Are there any restaurants in the District that sell South Carolina-style barbecue?
Yes, a few establishments in and around the District offer mustard-based barbecue sauce, a condiment from and of South Carolina that doesn’t get a lot of love outside the Palmetto State. South Carolinians can satisfy their cravings for mustard sauce at Branded 72 in Rockville, Pork Barrel in Alexandria, and Old Glory in Georgetown, though management at all three establishments say the yellow sauce is greatly outsold by tomato-based sauces.
The rarity and relative unpopularity of mustard-based barbecue sauce stems from its roots. Lake High, the president of the South Carolina Barbeque Association, credits a curious population strategy of South Carolina’s colonial government: In the 1730s, mustard-loving Palatinate Germans living in England were recruited to farmland in South Carolina, where Native Americans had been skirmishing with colonists. German mustard fused with barbecue, a smoky, low-heat cooking technique introduced to European settlers by American Indians, to produce the sauce associated with South Carolina barbecue.
The yellow sauce has been slow to spread outside of the state, thanks to the highly regional nature of barbecue and the dominance of tomato-based sauces in the national imagination. (Kraft and other manufacturers mostly peddle tomato-based sauce, the style favored in Texas, Memphis, and Kansas City barbecue.) “Barbecue falls into that fun category of ‘our football team can beat yours’ and ‘our girls are prettier than your girls,’” High explains. Despite increasing visibility through TV food shows (Alton Brown likes to use mustard sauce), the South Carolina condiment tends to be passed over for what folks know. That’s partly why Pork Barrel’s mustard sauce ranks third out of four in popularity, and Branded 72’s “south cackalacky” sauce is made in five-gallon batches rather than 80-gallon ones like their other four sauces.
Southerners have long suffered in the District for lack of decent barbecue, High says, but South Carolinians had it particularly bad. No mustard sauce to speak of was served in D.C. during High’s years as a congressional staffer in the late 1960s. “It was desperate,” says High, who would trek deep into Arlington to the region’s closest facsimile of a barbecue joint and find “three or four South Carolinians sitting there, desperate.”
Perhaps the only D.C. transplants who have suffered more than South Carolinians are Alabamians, who are unlikely to find their state’s mayonnaise-based white sauce just about anywhere.