restaurants to do is to split up the outside brown and the inside white. Maybe it's my Eastern NC upbringing where we cook whole hogs (just like they do at Sweatman's) and mix all the parts together while being chopped. Sweatman's pork is more of a pulled product than a chopped product like you'd see in NC...but I digress. Traditional bbq from NC and SC is cooked over direct hardwood coals. This bbq isn't "smoked" like you see in other non-traditional places. The very light smokey taste you get with the direct cooking process comes from the pork drippings incinerating on the hot coals below. This light flavor only exist in the layer of meat closest to the surface (the infamous "outside brown"). The inner meat has no seasoning and no smoke. Why people serve these two areas of meat separately is beyond me (they do that in Western NC/Lexington-style also). So anyway, the outside brown at Sweatman's had a bit of flavor and was pretty decent (albeit a tad dry for my taste). The inside white however was not only pretty dry, but it had no flavor. I can't say that this is a problem I only see at Sweatman's as it isn't. The inside white has no flavor at every restaurant serving it that way. Final thought: The bbq at Sweatman's is ok, but not worth a regular visit from an hour and a half away. It's also far from being the best bbq I've ever had. If I were rating it on a scale from 1-10, I'd have to give it a 6 or a generous 7.

The ribs were just ok. Like the bbq, I've had better. Little to no seasoning doesn't make for a good rib. Sorry. On a rating scale of 1-10, I'd mirror the bbq and give the ribs a 6 or generous 7. At least the ribs weren't boiled.

The skin was good in that it was crisp. I've been served under crisp skin and it's a bear to chew. The only thing I wish Sweatman's would do is toss the skin with some salt. It makes a world of difference...someone please tell them that.

The slaw was creamy and sweet...as it should be with bbq. No problems here.

The sauces were alright. The SC mustard sauce was very mustardy and pretty typical of the area. Not my favorite mustard sauce, but one of the better ones I've found here. As I said earlier, the "spicy" ketchup sauce was not spicy. It tasted almost like alot of mayo with a bit of ketchup to make it a quasi-pink color and possibly a bit of Texas Pete for some "spice". It wasn't one of my favorites, but I won't be trying to recreate it at home anytime soon.

The sweet tea was good, but not as sweet as I'm used to getting it at Mom & Pop bbq joints. Again, that probably has something to do with my growing up with Eastern NC bbq where we use a vinegar sauce. Really sweet tea goes great with the acid in the bbq (as does the sweet slaw). Like I said, the tea was good...just not overly sweet.

All in all, we had a good meal. I'll probably go back as nothing we ate was bad. We probably won't be going back anytime soon or on a regular basis as it really wasn't very memorable. If I lived 15 minutes from the place, I might go once a month. The bbq at Sweatman's isn't worth driving for very often if you live more than 30 minutes away.

I know there are ALOT of people who will be upset with this review as I see tons of other reviews proclaiming Sweatman's as being one of, or even THE best in South Carolina. Well, don't be mad. Just remember that I've said, and I'll say again, we didn't have anything that was "bad". All I'm saying is that the bbq didn't live up to the hype or the lore the place has been given. Everyone has different tastes...I understand that.

We have had some really bad bbq experiences around Charleston and South Carolina in general. Sweatman's is better than nearly all the bbq I've had down here, but in my opinion isn't as good as it's made out to be.

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  1. Cpt Wafer Feb 6, 2009 09:45 PM

    It was probably twenty years between my first trip to Sweatman's and my second. It was just as I remembered. Not all that. Like you said, it isn't bad. It's pretty good actually but not worth going much out of your way for. (Incoming!)

    4 Replies
    1. re: Cpt Wafer
      s
      savdoug Feb 7, 2009 04:20 PM

      Any lowcountry bbq places that are worth going out of your way for?

      1. re: savdoug
        JayL Feb 7, 2009 07:55 PM

        Try a Sticky Fingers. It's a chain, but better than the vast majority of bbq I've found around here.

        1. re: JayL
          g
          GrillMaster Feb 13, 2009 01:18 PM

          Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!! Hissssssssssssssssssssss!!!

        2. re: savdoug
          Cpt Wafer Feb 7, 2009 08:15 PM

          I'm not schooled sufficiently in Lowcountry BBQ to give a proper answer. When I get down that way I don't look for BBQ. That said, I'm fond of McCabe's in Manning and Scott's close to Hemingway.

      2. Tee Feb 7, 2009 06:18 AM

        Thanks JayL for your honest opinion.
        I actually drove by Sweatmans Wednesday just to tag in in my gps for future reference. Your post in no way will prevent me from going. In fact, I am more interested now than I was before I read your post.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Tee
          JayL Feb 7, 2009 09:49 AM

          I would hope that my review wouldn't stop anyone from going to Sweatman's. It wasn't intended for that.

          Remember, I didn't say it was bad. It just didn't live up to what I was led to expect.

          It indeed is some oft he best bbq I've had in South Carolina...and the only that I've had traditionally cooked over direct coals.

