I planned a trip through three southern cities: Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and Atlanta, Georgia. One of my goals was to eat as much barbecue as I could and experience the different menu items and recipe nuances each spot had to offer. The only challenge was that I had just two days to do it in Charleston.KJ Kearney is the manpower behind Black Food Fridays, a social-media moniker he's been using since April 2020 to share facts about Black food, American history, and to teach followers about the cross-section of Black culture and food.The educator and South Carolina native posts short videos on Instagram and TikTok explaining information about specific people and foods that are important to the history of the American palate. Kearney told me his personal top three barbecue joints, and since he currently lives in the area, I knew I wanted to have him come along for the ride.We're here because if you're coming to Charleston and you want to try some barbecue, there aren't a whole lot of places to go that I believe are a quality representation of what Charleston is as a food city, Kearney told me. And I think Home Team is definitely one of those places.He said that this eatery has mastered the art of entertaining without allowing the food to suffer as a consequence of high customer volume. But, we were also there to try the wings. Kearney told me that he goes to Home Team exclusively for the smoked wings. When we got to the restaurant, I saw that they were the very first item listed on the menu. We ordered a small portion (six wings) for $10.50, which came with a side of Alabama white sauce. I always advise people, no matter what you do, eat the meat first, then sauce it, Kearney said. Because if you just dump sauce on it, you don't know if it's good or not.So that's what we did.These chicken wings were coated in a crust of brown sugar, which is something I'd never tried before. Kearney said it's what makes them so iconic, and I agree. While the flavor of it wasn't overpowering, I was able to smell it right away as I brought the wing close to my face to take a bite.The brown sugar makes for a unique texture, and then you get hit with the flavor that's almost caramel-like. Kearney pointed out that the brown sugar cuts a lot of the spice that's in the rub.Kearney called Alabama white sauce just basically fancy mayonnaise, acknowledging that it was working overtime on this plate delivering so much flavor. It was thin and runny in terms of viscosity, and the flavor was vinegar-forward. Each restaurant will do Alabama white sauce differently, he said, so always taste before you use it. After looking at the extensive menu, we decided that a three-meat platter ($31.25) plus two sides — mac and cheese, and hash and rice ($4 each) — was the best way to go. It all came to the table with a small dinner roll and a mini pile of pickles as well. The hash and rice is a big deal in the South, but a lot of people who aren't from the South, they have strong opinions on it, Kearney said. So if you're going to taste some Southern stuff, let's go for it.As we dove in, he explained that it's basically chopped pork and rice. It's not complicated at all, he said. Though it will probably be a little different everywhere you order it.After tasting it plain, we then tried it with different sauces, each of which completely changed the flavor profile. The meat was soft but had some chunkier bits throughout, and it acted as a binding agent for the rice plated underneath it. The mac and cheese had some crushed peppercorn in the recipe, which we could see just by looking at it. The cheese was saucy and silky in texture, and tasted like gourmet white cheddar Velveeta — in my opinion, that's a wonderful thing.Pulled pork is the signature of all good barbecue places, Kearney said, so that was up next. Home Team uses Boston butt (also known as pork shoulder). It was both juicy and tender, and took on sauces well.We also tried the brisket, which was moist and savory with undertones of smokey flavor. It tasted great when piled high with a scoop of mac and cheese.The meat and bone on the ribs held together when I picked one up, but I didn't have to tear into it too much to get the two components to separate. They had an outer layer that acted as that sticky, chewy part, but the meat underneath was moist and traditional in flavor.Inside, there were people sitting at the bar eating and drinking, and then there were some people seated at both low and high-top tables. TVs lined the walls and there were even a couple outside for those who chose to sit at the picnic tables like we did.I got the feeling that this could be a great game-day hangout spot for anyone looking to eat well and get slightly rowdy with fellow diners. We were able to walk just a few minutes to Lewis from Home Team, which was a nice little transition for our appetites. For Kearney, Lewis is love by association.I have had so many good times while eating their food, he said. For example, it's the place I had real pastrami for the first time. (As a New Yorker, I felt it was my responsibility to return the favor and tell him what I thought about this classic NY deli food. But more on that later.)At Lewis, there's more of a Texas flair to the barbecue served up from behind a counter. Kearney said the brisket is revered as some of the best in the city, and even Food + Wine magazine called it some of the best Texas