There is no music in the dining room of Carl Duke's restaurant, but the sound you do hear while eating will be music to your ears if you love barbecue. It is the thump-whack-thud created by the lady behind the counter hacking pork with a cleaver.
Everything about Duke's is designed to focus your attention on the one thing that makes this place famous for miles around - hickory-smoked barbecued pork. It is served in big chunks and shreds without any sauce whatsoever. Just savor the meat: mild, gentle and sweet, with enough chew so that eating it makes its tender fibers explode with flavor. Duke's motto, listed in its small advertisement in the Yellow Pages, is the unprepossessing maxim: "Cooked to Perfection."There is sauce to add if you like. The red is blazingly hot; sprinkle it on sparingly. And there is yellow - yes, yellow barbecue sauce, the tangy, mustard-flavored stuff unique to central South Carolina. It is sweet and sour, creamy smooth, and is so distinctive you would want to eat it if the only thing you had to baste was a slice of white bread. On pit-cooked pork, it sings grand piggy opera.
What makes Duke's a barbecue jubilee other than the meat and sauce themselves is the way they are served. In the ancient manner of the traditional Carolina pig pickin', Duke's is open for business only on the weekends (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). And they serve it the old-fashioned way, from a help-yourself cafeteria line where the pickings are minimal: pig meat, rice, hash (a stewlike mixture made from weird parts of the pig) for on top of the rice, the sauces and some pickles. You dish out as much as you want for a prix fixe of $4.50, put it into your partitioned plastic-foam plate, and grab the only available utensil, a white plastic fork from the barrel.
For beverage, there is iced tea (presweetened, of course) and a Pepsi machine with cans of soda. That's all there is to eat, except for white bread (Sunbeam King Thin Brand), which is set out in its supermarket wrapper on every table.
The seating itself suggests a serious Big Feed: eight long picnic tables, each with enough room for maybe 20 people altogether (and jammed at mealtimes on Friday and Saturday nights). Each table is spread with a red-and-white-checked cloth and supplied with the bread, paper napkins and a pitcher containing more presweetened tea.
The tables are laid out in a cavernous room that could only be called an eating hall, with a high ceiling that holds big overhead fans and fluorescent tube lighting. There is no decor to speak of, and like we said, no music other than the thud of the cleaver hacking pork and the moans of pleasure, slurping and licking that are the sound of people enjoying one of the great meals of the Southland.
Use our recipe for South Carolina barbecue sauce to baste or garnish anything you'd cook on a grill; or mix it into a meat loaf or brush a bit on hamburgers. It's always a good idea to have white bread on hand for mopping up.
- Duke's Barbecue, 789 Chestnut St., Orangeburg, S.C. 29116; (803) 534-9418. (Duke's has several locations in the area.)
Now available! Nearly 200 of the most-requested recipes from this column, all in one book, "A Taste of America." It includes Jane and Michael Stern's favorite restaurants, as well as photos from their coast-to-coast eating adventures. Available in paperback, it can be ordered by sending $9.95 plus $1 for postage and handling to Taste of America, in care of this newspaper, P.O. Box 419150, Kansas City, Mo. 64141.
South Carolina Sauce
2/3 cup yellow prepared mustard
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 to 5 drops Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter Combine all ingredients except soy sauce and butter in saucepan and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in soy sauce and butter. May be used as a basting sauce for barbecued meat or as a condiment when serving grilled pork, beef or chicken.