          Go and try Sweatman's. I hope you like it.

          1. re: JayL
            s
            Sinophile Feb 8, 2009 04:01 AM

            I had precisely the same experience. I made a long pilgrimage and found Sweatman's enjoyable but not transcendent. I recall the chopped cue being ordinary and the ribs being dry though appealingly tangy. I recommend trying Sweatman's if you happen to be in the area or to be passing by, but I warn against driving down from, say, New York.

            You can see my original comments here:

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/546142

        2. g
          GrillMaster Feb 13, 2009 01:22 PM

          Thanks for the honest review of Sweatman's. I live about 45 min. away and have made the drive over several time. My experiences have been pretty much the same. I feel the same way about splitting the outside and inside meat up. When mixed together it flavors all of the meat and when you mix in a little sauce you don't have to worry about anything drying out. I am partial to McCabe's as well although they seem to go up $1 on their buffet every time WISTV puts them on the news. It's over $20 for two people to eat which seems a little steep to me for what is comparatively a pretty limited buffet. We go to D&H more often now because it is a good bit cheaper and probably 80% as good as McCabe's with a better buffet and better fried chicken.

          1. carolinadawg Apr 21, 2009 08:50 AM

            I recently had the opportunity to vist Sweatman's, and I was extremely impressed. Great BBQ and a fantastic "out in the country" setting. I thought the pulled pork was wonderful, even though I'm not a huge fan of SC mustard based sauce. Sweatman's version is pretty good, though, but I'd love to sneak in a container of sauce from Allen and Son or Lexington BBQ. (The meat is served unsauced and you add your own) I didn't see any red sauce (or spicy ketchup) during my visit, but perhaps I missed it. There was a second mustard based sauce, with honey in it (too sweet for my taste). The ribs were outstanding, not overly sauced, very tender and smoky. I loved being able to get both the pulled pork and the ribs...ribs are not often seen in NC bbq joints.

            Overall, I thought his place was well worth seeking out, and well worth going out of one's way to visit. Outstanding. Best $10 I've spent in a long time (and they are cash only).

            And by the way, I'm not sure I understand the consternation of some posters regarding the separation of the outside and inside meat. First of all, some people prefer the milder inside meat. Secondly, they are both right there on the buffet, so if you want a mixture of both, it couldn't be any easier to get.

            1. Jeff Werlwas Mar 7, 2010 09:36 AM

              I stumbled upon this joint when I was driving a friend’s mother from Charleston to her home in Columbia, SC.

              On the way I asked if she know of any solid BBQ places so we took a short detour to Sweatmans in Holly Hill.

              I could tell just by driving up it was going to be solid. Just do a Google Earth search on the following address and you’ll see that this is in the heart of BBQ – a very sincere setting. 1313 Gemini DR, Holly Hill, SC 29059.

              It’s a good thing it was Saturday because they are only open on Friday and Saturday.

              The Pitmaster uses local wood from the neighbor’s yards. The pulled pork is cooked split on the grill for about 16 hours. Then the chopping team comes in and creates a huge, heaven blessed, mound of pork perfection. The crusty ends are separated for those who like the robust, darker, smoky flavored meat.
              The sauce is mustard based with the consistency of nacho cheese sauce. It looked strange but was very tasty. Sweatmans is buffet style, so dig in and pig out. (Yes pun intended)

              The most surprising thing on the menu for me was the Hog Hash. Small bits of chopped pork with potatoes, onions, ketchup, salt & pepper, and that’s all I could get out of him. Serve this over the rice and it’s unbelievable. I almost burst my gut.

              They only take cash. Make sure you order the crispy skin, but note the sign, “We cannot Guarantee Skin.”
              Well worth the slight detour. I definitely rate Sweatmans a 5 Pig establishment.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Jeff Werlwas
                foodiemike May 30, 2010 01:21 PM

                I have traveled the SE US for years and have eaten at every BBQ joint or roadside stand that puts up a sheet of plywood that they spray paint "BBQ" of the side. Sweatmans is on my short list of best in the SE. I am a fan of "outside meat" and I like the fact that they have a separate pan of it instead of mixing it all together and drowning it in sauce. The sikn is fresh off the pit not taken out of a bag. Sure they have a buffet but it is minimal... just slaw, hash/rice, pickles, onions and bread. There is not alot to get in the way of the meat which needs no sauce because it has a perfect smoke flavor. I live in Columbia and if I have business anywhere near there I always plan it for Friday. It is definetly worth the 80 mile one-way trip.

              2. b
                Bjolly77 May 31, 2010 05:36 AM

                I grew up in this area and ate another BBQ my whole life, I don't expect most people to understand or appreciate a place like Sweatmans. I now drive from Atl every chance I can to eat there. The BBQ is as it should be whole hog and THE BEST. I have been refered to as a "BBQ snob" by my wife. I prefer thr term conosur. NC bbq is a joke. Upstate SC terrible. Please if you don't like Sweatmans you really don't know good BBQ! Nuff said.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Bjolly77
                  CharlotteChowhound May 31, 2010 07:08 AM

                  I love Sweatmans, but I can't let the statement "NC bbq is a joke" go by unchallenged. There is a LOT of good bbq in the world...not only in NC but also SC, Kansas City, TX, Memphis, etc. Calling any of these a "joke" is not something a real bbq connoisseur would do.

