South Carolina Hash: A Primer

In the Palmetto State, barbecue fans love their hash and rice, an iconic South Carolina side dish.

By Robert F. Moss

A big plate of pulled pork and hash and rice at Bessinger's BBQ, Charleston SC
A big plate of pulled pork and hash and rice at Bessinger's BBQ, Charleston SC (Courtesy Robert F. Moss)
Like yellow mustard-based sauce, hash is a distinctive feature of the South Carolina barbecue style. A sort of cross between a thick gravy and a stew, it’s made from pork and various pig organ meats and is usually served over white rice (though sometimes grits or bread are used instead). In most parts of the state, hash is almost exclusively considered a side dish to accompany barbecue, not a meal unto itself.

Hash seems to have originated as a way to use all of the pig slaughtered for a barbecue. In the early days, it was often referred to as "giblet hash" or "liver and lights hash," reflecting the use of organ meats in the stew. In most early versions, a hashmaker started with a hog's head, liver, and other organ meats and cooked them with water in an iron stew pot over an open fire. Much like the original Brunswick Stew recipes from Virginia, hash would be slowly simmered for many hours — sometimes a full day — until the ingredients had broken down and merged into a thick, consistent gravy-like liquid. Some cooks added a other ingredients like red pepper, mustard, onion, and potatoes, but hash has always depended upon the slow-simmered meats for its rich, hearty flavor.

A few South Carolina barbecue joints, like Big T in Gadsden and Brown’s in Kingstree, still make their hash with hogs heads and/or liver. Most cooks, though, now use inexpensive cuts of pork like the shoulder and hams, and many add beef to the pot, too. In the Upstate of South Carolina you can find hash that is all-beef, while in the Midlands at places like Jackie Hite’s in Leesville you can still find “string hash,” which contains meat that’s pulled by hand into long, thin strands. Hash was originally cooked in big iron kettles over a wood fire, though these days most restaurants make them on gas stoves in giant stainless steel pots.

Hash seems to have originated sometime before the Civil War in the counties on either side of the Savannah River, which forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina. Estrella Jones, a former slave who was born on a plantation near Augusta, Georgia, recalled that when she was a child, the slaves would sometimes steal hogs from neighboring farms and "cook hash and rice and serve barbecue." In 1861, "barbecued meats, and hash" were served at a gathering held to honor the Edgefield Riflemen in Edgefield County, South Carolina, which is just across the Savannah River from Augusta, as they prepared to leave for battle in the early months of the Civil War. By the 1880s, hash was being served at barbecues as far north as Newberry, S.C., and as far south as Macon in central Georgia — much farther south than hash is found today.

Though the methods and ingredients have evolved, two things haven’t changed about South Carolina hash. Cooks still use the magic of long, slow simmering to transform humble ingredients into a rich delicacy, and South Carolinians still love eating it as a side dish to pork barbecue.

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About the Author

Robert F. Moss

Robert F. Moss is the Contributing Barbecue Editor for Southern Living magazine and the author of numerous books on Southern food and drink, including Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Southern Spirits: 400 Years of Drinking in the American South, and Barbecue Lovers: The Carolinas. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.