Im Chef and Pitmaster Rodney Scott, and This Is How I Eat


A couple of years ago, Rodney Scott took home the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast, but as far as I can tell, he never took a moment to rest on his very much deserved laurels. With a new book coming out—and new locations of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ opening up in Atlanta, GA, and Trussville and Homewood, AL this year, the Charleston-based pitmaster is keeping busy, which is why I was so excited he was able to take a moment to discuss the joys of light beer, his love for turkey, and his very impressive bourbon collection.

Are you a breakfast eater?

I am somewhat of a breakfast eater. I don’t eat breakfast all the time. My breakfast may go anywhere from a big bad breakfast with chicken and waffles, to a bacon sandwich at the restaurant, and sometimes scrambled eggs and bacon or pancakes if I’m home. I eat breakfast sometimes. They’re not healthy all the time, but I do eat them.

Are you a coffee drinker?

I slowly became a coffee drinker in the last two years, maybe three—iced coffees, mostly. In the wintertime, I tend to get the hot chocolate every now and again, but I drink mostly iced coffee. Not all of them are always clean. One or two may have a little bit of Cask & Cream in there. And if I’m on the highway and I really want an iced coffee, I will probably grab one of the Chick-fil-A iced coffees. They’re like a milkshake with a touch of coffee.

How does working in a restaurant affect your daily eating habits?

If I’m working in the restaurant, my daily eating can go all over the place. It may be tasting the pork once I’m pulling it to see if it’s the right flavor. That may end up in a Rod’s Original sandwich, where we have skins and pork and a piece of bread wrapped up. It may be a piece of chicken that doesn’t look good enough to sell and I may pick off of that, or it may be a whole turkey sandwich. Sometimes it’ll be a turkey melt sandwich. I’ll take a piece of turkey and throw it on the flattop with some cheese and I’ll turn it into a turkey melt. It’s a bunch of snacking.

Illustration for article titled I'm Chef and Pitmaster Rodney Scott, and This Is How I Eat

Photo: Angie Mosier

My eating is pretty much dependent on what’s going on and where I am. If I’m at the Birmingham location, I’ll probably go to Hero Doughnuts and get an iced latte and maybe a strawberry donut and a bologna sandwich on the way to work. Or if I’m here, I may or may not eat breakfast, sometimes I can hold out to lunch. Habits are all over the place. Sometimes it’s decent breakfast and a decent lunch hour, and a lot of times it’s more of a brunch and a snack in the middle of the day, then something else for dinner before dark. I try to be finished eating by 6 p.m.

How has the pandemic affected the restaurant?

In the beginning, it was it was kind of a slow start, and the drive-through was our biggest asset. So you had the contactless service through the drive through, which was great, and we had a lot of to go orders. That that helped us tremendously. As far as my eating habits, it kind of slowed me down to a point where I was so busy trying to figure out how to stay healthy and protect my family [and] my staff that I didn’t eat a whole lot. It was basically sitting at home and trying to remember what you touched and how many times you wash your hands.

How is the restaurant doing now?

Restaurant’s doing great. Drive-through again—it’s still our biggest asset and a lot of people feel a lot safer. We have a lot of outdoor seating at the Charleston location as well as the Birmingham location. We studied up as much as we could on the CDC rules. We stayed in touch with all of our partners in the business. And our restaurant group—shout out to Nick Pihakis—those guys stay on top of all of the rules and health guidelines to protect our staff. So it’s still doing pretty good because of all of the safety practices that we try to keep enforced.

I know your restaurant focuses heavily on meat, but what are your favorite vegetables to eat?

My favorite vegetables to eat are green beans. I’ll eat sweet peas, butterbeans, cabbages. Those are those are my favorites right there.

I love butter beans. I’m from Mississippi.

Oh, so you know.

I also wanted to ask you about catfish. How do you prepare your catfish?

We prepare our catfish with corn meal. That’s the way grandma used to do it. That’s what I know. That’s what I remember. The restaurant menu kind of tells the story of me growing up eating—what I grew up around and what I ate. And that catfish was one of those things that came in every Friday. We would eat fish at grandma’s house.

Do you do a lot of cooking at home or is it mostly at the restaurant?