                  1. re: CharlotteChowhound
                    b
                    Bjolly77 Jun 1, 2010 09:23 AM

                    challenge u might but bbq drenched in vinegar is not what I call good BBQ. Eat all u want.

                    1. re: Bjolly77
                      JayL Jun 2, 2010 07:15 AM

                      Good North Carolina bbq is not drenched in vinegar & bbq drenched in vinegar is not good North Carolina bbq. A connoisseur should know the difference.

                      Sweatman's can cook a pretty good pig, but totally miss out on a possible "life changing" culinary experience by offering the outside brown separate from the inside white meat.

                      Sweatman's is also the only bbq place in SC I've eaten at that cooks in a traditional manner.

                  2. re: Bjolly77
                    c
                    chazzer May 31, 2010 12:25 PM

                    I would have to agree with your wife about you being a snob and not a connoisseur. A true connoisseur would be familiar with many different styles of BBQ, know what are good examples and bad examples of each, and appreciate the differences and would never refer to any one of them as a joke.

                    I have never been to Sweatmans, but after reading the reviews here look forward to trying it. I only hope that I am truly worthy of understanding and appreciating the BBQ.

                    1. re: chazzer
                      Naco Jun 1, 2010 06:19 AM

                      Connoisseurship does not imply that one likes everything. Quite the opposite. The world implies nothing more than a breadth of knowledge.

                      1. re: Naco
                        b
                        Bjolly77 Jun 1, 2010 09:25 AM

                        my point exactly. Don't like everything just good BBQ.

                        1. re: Bjolly77
                          CharlotteChowhound Jun 1, 2010 03:37 PM

                          Regardless of the lofty title you aspire to, the dimissal of all NC bbq as a joke displays a total lack bbq knowledge.

                      2. re: chazzer
                        b
                        Bjolly77 Jun 1, 2010 09:32 AM

                        ok I'll take snob then

                    2. m
                      MajorC Aug 17, 2010 01:21 PM

                      My wife and I visited Sweatman's last week after reading about it in a national food magazine. (yes we drove several hundred miles) Many folks believe that the harder a place is to find, the more unique the dwelling, and the more bare bones the atmosphere the better BBQ. Finding Sweatman's is a challenge. Several people gave us bad directions. Makes you wonder if local people eat there?
                      I like all types of BBQ from all the various regions that serve it up. Also, I cook BBQ every weekend and have took 1st place, over 4 times, in the last several years in outdoor cooking contests. If I was judging Sweatman's I would give them A+ for location and friendly service. However, the BBQ was B+ to A- at best. The ribs were a tad mushy and lukewarm at best. The hash was good. There was no sauce on the table and when I asked for some the waitress brought out a bottle of Texas Pete Hot Sauce (?) There were only about six people eating there on a Saturday afternoon, which makes me nervous. Busy means good! You get a lot of food for the money here at a "unique" old farm house, but there are many places I have been to that offers better BBQ. Still, it is a fun place to visit. Enjoy!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MajorC
                        JayL Aug 19, 2010 07:27 AM

                        You're right, the bbq isn't that great. Good...just not great.

                        By the way, the bbq sauce is up at the buffet in containers.

                        I've yet to find a bbq joint around here that I want to frequent on a weekly basis.

                      2. b
                        Bolivar Sailor Apr 17, 2014 09:11 PM

                        Well Jay, I am pretty upset because Sweatman's is like an oasis here in SC. Go eat at Maurice's BBQ with the mustard sauce and you'll come away from Sweatman's with a different attitude. I grew up in Danville, VA and my best friend's uncle owned a place called the Chicken Cafe. They were closed for 3 hours on Sunday morning and sold 40 shoulders a day. Pit cooked to a tee. Now they chopped their BBQ which blended the outer and inner meat. You are right about that part. Now I like to mix it at Sweatman's and it's pretty darned good that way. At home I use Boston Butts and Scott's BBQ Sauce, but being an old Eastern Carolina boy you know about Scotts. Just add a bit more sugar if the tea ain't sweet enough! Go 'Heels!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Bolivar Sailor
                          m
                          mikeh Apr 18, 2014 07:15 AM

                          There's a much newer thread discussing Sweatman's: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/920922

                          From my own very recent experience, I put it up there in the very top echelon of Carolina bbq. It deserves a seat alongside Lexington #1, Red Bridges, Allen&Son, Skylight Inn, and Scott's Variety Store.

                          1. re: Bolivar Sailor
                            JayL Apr 18, 2014 06:07 PM

                            I keep a bottle of Scott's at all times...just in case. LoL

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