Get to Know the Upstate Through Its Barbecue

When John Nolan was growing up in Ohio, he—like most Northerners—thought of barbecue as something you cooked your hamburgers on. But in the South, barbecue is something you eat as well as a style of cooking meat. But most importantly, it’s a tradition.

“I really wasn’t exposed to barbecue, as Southerners know it, until I moved here for graduate school,” said Nolan. “But since then, I’ve come to appreciate it very much and I’m really interested in the deep history it has here in the South.”

So it’s little surprise that Nolan, owner of Greenville History Tours, eventually decided to start a new tour that focuses on barbecue and will give people a chance to taste some of what Nolan considers to be the best smoked meats in the Greenville area. The Greenville BBQ Trail tour is slated to begin in mid-May, which, not so coincidentally, is National Barbecue Month.

“We’re going to be going to the real deal barbecue shacks around town,” said Nolan. “The tour will last two hours and we’ll visit three restaurants. People will be able to meet the owners and employees. They’ll learn about the restaurants and the cooking methods. And of course they’ll get to taste the food. There’s going to be a lot of food. So if they didn’t already have opinions about barbecue before the tour, they’ll have them by the time they’re done.”

According to Nolan, one of the most difficult aspects of putting the tour together was picking which restaurants to include. “People are extremely opinionated about what constitutes good barbecue. I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people about where to go, because I wanted to feature the barbecue restaurants that locals talk about the most and go to the most. But I know I’m going to hear from people about why I did or did not pick certain restaurants. But having heated discussions about barbecue is part of the fun.”

Another important part of the tour is learning about the history of barbecue, the history of Greenville, and the importance that barbecue has historically played in Southern culture.

“You can’t understand barbecue unless you understand history. The Spanish brought pigs to the Americas, where the Indians were eating meat, like deer, that was cooked a long time with lower temperatures, sometimes as much as 12 to 20 hours,” said Nolan.

“Barbecue is the marriage of that kind of slow-and-low cooking and the availability of pigs. So barbecue is not about the sauce, though barbecue sauce is often present. It’s really about the meat and the cooking process. It’s about getting the smoke into the meat from cooking it for long periods of time over relatively low heat,” said Nolan.

Tours will be offered year-round on Saturdays. Tickets are $45 per person and can be purchased by visiting

 Article by Josephine McMullen. Photos courtesy of John Nolan.