Here's your chance to literally play with fire.
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Steven Raichlen barbecue university south carolina
Credit: Courtesy of Montage Palmetto Bluff

Grits, fried chicken, cornbread, and barbecue might as well be synonymous with the culinary South. While one taste of these staple Southern dishes is enough to make anyone fall head over heels, one might argue that there's truly nothing like Southern barbecue.

If the South is the country's ultimate barbecue destination, then South Carolina might be the enthusiast's paradise. Coal heads of all ages come to get their grill on at Barbecue University, a barbecue experience held annually in Bluffton, South Carolina. Now in its third year, the program gathers all sorts, from mother-daughter duos to couples and grilling debutantes, for a three-day intensive. From June 12-15, PBS host, award-winning author, and grilling expert Steven Raichlen teaches a crash-course on all things barbecue. You'll soon discover that there's more to the grill than just a perfect steak.

Steven Raichlen, Barbecue University south carolina
Credit: Courtesy of Montage Palmetto Bluff

"We offer something for everyone: basic techniques and simple dishes (like grilled oysters and wagyu smash burgers) for neophytes and more elaborate techniques and dishes (think wood fire paella and stuffed smoked whole beef tenderloin) for advanced grillers and professionals," Raichlen shares.  

In the spirit of Southern hospitality, the classes welcome anyone who wants to learn. Teenagers, great-grandparents, and professionals have all benefited from the techniques. Neophytes will appreciate basic instruction on skills like lighting a chimney starter and learning the five main grilling techniques, and the pros will enjoy playing with the equipment, including the touted Argentinian fire pit.

Steven Raichlen, Barbecue University south carolina
Credit: Courtesy of Montage Palmetto Bluff

"The Argentinean fire pit represents grilling at its most primal: simple seasoned meat roasted on stakes in front of an open wood fire," Raichlen explains. "The grills at BBQ U range from simple hibachis to a $28,000 stainless-steel super grill. Some other interesting cookers at the school include our Tuscan-style wood burning oven, a Texas 'stick-burner' (oversize offset barrel smoker), two jumbo Big Green Eggs, and enough pellet grills to stock a hardware store."

If the possibility of literally playing with fire isn't exciting enough, the three-day program also gives participants the opportunity to experiment with their creativity and lean into the local food scene in what Raichlen calls his "science experiments."

"I encourage them create dishes on their own," he says. "Last year, the class created grilled fruit sangria, a North African grilled egg dish called shakshuka, home-smoked salmon, and even smoked ice cream for dessert." Clearly, no food group is off-limits on the grill.

Steven Raichlen, Barbecue University south carolina
Credit: Courtesy of Montage Palmetto Bluff

Because the class is in close proximity to the May River at Montage Palmetto Bluff, students have the opportunity to fish in the South Carolina Lowcountry if they wish. Should you do the same, know your catch is welcome over the fire.

"A couple students went fishing and they came back with a gorgeous, huge Spanish mackerel, which we cooked in the wood-burning oven," Raichlen recalls. "We make a special effort to grill local foods, like shrimp, oysters, okra, and watermelon." 

Whether you're looking for the perfect Father's Day gift, want to make some new barbecue-obsessed friends, or are a pro looking for fresh inspiration, Barbecue University promises to tantalize the tastebuds. If you're on the fence, take it from the other attendees. At least 20 percent come back, according to Raichlen, so there must be something in the water—or barbecue sauce.