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Dukes

4248 Whiskey Rd., Aiken, SC - (803) 649-7675
Posted By Michael Stern on 3/5/2013 5:11:00 AM
The name Dukes will get the attention of any southern barbecue aficionado, for the Dukes family has been a major player in hickory-smoked pork for longer than a half century. There are Dukes restaurants throughout South Carolina, and while each is an independent entity, all trace their ancestry to Earl Dukes, who opened a barbecue in Orangeburg in the 1950s. Most of them serve pretty much the same meal in pretty much the same way: a whole-hog, all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet, generally available only on weekends.

Dukes of Aiken is a classic, its pulled pork a helter-skelter mélange of hunks and strips and little nubbins that range from moist to chewy to crunchy. The meat is subtly laced with smoke flavor, but really, it is all about the pork itself: nutty-sweet, subtle-flavored (but oh-so-richer than chicken), lean and luscious at the same time. Good as it is all alone, you definitely want to add some of the distinctive tangy yellow mustard sauce so popular in central South Carolina. Its snap teases the most out of the meat.

To go with the pork are more than a dozen different side dishes, including a really tasty hash and rice, cheesy squash casserole, mac 'n' cheese, and a big bin full of help-yourself cracklin's that are feloniously sensual, quite literally melting in the mouth as soon as you crunch down on them.

Note that Dukes is open only Thursday through Saturday.

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Scorecard

4 - Overall: One of the Best - Worth a Trip
Overall: One of the Best - Worth a Trip
Cracklins
Banana Pudding
Fried Chicken
Cabbage
Barbecued Pork
Peach Cobbler
Squash Casserole
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Dip into the big bin with tongs and hoist up great clusters of cracklins, which are just about the most succulent snack imaginable. Strips and bits of pork rind that are deep fried until shattering-crisp, they crunch when you bite them, but then dissolve into a slurry of pure pork flavor on the tongue.
"Dip into the big bin with tongs and hoist up great clusters of cracklins, which are just about the most succulent snack imaginable. Strips and bits of pork rind that are deep fried until shattering-crisp, they crunch when you bite them, but then dissolve into a slurry of pure pork flavor on the tongue."
Michael Stern





Ahh, what a beautiful sight: a South Carolina barbecue buffet. Hands at the upper left belong to a member of the staff preparing a to-go meal.
"Ahh, what a beautiful sight: a South Carolina barbecue buffet. Hands at the upper left belong to a member of the staff preparing a to-go meal."
Michael Stern


South Carolinians like their barbecued pork torn into motley shreds that are moist and subtly smoky. The exemplary version at Dukes is set out in a big tray on the buffet line, then it is up to you to sauce it. The sauce of choice around here is a mustard sauce that is slightly sweet and quite tangy, eliciting full sweet pig flavor from the meat.
"South Carolinians like their barbecued pork torn into motley shreds that are moist and subtly smoky. The exemplary version at Dukes is set out in a big tray on the buffet line, then it is up to you to sauce it. The sauce of choice around here is a mustard sauce that is slightly sweet and quite tangy, eliciting full sweet pig flavor from the meat."
Michael Stern


Isn't it nice that Dukes' fried chicken, in the background, shares pan space with freshly-made potato chips? Both are terrific.
"Isn't it nice that Dukes' fried chicken, in the background, shares pan space with freshly-made potato chips? Both are terrific."
Michael Stern


Loaded with chunks and crumbs of cookie, Dukes' banana pudding is dense and delicious, a dessert that packs big-time satisfaction.
"Loaded with chunks and crumbs of cookie, Dukes' banana pudding is dense and delicious, a dessert that packs big-time satisfaction."
Michael Stern


If you want to sit a spell outside of Dukes, the Welcome Bench offers a wood-carved happy pig as a companion.
"If you want to sit a spell outside of Dukes, the Welcome Bench offers a wood-carved happy pig as a companion."
Michael Stern


Braise cabbage long enough and it becomes one of the gentlest-tempered comfort food vegetables imaginable. Its tender nature makes it a terrific side dish for a meal as full of spice and zest as the barbecue served here.
"Braise cabbage long enough and it becomes one of the gentlest-tempered comfort food vegetables imaginable. Its tender nature makes it a terrific side dish for a meal as full of spice and zest as the barbecue served here."
Michael Stern


Squash rarely tastes as rich and indulgent as it does in Dukes' sumptuous casserole, enriched with cheese and festooned with chewy ribbons of crust from the top of the dish.
"Squash rarely tastes as rich and indulgent as it does in Dukes' sumptuous casserole, enriched with cheese and festooned with chewy ribbons of crust from the top of the dish."
Michael Stern


Tables at Dukes are lined up mess-hall style, for serious eating.
"Tables at Dukes are lined up mess-hall style, for serious eating."
Michael Stern


Dukes' peach cobbler is thick and chewy, more about the pastry than the fruit. It will satisfy a sweet tooth, for sure, but it does not belong in the Cobbler Hall of Fame.
"Dukes' peach cobbler is thick and chewy, more about the pastry than the fruit. It will satisfy a sweet tooth, for sure, but it does not belong in the Cobbler Hall of Fame."
Michael Stern


What does a South Carolinian do when the urge for barbecue strikes Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday?
"What does a South Carolinian do when the urge for barbecue strikes Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday?"
Michael Stern


All the sauces are in bottles up by the buffet line, so tables are set minimally with salt, pepper, and much-needed paper towels.
"All the sauces are in bottles up by the buffet line, so tables are set minimally with salt, pepper, and much-needed paper towels."
Michael Stern



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