Columbia, South Carolina, is a galaxy of good barbecue. Big Boy’s Smokehouse makes some of the best. Pulled pork is an infinitely variegated tangle of tender, smoke-infused filaments, fibers, nuggets, chunks, soft inside meat and chewy bark. It’s abundantly juicy and would be delicious eaten by the pound with no adornment whatsoever, but the two available sauces are both hard to resist. Mustard sauce is not too sharp, quite sweet, and a little tangy – a perfect match for the pork – and the red sauce might be even better. It is not quite so sweet, allowing the flavor of the meat itself to glow, and quite tangy, adding a peppery little exclamation point to the complex taste sensation.
Brisket benefits tremendously from mustard sauce, even if the sauce plays a minor chord to the beef’s booming presence. Infused with smoke and literally dripping juices, this is very fatty, hugely delicious meat – an orgy for carnivores, all the more sensuous when humming with a mustard tingle.
Spare ribs are grand, too. They’re big ones with lots of meat, tender but wanting a bit of tooth work to release full flavor, equally wonderful with either sauce … or with neither.
To go with the magnificent meats, Big Boy’s offers regular sides and “premium sides,” the latter being pig feet and rice, hash and rice, or gumbo and rice. Any one of these could be a whole meal. Regular sides include custard-rich macaroni and cheese and a heap of collard greens that maintain tremendous vegetable potency, even if they have been cooked completely limp.
Very interesting desserts. Freshly-made banana pudding is based on a remarkable custard that is so rich and substantial that it reminds me of cheesecake; and it is loaded with ‘Nilla wafers that range from still-crunchy pieces to soft veins of grain. Plus, of course, plenty of sliced fresh bananas. A little goes a long way, and each serving is a lot. Sweet potato pie is lighter, brighter, cheerfully spiced and not too sweet.
Big Boy’s rings with good cheer, in the kitchen (see accompanying photo) and in the dining room, where customers exude the happy confidence of people who all know they have found something wonderful. There is no table service. Place an order at the counter and pay, then wait for your name to be called. Everything is served in disposable containers, for eating at a handful of tables or for taking away.
Note Big Boy’s hours. It is closed Monday and Tuesday, and closes the other days of the week at 6pm