Most of my cooking is done either at the restaurant or on the road. At home, I may cook anywhere from one to three times a week, and most of that is outside on the grill.

What are you favorite things to grill?

Bone-in ribeyes are one of my favorites. I like to do chicken on the grill. I like to go get some ground beef and make burgers. Asparagus. Those are pretty much the few things that we do. And sometimes I’ll grab some shrimps, put them on skewers, and we’ll throw them on the Green Egg.

What cut of meat do you use for your burgers?

Chuck—80/20 Chuck. And if I’m feeling bold—haven’t done this yet—I want to go to the butcher shop and try to get some ribeye mixed in. But I haven’t asked them to do that for me yet.

What do you think about the sous-vide trend? And have you tried sous-vide cooking?

I have yet to try sous-vide cooking, but I’ve heard a lot about it. I have this old saying—“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And because I’m not familiar with the food trend, I said let me leave that alone and I’ll just stick to what I know right now. I haven’t ventured off into the sea yet.

Are there any recent food trends are like gadgets that you like or want to try?

I plan to get me an air fryer. I think I want an air fryer just to see what it’s like, to see what it does, because I’ve heard a lot of people give it high praise. I’m curious to grab one.

Do you have something specific you’re excited to air fry?

I want to air fry some turkey. I want to take a whole turkey and I want to cut the leg quarters off and air fry, just to get that flavor and see what it’s like. I remember a guy used to fry turkey—years ago—he told me he would marinate his bird for like three days in the refrigerator. He would season it, let it marinate for about two or three days he would fry it, and it used to be so good.

How do you usually cook your turkey?

This last year [for Thanksgiving] we did a spatchcock with some rib rub and we cooked it over the pit. Then we sauced it, flipped it over, and sauce it again, and there you had it. After spatchcocking, we took the Rodney’s Rib Rub and sprinkled it all over on both sides, and put the meat side down. We mopped it before we flipped it over and mopped it again, and once we flipped it over to the meat side up. we just let it sit, get a little color on the skin—aw, that’s some good bird. It is so good, I’m telling you. Wow.

What do you like to do with leftover turkey?

Usually sandwiches. This time I was thinking a turkey salad, but I’m not sure yet. And I think I will be cooking another turkey within the next week or two. Because I’m curious, again, to try some stuff.

What do you put on a turkey sandwich?

Usually just the turkey, and I may add some extra sauce or a little mayo. I’m very basic because I enjoy the turkey so much that I just put it in between two slices of bread and then I’m happy.

If you have really good turkey, you can do that.

Yeah, it has to be right, now—it can’t be too dry.

Do you ever grill pizzas?

Not yet. So, about two, almost three months ago, Nick told me that the Green Egg is absolutely one of the best things to do a pizza on. And I keep saying that I’m going to make a pizza on top of this Green Egg, and I haven’t done it yet. But he told me how to do it. And I do plan to make pizza on the Green Egg.

I don’t have a grill, so I’m always living vicariously through people who have grills.

You gotta get one.

What would you recommend for someone who’s just getting into grilling?

I would recommend a Weber.

The Kettle?

Not even the Kettle, just the regular Weber Grill with the tall four legs.

That’s a charcoal grill, right?

It’s charcoal or you can buy some wood lump charcoal now, something with a little better flavor. I prefer wood lump over anything else. It’s smaller, it’s not too expensive and it gives you the opportunity to decide if this is something that you want to go with without spending a ton of money, because you can always upgrade.

Illustration for article titled I'm Chef and Pitmaster Rodney Scott, and This Is How I Eat

Photo: Angie Mosier

What are some of the projects you would recommend for someone who’s trying to get really into grilling? After they’ve done steak and burgers—what would be after that?

Yeah, do the steak and the burgers, and then you can get you either a turkey breast, or you can get a whole chicken, and then you can get a pork butt or ham—something a little thicker, just to work your way up a little bit. Again, it’s not too expensive, you get a chance to try and see how it works for you, to see if you like it. And then, if you want, then you can always expand to something larger and get a larger grill.

I know both Alton Brown and Meathead Goldwyn have both said that they like to grill their grilled cheese sandwiches on the grill. Have you ever tried that?

