Recently made the trip from Charleston to Holly Hill specifically to try out Sweatman's. This place has a lore that makes you feel like you MUST go try it. All the reviews on the internet seem to be good ones...so we made the hour and a half journey.
Thanks to the GPS we got there without a hiccup. Without the GPS I would have had to print the directions from the computer...and still would have probably had a hard time getting there. It's really out of the way, but so are a multitude of good bbq joints so I felt at ease.
It was a little past 1:00 on a Friday and the charm of the old house mesmerized us. We were excited. Evidently the lunch rush was over as there weren't that many people there...maybe six or seven vehicles. We paid and dove right in to the buffet.
The buffet is simple and straightforward. There's rice & hash, two pans of pork, ribs, skin, slaw, and pickle chips. Two sauces are offered; a pretty standard South Carolina mustard sauce and a "spicy" ketchup sauce (the lady behind the counter called it spicy...it really wasn't).
The hash was some of the best I've had. Growing up in Eastern North Carolina I had never been exposed to hash until I started visiting South Carolina Lowcountry nearly four years ago. I have only found two or three hash recipes that I have liked. Sweatman's hash easily makes it on that very short list. I'd definitely have it again. On a scale of 1-10, I have no problems giving the hash a solid 9.
The two pans of pork on the buffet consisted of the semi-flavorful "outside brown" portion of the hog, and the tasteless inner "white meat". One of the things I REALLY don't like for bbq restaurants to do is to split up the outside brown and the inside white. Maybe it's my Eastern NC upbringing where we cook whole hogs (just like they do at Sweatman's) and mix all the parts together while being chopped. Sweatman's pork is more of a pulled product than a chopped product like you'd see in NC...but I digress. Traditional bbq from NC and SC is cooked over direct hardwood coals. This bbq isn't "smoked" like you see in other non-traditional places. The very light smokey taste you get with the direct cooking process comes from the pork drippings incinerating on the hot coals below. This light flavor only exist in the layer of meat closest to the surface (the infamous "outside brown"). The inner meat has no seasoning and no smoke. Why people serve these two areas of meat separately is beyond me (they do that in Western NC/Lexington-style also). So anyway, the outside brown at Sweatman's had a bit of flavor and was pretty decent (albeit a tad dry for my taste). The inside white however was not only pretty dry, but it had no flavor. I can't say that this is a problem I only see at Sweatman's as it isn't. The inside white has no flavor at every restaurant serving it that way. Final thought: The bbq at Sweatman's is ok, but not worth a regular visit from an hour and a half away. It's also far from being the best bbq I've ever had. If I were rating it on a scale from 1-10, I'd have to give it a 6 or a generous 7.
The ribs were just ok. Like the bbq, I've had better. Little to no seasoning doesn't make for a good rib. Sorry. On a rating scale of 1-10, I'd mirror the bbq and give the ribs a 6 or generous 7. At least the ribs weren't boiled.
The skin was good in that it was crisp. I've been served under crisp skin and it's a bear to chew. The only thing I wish Sweatman's would do is toss the skin with some salt. It makes a world of difference...someone please tell them that.
The slaw was creamy and sweet...as it should be with bbq. No problems here.
The sauces were alright. The SC mustard sauce was very mustardy and pretty typical of the area. Not my favorite mustard sauce, but one of the better ones I've found here. As I said earlier, the "spicy" ketchup sauce was not spicy. It tasted almost like alot of mayo with a bit of ketchup to make it a quasi-pink color and possibly a bit of Texas Pete for some "spice". It wasn't one of my favorites, but I won't be trying to recreate it at home anytime soon.
The sweet tea was good, but not as sweet as I'm used to getting it at Mom & Pop bbq joints. Again, that probably has something to do with my growing up with Eastern NC bbq where we use a vinegar sauce. Really sweet tea goes great with the acid in the bbq (as does the sweet slaw). Like I said, the tea was good...just not overly sweet.
All in all, we had a good meal. I'll probably go back as nothing we ate was bad. We probably won't be going back anytime soon or on a regular basis as it really wasn't very memorable. If I lived 15 minutes from the place, I might go once a month. The bbq at Sweatman's isn't worth driving for very often if you live more than 30 minutes away.
I know there are ALOT of people who will be upset with this review as I see tons of other reviews proclaiming Sweatman's as being one of, or even THE best in South Carolina. Well, don't be mad. Just remember that I've said, and I'll say again, we didn't have anything that was "bad". All I'm saying is that the bbq didn't live up to the hype or the lore the place has been given. Everyone has different tastes...I understand that.
We have had some really bad bbq experiences around Charleston and South Carolina in general. Sweatman's is better than nearly all the bbq I've had down here, but in my opinion isn't as good as it's made out to be.