Atlanta | Meet Pitmaster Rodney Scott

We met up with Pitmaster Rodney Scott, one of twenty chefs competing for the title of Atlanta’s Heritage Hero, to discuss his preparation for Heritage Fire on March 26th. Scott was named Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation, and is the owner of Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Find out his must-have ingredient, advice for cooking with flames, and more.

What is your inspiration for cooking?

A. I grew up cooking “whole hog” bbq–South Carolina style–in my family’s restaurant since I was 8 years old. I’ve always been inspired by traditional ways with an eye to the future. Travel and collaboration have helped me expand my vision and I’m always inspired by the people and places I experience.

What excites you about participating in Heritage Fire?

A. I’m always excited to meet new people and be part of a big collaboration where I can meet other cooks. Because the restaurant business is so consuming, it is hard to get together with others outside of the 4 walls so events like Heritage Fire are fantastic for the fellowship.

How do you prepare for an event like Heritage Fire?

A. It’s always great to understand what the event is highlighting and who the audience is. We cook meat over live coals in a slow and methodical way. Preparing for an off-site event means that we need all of our ducks in a row or it could really throw off the timing.

What does cooking with heritage breed protein mean to you?

A. Every animal is different–not just in breed–but each animal. When you cook with heritage breeds it is important to know the general traits–fat ratios and such–but also to understand if it was grass-fed or grain finished, pastured for its entire life, what season was it harvested–it all matters.

When did you first cook outdoors / with fire and why?

A. When I was 8 years old I cooked my first whole hog. I had witnessed the process in my family’s restaurant and on our backyard pits throughout my childhood but when I was 8, my father said I was ready. The rest is history.

What farms do you typically source from in Atlanta?  And why?

A. Because there are Rodney Scott’s BBQ restaurants in several cities now, we can’t source from just one farm. We have a resource that helps us find animals in multiple regions. When we do special events and catering where we can use them, we like to use White Oak Pastures, Creekstone, Snake River, and Niman Ranch.

What is your favorite protein to cook? How do you like to prepare it?

A. Whole Hog. Cooked whole, over live coals for many hours. Flip it to crunch the skin, mop it with Rodney’s Sauce, hand pull the meat from the bone mixing the meats from all of the regions of the animal–belly, shoulder, ham, etc… then serve! No better way!

Do you have any advice for beginners who want to try outdoor fire cooking?

A. Do some research and gather your tools. You can get instructions for building a backyard bbq pit from my book, Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ along with a list of tools, ingredients, and techniques. Get some friends, some beer, and tell some tales while you wait.

Did you always want to become a chef? Who or what inspired you?

A. I’ve done a few other jobs in my life but they are always related to the restaurant. For instance, I used to go out and cut up the wood that we used in our burn barrels to make our charcoal. Meaning, if someone in our region had a big tree fall, they would call us and we would come out and cut up the tree and haul it away. So basically, a tree service that provided us with the wood. Cooking whole hogs and cutting wood are both hard jobs but I was inspired to branch out on my own by my partner and fellow BBQ restaurateur, Nick Pihakis. We opened the first Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ in 2017 and now we have 5 locations with more on the horizon!

Must-have ingredient when cooking?

A. Love.

What is the most unusual thing you’ve cooked over fire?

A. At the South Beach Food and Wine festival a few years ago, my friends and I cooked a “feast of 7 meats” on a special spit cooker over live fire. Pork, chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, goat, and sausage.

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