Restaurant Review: Shuler’s Barbecue
Seeped into the thick, fiery late summer air of Eastern South Carolina, is a sweet, smoky aroma with traces of caramelized pork fat and charred lumber, wafting toward I-95 from a monster-sized rotisserie about 20 yards from a secluded log cabin in the pint-sized town of Latta, South Carolina. This is where the fat hits the coals and the pigs learn to fly. This is barbecue heaven. This is Shuler’s Barbecue.
Known for its southern hospitality, laid back family atmosphere, and award-winning authentic Carolina barbecue, Shuler’s is considered by many barbecue buffs the best barbecue in the state and well worth a one-way 100 mile – or farther – drive. Featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet-style menu with barbecue classics, such as pulled pork, fried chicken, collards, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese, as well as a few regional items and Shuler’s specialties like bog, fried corn, and Mrs. Lynn’s “little” biscuits, plus a weekend dinner menu that features their famous smoked ribs, it’s no wonder that barbecue lovers, far and wide, come in droves just for a taste of this tangy Carolina cuisine.
My wife, Mary, and I just got back from our bi-annual family vacation to Myrtle Beach. Aside from relaxing on the beach until my skin was lightly toasted and taking my pup, Mason, swimming for the first time, my sole objective on this trip was to pig out on some authentic Carolina barbecue. And I don’t mean a little pulled pork with some tangy barbecue sauce; I could do that at home, and I have – many times. What I was looking for was a complete experience. A one-of-a-kind, can’t-wait-to-go-back, authentic Carolina barbecue experience.
It took me all week, and then some. It wasn’t until two hours into our drive home – on full stomachs – after a late breakfast at a French-inspired bistro, that I said to Mary, “I’ve got to find some Carolina barbecue before we go any farther.” I immediately pulled off the road into a hotel parking lot. While Mary and Mason stretched their legs with a quick game of frisbee in a nearby field, I sat in the car and got on the Google. Several places immediately popped up, but the reviews were inconsistent. I kept scrolling and – to my surprise – found a place without a single negative review called Shuler’s Bar-B-Que, and it was only a few miles off our current route.
As we ventured east off I-95 onto Highway 38, it wasn’t long before we spotted an American flag the size of the Palmetto State flapping in the clear blue sky, as if signaling to us that we had arrived at our destination. Before we went inside, we noticed a full walk-around deck with outdoor seating overlooking a peaceful little pond.
After taking in the enchanting views around the newly constructed deck, it was finally time to go inside, get some food, and see if this place could satisfy my intense appetite for darn good barbecue.
We entered through the large cabin door on the right – the one that did not say, “Exit”, and were immediately greeted with a true southern reception that included an earnest, “Hey ya’ll. Welcome to Shuler’s!” Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there, from the wait staff to the teenage cashiers to the local patrons. Heck, even the food somehow seemed delighted to be on the menu that day.
The attentive wait staff seemed overly eager to fill our fountain cups for us. I’m not sure if they were just trying to be super helpful because it wasn’t that busy at the time and they had nothing else to do or if that’s some kind of restaurant policy. It was kind of refreshing, but mostly odd.
We got there at a pretty good time even though the ribs weren’t out yet – about two o’clock on a Friday. If we had shown up a few hours later, we would’ve had a whole ‘nother experience, as I’m told it’s not uncommon for there to be a line out the door as the ribs start coming off the Monster – the mega rotisserie that I regrettably did not get a photo of – which only happens after 4PM on Fridays and Saturdays.
After paying for our meal at the front register, we grabbed some trays and started loading up several plates. I would have sampled everything had I been the least bit hungry and had I known in advance how famous some of the items were, like Mrs. Lynn’s “little” biscuits. I also totally missed the dessert buffet, which was over by another wall. I was already full when we pulled in, and then I pretty much cleaned both of my plates, so any dessert would have been overkill, but I think I could have managed it for the sake of exhaustive journalism.
After we got our food, we headed through the back dining hall, out to the deck, so that Mason could join us while we ate. A server brought him a hotel pan full of ice water because it was hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch. Side note: I totally looked that phrase up! Growing up in Maryland, we didn’t have expressions like that, but I really wanted to illustrate just how hot it was that day.
Aside from the cornbread that sat out too long, everything I ate was delectable and well seasoned. I’m new to fried okra, but I could have eaten an entire plate of that light and crispy vegetable – or is it a fruit? Among my favorites on the plate were the fried corn and pulled pork. The corn was the most buttery, juicy piece of corn I think I’ve ever eaten. I ate mine, and then I finished Mary’s. The pork was still dripping with its own juices, wasn’t overly chopped, and had that tangy Carolina kick from the house-made vinegar-based barbecue sauce.
Before heading for the exit, I took a few more pics and then made my way over to the register. I wanted to see if they had any t-shirts for sale: I dig wearable souvenirs.
The guy at the register was super polite and kept calling me ‘sir’. Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size, but they sure did try hard to find one. They must have spent twenty minutes or more checking every nook and cranny. Eventually, they gave up and said they could mail one to me once they got more in. That’s when Lisa, manager at Shuler’s Barbecue and friend of owners Norton and Lynn Hughes, came down and spoke with us. She took down my name and number and could not have been more friendly or generous with her time. For a minute there, I thought she might give me the shirt right off her back. It was a medium. I probably could have squeezed into that. Instead, she told us about how the restaurant was recently featured on
The Profit, which aires Tuesdays on CNBC. She shared a little bit of the history of Shuler’s Barbecue and how she came to be the manager. Then she gave us our own private tour of the new addition, which will include a general store, a jerky room, a full bakery, and a banquet hall. They hope to have it completed and ready to open by the end of August.
Unlike a traditional restaurant, Shuler’s feels a lot more like you’re at an actual family barbecue, and I am bursting with excitement that it’s right on the way to the beach! We’ll definitely be stopping there from now on, and I would strongly encourage everyone to plan a visit if you are even remotely close to Latta, South Carolina. And next time, I’m going to plan to get there for the ribs and try some of those famous “little” biscuits!