24 Hours in Death Valley: 8,000 Pounds of Pork and Saturday Football

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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.

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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.

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Chandler is furthest left. He’s not the Geico gecko, unfortunately.

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.

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One of the smaller fields for tailgating.

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.

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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 sam.fortier@yahoo.com

Additional pictures:

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36 thoughts on “24 Hours in Death Valley: 8,000 Pounds of Pork and Saturday Football

  1. That was a GREAT read! I’m a lifelong Clemson fan & absolutely love it when new fans come to see a game in Death Valley. I’m glad you enjoyed your experience & hope you come back next go’round!

      • We don’t have USC on the schedule for the foreseeable future. Maybe you were referring to the dirtpeckers of sackerlina junior college. The articles written by fans of the opposing team that week will certainly be different than yours. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

      • Haha. Yes, maybe that was the school I was referring to. I am sure they’d be in quite a different light, if it were “that” school.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for the kind words. We take pride in being a tough opponent but a welcoming fan base. I hope you are able to make the trip again.

  3. Dear “Orange Man” from a different mother!
    Thanks for your glowing comments about Clemson University, the Smoking Pig, and the CU fans! It’s always great to know that our opponents have enjoyed themselves while in the South and especially while in Clemson.

    Last year we were greeted with the same hospitality at Syracuse. Just as we entered the campus SU fans offered food and beer and were genuinely gracious to us as “outsiders.” They made our visit very enjoyable- so much so that we almost thought we were back home!

    Thanks for visiting! Hope we keep up our collegiate friendship!

    Anne and Tom

    • Annie and Tom,

      See! That’s just what I’m talking about ” It’s always great to know that our opponents have enjoyed themselves while in the South…” – this is why you guys have such great fans.

      I’m glad to hear you had such a great time up here in ‘Cuse! When I write this article, I don’t mean to disrespect my school, I just am in awe of Clemson’s game day experience. So glad you enjoyed yourselves up here! I hope you do again!

      I hope we keep up our collegiate friendship as well! Glad to hear from you!


  4. Great post – glad you guys enjoyed it. We apologize for the booing during injuries. It happens.

    Best of luck for the rest of the year.

    – Clemson Alum

    • Best of luck to you guys as well, particularly in that last game of the year against USC.
      About the booing: I didn’t comment on it because I knew not every Clemson fan feels that way, The Hill was quite polarized while it was going on. I wish it didn’t happen, but I refused to let it cheapen my experience because of a few outliers.

  5. Such a positive post! Southerners ARE welcoming, we love our Tigers….and BBQ!! So glad you enjoyed your visit and hopefully you’ll spread the word about our “awesomeness”!!! Y’all come back! 🙂

  6. What a fantastic article. Thank you and I am thrilled you had a great time. Bring more friends next time! Best of luck to you!

    A Clemson Band Mom

  7. So glad you have discovered Saturday Football at Clemson University! Most hospitable and gracious fans in the US! And that you discovered The Smokin’ Pig BBQ Restaurant. I laugh when someone tells me, ‘You’ve just got to try XYZ’s BBQ, it’s the best!” and I just say, ‘No, thank you. I’ve eaten at The Smokin’ Pig, I know who has the best BBQ!”
    -Granny Wilson

    • Granny Wilson,

      Hahah, I’m glad to hear I ate at the best BBQ in South Carolina! I personally thought so too, and I didn’t even have to try all the other places! Hands-down the best BBQ I’ve ever had.

      Thank you so much for leaving a comment!


    • Ah, the ESSO! That was a rocking place when I walked by earlier in the day. I love the venue, something so unique and interesting to Clemson. The music looked good and the reviews of the club were great. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m down there!

  8. I am from Syracuse and came to Clemson back in 2009 for my undergraduate and am now working on my masters here! My parents made the journey down this weekend also for the game since I made the journey last year to the dome. I am so glad you enjoyed your trip down to Death Valley! It is definitely different then the Dome. My parents when I first came here was surprised when I told them that I had to go out and buy game day dresses! If Syracuse ever makes it back down there are always welcoming tailgates for anybody to join! Always can use more Orange!

    • Ah, yes! Something I noticed! The concept of October game day dresses is a foreign language to us northerners. What wonderful weather down there.

      And that sounds like quite a great time! I’ll definitely keep that in mind the next time SU plays CU!

  9. Great post!! We love to display our Southern Hospitality and Welcome you back..
    Just FYI the booing was not for injuries .We always clap and encourage the players both Tigers and opponents Some fans thought some flopping was going on to slow down the tempo..LSU did it.. Sorry ..

    • No need to apologize! I know that some Clemson fans who were poor sports don’t represent a whole of the fan base! But that’s an interesting concept of the booing, I didn’t think about that! Thank you.

  10. Glad you had a wonderful experience in Clemson!! We entertained a few SU fans at our tailgate and they loved it!! We both have great fans, hope it stays that way!!

    • So glad to see some positive news about SU fans! Apparently we rubbed some people on TheClemsonInsider.com the wrong way… Certainly unintentional! Very glad to know that our fans can intereact and enjoy a nice Saturday afternoon together with BBQ and football! Wonderful time!

  11. I was a trainer on the 81 team. Your story left me with goosebumps just like the running down the hill does every home Saturday. Thanks for sharing our little slice of heaven with the folks in NY.

    • Thank you for sharing your piece of paradise with me! You guys really gave me a wonderful reception and I appreciated it. Wow! What was being a trainer like? I’m honored that my article made you feel like running down the hill did!

  12. Nicely written Sam! I grew up here and my wife of 14 years (from Glens Falls NY – upstate area) loved it enough to want to stay and raise a family. Another hidden gem for food is Palmetto’s Smokehouse & Oyster Bar near downtown. Great spot for grilled oysters and cold brew! Great shrimp & grits too. The last Syracuse experience I remember is when you guys came down to Littlejohn Coliseum & smoked us in hoops a couple years back.

  13. Great article! That’s exactly the Clemson I’ve known all of my life and your article gave me chills & a lump in my throat. Wish we could share Clemson with everyone! Y’all are always welcome in Tiger Town!

  14. So nice to read this article by an out-of-towner who enjoyed himself because we really do try here in the South to just make you feel at home. I grew up 3 miles from Clemson, attended Clemson and worked there 12 years before I got married and moved to Atlanta. I’ve been to many places around the South for football games, and I’m probably biased, but it’s hard to beat Clemson’s atmosphere. We are so glad you enjoyed yourself on campus and off (hey, even I haven’t even been to The Smokin’ Pig!). Come again, anytime!!!

  15. Great post. I grew up going to Clemson games with my grandparents, and have some amazing memories from being in Clemson. It doesnt get more exciting than a game in Death Valley. Glad you enjoyed your time there!

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