The name Dukes will get the attention of any southern barbecue aficionado, for the Dukes family has been a player in hickory-smoked pork for longer than a half century. There are Dukes restaurants throughout South Carolina, and while each is an independent entity, all trace their ancestry to Earl Dukes, who opened a barbecue in Orangeburg in the 1950s. Most of them serve pretty much the same meal in pretty much the same way: an all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet, generally available only on weekends.
Dukes of Aiken is a classic, its pulled pork a helter-skelter mélange of hunks and strips and little nubbins that range from moist to chewy to crunchy. The meat is subtly laced with smoke flavor, but really, it is all about the pork itself: nutty-sweet, lean and luscious at the same time. Good as it is all alone, you definitely want to add some of the distinctive tangy yellow mustard sauce so popular in central South Carolina. Its snap teases the most out of the meat.
To go with the pork are more than a dozen different side dishes, including a really tasty hash and rice, cheesy squash casserole, mac ‘n’ cheese, broccoli-cheese casserole, rutabagas, greens, beans, et. al., and a big bin full of help-yourself cracklin’s that are feloniously sensual, quite literally melting in the mouth as soon as you crunch down on them.
If pork is not your dish, do consider chicken. Fried chicken is masterful, encased in luxurious crust and accompanied by freshly made potato chips. Barbecue chicken lacks the wickedly indulgent pleasure of fried, but its flavor is radiant and fully satisfying.
Note that Dukes is open for lunch and supper only Thursday through Saturday, as well as for lunch only on Wednesday and Sunday.