I have not tried it yet, but I have been having some wild ideas to put my cast iron on top of the Green Egg and see if I can get some stuff, cook it and see what it tastes like. Grilled cheese is a great start to see how much flavor you would get in it off of the wood—the wood smoke that comes up off of the embers.

What kind of cheese do you like?

Me? Cheese? Oh, I like so many cheeses. For a grilled cheese I would probably go bold and put a sharp cheddar in there. If I can get some provolone, I would mix it with some provolone. I fell in love with gouda, but I haven’t done it on a grilled cheese, but that’s another thing I want to get into.

Do you also like a sharp cheddar on your burger?

I do like sharp cheddar on burgers.

How do you feel about American cheese?

You know, growing up in the rural areas, that’s all we had—American, and provolone was a plus. So I don’t dislike it, but when I became familiar with these other cheeses, I’m like, wow, how did American stay alive this long?

It’s a whole new world of cheese! I like American cheese on a bologna sandwich and on a grilled cheese sandwich because it melts so well.

Did you burn that baloney a little bit?

Oh, yeah, I mean, I’ll eat the whole spectrum of bologna, but I do like frying it a lot. What beverages do you recommend pairing with BBQ?

Wow. You know, I’ve always questioned my judgment on parings. I could tell you what I have with most of my barbecue. Usually I have a light beer and I may slip into some bourbon. Usually once the fire’s started and I’m prepping the food, I crack that first light beer. And by the time we get to about the fourth beer—no, I’m not an alcoholic—but by the time you get to the fourth beer I am pretty much close to sitting down and eating with that one. I usually have a light beer with all of my meals.

Do you have a brand that you like?

I drink a lot of Mich Ultra. Mich Ultra if it’s beer from a grocery store and if it’s a local beer, it’s usually another light beer. But Mich Ultra is what’s mostly in my refrigerator, either that or Coors Light.

One thing I think a lot of people don’t realize about light beer is that it pairs better with food. Particularly if you put so much time and effort into something like a barbecue, you don’t want a drink that’s going to overpower it.

Exactly. That’s me and that light beer. I’ve always found it to be my friend with food.

Do you have a particular brand of bourbon you like?

There’s usually Weller in here. Woodford is in here. I probably would go to the Woodford first. Wow, it’s a lot of bourbon in my house, too. I’ve gotten in trouble a couple of times with some of the bourbon. There’s Basil Hayden’s in here, there’s Eagle Rare, there’s—gosh—Prichard’s. There’s Firefly, there’s a Rowan’s Creek. And that’s just in the house, there’s some stuff hidden in the garage as well.

Illustration for article titled I'm Chef and Pitmaster Rodney Scott, and This Is How I Eat

Photo: Rodney Scott

I love a good collection of bottles! Is it mostly bourbon or do you have other spirits as well?

There’s other spirits. We’ve got Hat Trick Gin, we’ve got some scotch. We’ve got some rum in here, Tito’s, Ciroc, Grey Goose, Malibu rum. You know, Crown Royal, Virgil Kaine, which is a local bourbon here in Charleston; they’ve got this ginger and this rye bourbon that’s amazing.

Are you into making cocktails or is it more highballs and stuff?

Just simple—on the rocks, usually. I’ve made one cocktail on my own, and it’s pretty tasty. It’s one of the ones that’s in our upcoming book—the Red Pickup. It has Hat Trick gin, it has some rum in there, it has some ruby red grapefruit, some cranberry juice, some Campari is in there, some lime juice, simple syrup. I think that’s it.

Which condiments do you use a lot?

Ooh! Get ready to get upset with Rodney, chefs! I use ketchup a lot.Tartar sauce, ketchup—most of the time when I use mustard, it’s usually on a hot dog or a bologna or turkey sandwich, but those are the main ones.

What do you put ketchup on?

Hot dogs, mostly, and French fries. It doesn’t go on a lot of stuff, but I’ve seen some hot dog venues that frown upon ketchup on their dogs or their burgers. So, yeah, mostly my burgers and my hot dogs. I just like ketchup on my food sometimes—not a lot! It doesn’t have to be a whole lot—just enough to taste.