On a weekend with a Clemson home game, The Smoking Pig, a barbecue joint in Pendleton, SC, will dish out over 8,000 pounds of pork in just three days.
In fact, the restaurant is only open for those three days of the week – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – because they cannot keep enough food in stock to properly function for a seven days per week schedule. Due to the sheer volume in business, they don’t even answer the phone on the weekends.
Luckily, we made it there on a Friday night so it was prime business hours. And be ‘we’ I mean myself along with four other writers for The Daily Orange, Syracuse University’s student-run newspaper, as well as a SU beat-writer for the Post-Standard.
We piled out of the 1999 red Ford Explorer, stretching our legs and yawning, dragging and in need of food after a 14-hour car-ride from Syracuse, NY to Clemson, SC. We were in town to cover the SU-Clemson football game the next night, and decided to eat at this place, dubbed “The Best BBQ in South Carolina,” to taste the locale.
The waitress told us it’d be a 90-minute wait – at minimum – to get inside the restaurant. Initially, we balked at the idea, but eventually decided to wait it out because, really, how many times would we be here?
Resolving to stay, we drove down the street to a gas station to pick up supplies and, after returning to the “parking lot,” which was really a grassy field behind the small, ranch-style house-turned-BBQ-hotbed, we laid down a blanket, popped the trunk, and waited.
That’s right: We tailgated a meal.
And it was well worth it.
My beef brisket fell apart at the touch of a plastic fork, the pork sandwich was tender, and the sweet roll – 51% bread, 49% butter – topped it all off. After a few bites, aside from the occasional gulps of delicious, genuine sweet tea, I more or less blacked out from an overload of incredible southern cooking.
Following the meal, the guys dropped me off at the University where I reunited with Chandler Peterson, my friend from back home in New Hampshire. I hadn’t seen him since early this past summer, so it was great to catch up.
Chandler showed me the wonderful southern hospitality you hear so much about and showed me around the next day. The campus’ appeal was significantly increased by the fact that it was 75-degrees, which compared nicely to the frigid SU campus that was hovering around 40-degrees when we had left at 2 A.M. on Friday morning.
It was with Chandler that I first got a sense for what southern life was like.
South Carolina is a place where sweet tea may as well run from the tap and the drawl softens every word, like butter liberally slathered on a sweet roll.
And the people there are as hospitable as advertised.
A few of us, leaving The Smoking Pig on Friday, were actually thanked by Clemson-clad fans on a table by the door for coming and they wished us to have the best time while we were down here.
Uh, what. This was quite a different environment than Buffalo a few weeks ago.
When Chandler and I left his dorm on Saturday afternoon, one of the kids in his hall smirked once he saw my orange wasn’t the “right kind” and said, “You know you’re gonna lose, right?”
Later, a six year old girl was walking past me outside the stadium and when she saw my Syracuse tee-shirt she yelled, “Go Tigers!” with a toothy grin, then shyly buried her face in her father’s purple-and-orange plaid button-up. She waited about five paces before glancing back. She smiled, and then stuck her tongue out.
Seriously, a six-year old girl and a very factual, “You’re going to lose” guy was all the trash-talk I heard in South Carolina.
Some people even wished SU good luck. What a strange, friendly place.
I found this out as I walked around with Chandler and his friends before the game. At Syracuse, a few people try to stake out a patch of grass near the parking lot and cook up a burger or two before heading into the Carrier Dome. In Clemson, tailgating was the main event.
As far as I could see there were Clemson tents next to trucks as grill smoke wafted into the air. If a plane flew overhead, the people above would think the grass was replaced by carpets of purple and orange emblazoned with paw prints.
The tailgating scene was a legitimate as it gets as people converted buses, U-Hauls, and, in one case, a retired fire truck to meet their needs. In the bed of each truck there were two, sometimes three, separate televisions all playing the different college football games of the day. And while the parents sat around, watching and drinking beer while their kids slid down grassy hills on flattened cardboard boxes. Music blasted from every direction. It was the end of October, yet 75-degrees.
In one group of about 40 tailgaters, only four people actually had tickets. That’s how big tailgating is: You drive in from an hour away to sit outside the stadium and watch the game on TV while listening to the distant roar of the crowd.
The crowd in Death Valley didn’t have much to cheer for at the start, though. I’ll leave the logistical recap to one of the guys from the trip, Phil D’Abbraccio, and his solid gamer in The Daily Orange, but from a perspective where the experience superseded the game, it couldn’t have gone better.
From touching Howard’s Rock to seeing the Tigers storm the field via the hill to sitting ten feet away from the field to hearing a stadium packed full of 80,031 fans thunderously yell at 110 decibels on third down…it was incredible.
It’s a widely-known fact that football in the south is an end-all, be-all for many people, but being there made me realize how all-encompassing it really is.
The Daily Orange Sports Editor Jesse Dougherty, one of the guys on the trip, wrote a great column about how Syracuse will never be as good as Clemson simply because the football culture between the two is just so different.
The Clemson faithful stand during the entire game. They have a booming loudspeaker for one student to bark instructions on chants and cheers to his classmates. They allow every student to come on the field, put arms around one another and sing the alma mater after every game.
That’s what separates Clemson from Syracuse.
Phil D’Abbraccio put it best when we pulled into campus for the first time on Friday night.
“Oh man,” he said. “Where do I get my transfer papers?”
Sam Fortier is a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter, and Kanye West. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”). You can follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org