Here’s an interesting little milestone for our blog: Sweatman’s is the very last of the barbecue restaurants in our coverage area on an old “must visit” list that I have been keeping for years, diligently crossing off as we’ve driven around the southeast. There are plenty more to try, and hundreds more to discover, but my original bucket list from 2010 has finally been completed. It was worth the wait.
Bub and Margie Sweatman opened the restaurant in 1977 and it soon became a destination for anybody who wanted some of the best barbecue in the Carolinas. As it has been regularly featured in mainstream news and TV shows for decades, business has always been very steady and the buffet-style place known for people driving all over the map in groups to try the food. The Sweatmans passed away in the early 2000s and their daughters ran the restaurant for the next few years. In 2011, they sold the business to longtime family friends Mark and Lynn Behr, who continue to cook whole hogs over wood coal for 12-14 hours.
Sweatman’s is one of the very few establishments that offers guests the choice of white meat or dark. Guests who pass through the buffet, if they wish, can pick one over the other, though I suspect many will get a mix of each, as we did. Don’t waste time on vegetables; load your plate with pulled pork and hash and rice.
Now here’s something interesting. A few weeks before our trip, I had a Twitter disagreement with an acquaintance who refused to acknowledge that there are multiple styles of mustard-based barbecue sauces, insisting that all mustard sauce was one thing, and that it is a “South Carolina style.” I tried to explain that Georgia is home to four different types of mustard sauce and South Carolina two. Sweatman’s serves both of the Carolina mustards, yellow and orange. Neither is especially spicy; I would say that the yellow mustard is what you often find in the state’s Midlands region, around Columbia, and the orange sauce, which has a milder, honey tang, is the one I’d never tried before on my limited travels.
Orange mustard barbecue sauce is centered around, amusingly, the city of Orangeburg and is best identified with the small chain of Dukes restaurants. I have never had it before, but now that I have, I would say that it is also somewhat similar to one of Georgia’s four mustard sauces, the Columbus-area sauce seen at places around that city like the Smoky Pig or Clearwater. Now that we live even further away from both Columbus and Orangeburg, I guess somebody else should do some digging and direct comparisons between them. Maybe we’ll have to cross one off the list of unique Georgia sauces, or maybe this little region of South Carolina copied that little region of Georgia. Somebody needs to have a really good time getting to the bottom of it.
Whichever sauce you prefer, the meat will thrill you. It’s fantastic, easily living up to the hype and all the years I’ve waited patiently to try this place. It’s only open two days a week. Some locals spend that entire week pacing the floor waiting to come join friends and family here. It’s very busy and very popular and with good reason. While I wish that my list of South Carolina barbecue places was much, much longer, Sweatman’s is in my top five of the ones I’ve tried. Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to come again.
Admittedly, it’s possible that I liked it so much because, for the only time on one of our barbecue trips, I was actually really hungry when I arrived! As I discussed in the previous chapter, we picked an incredibly stupid weekend to make this trip, and my stubbornness meant that we spent many hours stuck in traffic because of closed roads. Marie and I skipped lunch because our appetites were ruined by the experience, but by the time we got here, we were famished. We ate very well, but I didn’t quite fill up. There was still another stop to make, about thirty miles up the road.
1313 Gemini Dr
Holly Hill, SC 29059
Other blog posts about Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que:
You can see all the restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s a terrific resource for anybody planning a road trip through the southeast!