“Best hash and rice in S.C.” the sign outside True BBQ advertises its barbecue and other menu items to attract “true BBQ” lovers. (Photos by Jack Kelly/Carolina News and Reporter)

South Carolina has a special barbecue culture as a state. 

“I’ve traveled – I’ve eaten all over the country,” Robbie Robinson, owner of City Limits Barbecue said. “And there’s only a handful of states in the whole country that have as strong a barbecue culture as we have in South Carolina.”

But in and around Columbia, there is a special barbecue scene unique to the area. 

City Limits Barbecue, located in West Columbia, is a semifinalist for the James Beard award, which recognizes exceptional talent and achievement in culinary arts. 

Robinson said he hopes the James Beard nomination will benefit all the barbecue businesses in the area. 

“I hope that the attention that I’m drawing to West Columbia, (fits) the saying, ‘Rising tide raises all boats,’” Robinson said. 

Robinson said there is a special culture around barbecue in West Columbia. 

Four restaurants there, Maurice’s Piggie Park, True BBQ, Hites BBQ and City Limits, use the same approach to their barbecue. They use wood or charcoal, not gas. 

“It is a huge temptation to switch over to gas because of the efficiency and not only labor savings, but also food-cost savings, not having to burn so much wood in a process,” Robinson said. “I’m excited that we were able to find a spot where we can kind of be lumped in with these other places and kind of shine a light on West Columbia.”

Milton Zander, the owner of True BBQ in West Columbia, said the restaurant won’t switch to gas. 

“Wood and charcoal gives it a totally different flavor,” Zander said. “Gas, you know, that’s not real barbecue. I like to tell people that there’s no excuse for barbecue. There’s good barbecue, … and then there’s true barbecue.” 

Some owners said the signature dish for Columbia’s BBQ scene is hash. 

“Hash is my personal favorite, that’s like, I call it Southern gravy,” said Doc’s BBQ manager Mandy Tenney. 

True BBQ advertises itself by saying it has the best hash and rice in South Carolina – right on the store’s sign. 

“Everything in here is good but the hash is probably the one that tracks a lot of people,” Zander said. “That’s a pretty bold statement to make and you gotta be able to back it up.”

Robinson agreed and said hash was a staple of the area. 

“There’s something special about our area, most of the restaurants here have yellow hash,” Robinson said. “And you know, maybe I’m partial, because I kind of grew up here, but I think we got the best hash in the state.”

Another signature dish in Columbia is pork.

“I would think the signature dish would be the pork if it’s a barbecue place,” said Palmetto Pig owner Gene Antley.

Like many barbecue restaurant owners, Antley comes from a family of owners. His father had a location in Orangeburg in 1973 called Dukes BBQ. 

Dukes became a popular restaurant quickly. 

“In 1998, (my father) wanted us to open up another restaurant, other side of town, because they couldn’t handle all the business,” Antley said. “They had a lot of people walk away because the line was so long.”

True BBQ and City Limits both started cooking their barbecue before having a brick and mortar store. 

“As a family, we’ve always been into cooking, barbecuing outdoors, enjoying one another,” Zander said. “So that’s where it really originated. And then my brother started in his kitchen, from his kitchen to the carport, from the carport to street corners, and from the street corners to this building that we’re in.”

City Limits moved from its food truck to its building in 2023. 

Barbecue in Columbia is a labor of love for the owners. 

“When you drive up, we want you to smell the love,” Zander said. “When you walk inside, we want you to feel the love. When you eat what you purchase, we want you to taste the love. And then we want you to go share the love.”

Milton Zander, owner of True BBQ in West Columbia, has a passion and love for his barbecue.

Pulled pork is a staple of Columbia’s barbecue scene.

Gene Antley, owner of Palmetto Pig and former USC running back, is passing down his family tradition and love for barbecue.

Fried chicken  is one of the owners’ favorite dishes at Palmetto Pig.