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In tiny Hemingway, South Carolina, the Scott family has been selling barbecue from their roadside general store for nearly half a century. The smoky, vinegary pork has reached legendary status around the South. So when the Scotts' cookhouse went up in flames last - late last year, barbecue brethren cooked up a plan to get them back in business. They planned a road trip, pit master Rodney Scott's Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour. NPR's Debbie Elliott got a taste in Birmingham.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Perhaps you've heard of an old-fashioned barn-raising. Consider this a pit-raising. Rodney Scott has set up shop behind Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q on Birmingham's south side.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's up, man?
RODNEY SCOTT: What's up, brother? How you doing, man?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's going on?
SCOTT: What's up, man? In exile man.
ELLIOTT: Scott greets old friends as he tends to a makeshift pit crafted from aluminum sheeting. Inside the big metal box is a 180-pound whole hog.
SCOTT: We butterfly it down the middle and put it belly side down for eight to 12 hours. And then we will take burnt wood down to the embers and scatter it under the hog for a low, slow roast.
ELLIOTT: The embers come from his rustic burn barrel, two 55-gallon drums welded together. Scott feeds hunks of hickory, oak, and pecan through the top, then pulls hot coals from below to stoke the pit. He likes to keep it around 250 degrees but there's no thermometer, just his ear.
SCOTT: We're listening.
ELLIOTT: What are you listening for?
SCOTT: The drippings. You hear (makes noise). Hear that? That's the fat rendering through the meat and falling all the way through and it drips into the fire. When it drips into the fire, the steam shoots right back up into the meat.
ELLIOTT: It's a technique passed down from his mom and dad, his business partners at Scott's Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, South Carolina.
SCOTT: I grew up cooking the barbecue there. And we're very close knit. All three of us worked together every day.
ELLIOTT: When did you cook your first hog?
SCOTT: When I was 11 years old. It was a challenge from my dad and I took the challenge and did the best that I could. It turned out all right.
ELLIOTT: Now 42, Rodney Scott has graduated to pit master and is considered one of the finest barbecuers in the South.
SCOTT: I'm pretty much considered the new generation pit master, but my soul feels old.
ELLIOTT: He used to spend four days a week up all night tending to two or three roasting hogs. That came to a halt last November when the family's pit room caught fire. Scott says when a greasy pig catches, it's uncontrollable.
SCOTT: It was shooting out fire like a torch. The fire department said when they came it was shooting like a torch. And then, you know, the building being old and wooden, up top, it just kept on going. You know, the good news is nobody got hurt. So that's a good thing.
ELLIOTT: But the Scotts had no insurance. And that's where his friends are stepping in.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q Rodney in Exile.
ELLIOTT: Scott is part of a group of Southern celebrity chefs, restaurateurs and pork aficionados dubbed The Fatback Collective. They've staged a series of fundraising dinners like this one.
NICK PIHAKIS: You know, he's part of our family, and we said let's get him rebuilt so we don't lose - Rodney Scott is too important to everybody.
ELLIOTT: Host Nick Pihakis is a founding member of the collective.
PIHAKIS: He's taking an art of cooking from one generation, which was his parents, to the next generation. And I think it's so critical to keep that alive and keep it going. And if he's willing to do that, why would we not help him?
ELLIOTT: The collective's goal is to raise at least $100,000 dollars, using part to help the Scotts rebuild, this time with metal materials so they can insure the barbecue pits. What's left will establish a fund to help preserve regional food traditions.
ELLIOTT: Back outside, Rodney Scott has flipped his roasted pig and is using a full-sized mop to bathe it in his family's mostly secret sauce.
SCOTT: Vinegar, pepper, some more pepper, some love and a little bit more love added to that after that and some other stuff.
ELLIOTT: He offers up a taste to the lucky few who have gathered round the pit.
SCOTT: Yes, no? Should I run for the hills? Everybody happy?
ELLIOTT: Scott smiles. He says whole hog barbecue is more than food or tradition. It's about bringing people together. The Rodney in Exile tour makes its final pit stop tonight in Charleston, South Carolina. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
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