pit cooked over hickory

Hite's Bar-B-Q

One day when you’re starving for traditional pit-cooked BBQ make the drive to Jackie Hite’s Barbecue just off Highway 23 in Leesville, South Carolina. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you park by the tracks and smell the delicious aroma emanating from hogs sizzling over hickory coals. Look for plumes of smoke back of Hite’s wide white restaurant. Inside look for the patriarch of pork, Jackie Hite, who barbecues hogs the old-fashioned, traditional way. Park out front or park to the side.

Chopping
Chopping

If you park to the side of Hite’s you’ll hear the chop, chop, chop of cleavers, and now and then out front the wailing horn of a Northern Suffolk train barreling by. Inside this all-you-can-eat buffet the clamor of conversation nearly drowns out the wailing train.

Hite’s restaurant is open Wednesdays through Sundays and the crew works through the night cooking hogs. (The process takes about 25 hours.) He gets his hogs, special mustard, and hickory logs from local providers.

Coals wait their turn to hit the pits
Coals wait their turn to hit the pits

He burns four-foot logs of hickory in a firebox just outside the pit area. Pitmaster Tim Hyman keeps the path to the pits clean. Back and forth he goes carrying shovels of red coals, which he spreads beneath sizzling half hogs. A picky type—you know some I’m sure—once asked Hite just how could he knew the coals were hot enough. “If them hogs ain’t smoking, if them hogs ain’t dripping, they ain’t cooking,” replied Hite who’s been cooking hogs forty-two years. Yep he knows a thing or two about pork, called by one the Donald Trump of Barbecue.

Tim Hyman checks the wires
Tim Hyman checks the wires

He’s got a veteran crew that works like a well-greased machine. “I’ve had the same crew all my life,” he says, adding, “Some people just like to work.” And some folks, make that a lot of folks, just like to eat his BBQ. Inside the buffet you’ll spot locals and visitors from afar. “Folks come here from Alabama to fish and they take my barbecue back to Bama. Georgia too,” said Hite.

Not any old mustard will do
Not any old mustard will do

Hite takes great pride in the way he cooks pigs. “Sloshing mustard sauce on hogs makes it real BBQ,” he says, pulling on the bill of his Gamecock cap. (You won’t catch him without that cap.) Now and then he’ll pull out a four-foot hickory stick. “Used for two things,” he says. “In school for manners and stirring coals in BBQ pits.” Hite’s a friendly fellow who talks just like he looks and along with good food he dispenses some of life lessons and country wisdom. “I could be a cop without a gun. Folks respect me cause I do the right thing.” In a way he is a cop without a gun. He’s an honorary deputy sheriff and will gladly show you his badge. He’ll gladly swap tales with you too.

Jackie Hite, Patriarch of Pork
Jackie Hite, Patriarch of Pork

“Here’s how cooking pigs started,” he says. “A long time ago a house burned down in China and killed a pig. It smelled so good they started tasting it and then they started cooking hogs. Of course that’s an old wife’s tale,” he says, a big peal of laughter rolling out.

Before got in the BBQ business Jackie Hite, this man who always does the right thing, and his dad ran a hardware store. Jackie tossed his hat in the circle for magistrate once and won. He served just three weeks. His daddy said, “Don’t you know you can’t be no judge! We got a business to run.”

The pull of politics eventually snared him for two terms as mayor. He has plenty of political connections. Politicians, judges, policemen, SLED agents, game wardens, lawyers, and others call this garrulous man a friend. He’s learned much about life from his BBQ associations. “I got an education and I never went to college,” he says and lets out another mighty roll of laughter.

Keeping whole chickens warm
Keeping whole chickens warm

Today Jackie’s business is BBQ and you can boil his business model down to seven basic words: hogs, hickory, fire, smoke, sauce, and hungry people. As the hogs simmer and Tim rains mustard sauce on them, the smoke rises to the top of the outbuilding and drifts over the community. Says Hite, “Folks drive through and say ‘Man yo place smells good!’ ” Tim covers the simmering hogs with giant sheets of cardboard to keep the smoke in. The cardboard refuses to burn. “We don’t throw that kind of heat to it,” says Hite. Big 17-quart steel pans filled with barbecued chickens sit on racks. “Three pans will hold two boxes of chickens (26).”

Besides BBQ Hite’s passion is fishing for crappie. He’s most familiar with Clark Hill Lake. “Best fishing is on the Georgia side,” he says. “Less development there.” He should know. He’s a world-class angler with tournament wins, trophies, and photos of fish galore to back him up.

Wires of sizzling half hogs
Wires of sizzling half hogs

Hite’s BBQ is a legend in the Palmetto state. The proof is easy to see. It’s a Friday morning. Outside, folks queue up at 10:45, eager to get Hite’s BBQ. The line builds as others enter and exit the take-out door, a big smile on their faces. Inside vats of cabbage, gravy, rice, skins, green beans, slaw, and more, and of course BBQ hog and chicken wait for the doors to open. Folks file in and commence to eating. Country girls keep tea glasses full and a special treat, “Hot Fruit,” makes a great dessert, especially if you top it with whipped cream.

Folks, some serious eating goes down here.

Big SignA food reviewer wrote that it’s worth driving 100 miles to eat at Hite’s. About $22 will feed two. The buffet opens at 11 o’clock in the morning. Once you get good and full visit Leesville’s Historic College District and Batesburg’s Commercial Historic District. Walk around a bit. You’ll need to. And know that Jackie Hite who served as mayor in these parts put the hyphen between Batesburg and Leesville. “I helped bring these two towns together.”

And I might add he’ll take care of your longing for traditional, pit-cooked BBQ.

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Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]