brisket you could ever hope to find on Carolina soil.I've been told that their brisket is top-notch, but we're really going to explore together, Kearney said as we got ready to order. So we went with the central-Texas-style classic (priced at $27 per pound), a single Texas hot guts sausage ($6), coleslaw ($3.50), mac and cheese ($4), and the pastrami ($28 per pound), which was listed as a Thursday special. The plate came with slices of white bread and a large pile of pickles. We started this tasting with the sausage. Is it delicious? Yes, this is delicious. Am I gonna come here for this? No. Not me, anyway, Kearney said.He did say that taking a bite with a pickle or mac and cheese at the same time changed it up and made it more appealing to his palate. But Kearney warns anyone looking for a spicy sausage that it's probably not going to be as hot as you're expecting.The casing on this sausage was super thick and snappy, so for anyone who is into the snap factor like I am, this link delivers. We then tried the brisket, which we found to be a bit drier than the one at Home Team, though still delicious and flavorful. The layer of fat wasn't as aggressive as it sometimes can be, and it added moisture to the top layer of meat. The sleeper hit on this menu, according to the two of us at least, is the pastrami. It was melt-in-your-mouth good. That just evaporated, Kearney said after taking his first bite of the fat-laden, second-cut meat. In my opinion, it's very good. The flavor that hit the back of my mouth was spot-on for how I'm used to pastrami tasting. Initially, though, it had notes that reminded me more of Southern barbecue, and I think that had to do with the fact that it was probably cooked in the same place the brisket was cooked. But that's what made it unique. I think it's New York pastrami made for a Southern palate, which was really cool to experience.Kearney was blown away. I promised him a trip to Katz's Delicatessen in NYC next time he travels up north. We tried the sides in conjunction with the meats. The coleslaw was light and vinegar-based, which paired well with the rich, fatty meats, and the mac and cheese was more dry than saucy like it had been baked, whereas I thought Home Team's was cooked in a pot. At Lewis Barbecue, guests wait in line and order from the counter. You watch as team members load your tray with each item and check out once you reach the end of the line. Then you walk your tray to any table you'd like. It reminded me of the delis in New York, which made the pastrami make sense in my mind. There were two separate bars as well. One looked like a pick-up window and the other had stools for customers to sit and socialize. We ate our meal outside on the picnic tables right next to the pit room. I like, to be frank, that it's a Black dude who owns a restaurant in Downtown Charleston, Kearney said, explaining that his high regard for Rodney Scott's is threefold.No. 1, it's rare that he's here, he said. No. 2, he's in the barbecue hall of fame! You don't get that every day. And No. 3, the food has gotten progressively better.Kearney said that when the downtown restaurant first opened, he wasn't very impressed by the food. But now, he says it's exponentially more delicious. Kearney told me that in speaking with Scott once, he learned that the quality has improved because the chef and cookbook author was able to figure out how to properly scale his business — keeping quality and quantity equally high. I had spent the entire day before with Scott himself, asking for cooking tips and learning how he runs his restaurant, so that's when I got to try all of his food for myself. I mean, all of the food is delicious, Kearney told me. But specifically, the smoked wings and ribs are some of the most delicious things I've ever had in my life.I agreed and would add the whole-hog pulled pork to that list. Scott's wings are purposefully not fall-off-the-bone, but I found that I didn't have to try too hard to pull the meat off either. His signature rub is both spicy and savory and lends itself well to the chef's small variety of sauce options. The meat was juicy when I tried them and I could have easily made my way through an entire rack. Biting into Scott's smoked wings was a moment I hope not to forget anytime soon. They were dry on the outside and so moist inside. There was no coating other than seasoning, and a quick dip into the fryer sealed in all the flavor. The difference between his pork and the one I tried at Home Team was the noticeable variation in meats. Where Home Team used just the shoulder, Scott uses meat from across the entire animal, offering different textures and flavor experiences in just one bite. Having gone through a tasting with Scott, I would say his baked beans, banana pudding, and potato salad stood out to me as top contenders. The beans have bits of meat in them, the banana pudding was inspired by his mother's recipe and is sweet without being overwhelming, and the potato salad had the perfect texture balance of creamy and chunky, in my opinion. Rodney Scott's restaurant is set up for customers to order and pay at the counter, and grab a table while they wait for their food to come out. The food is prepped and plated in the kitchen, not on the counter line like it is at Lewis. While diners can feel like they're really getting a restaurant experience, it's also an efficient way for Scott to keep up with the large crowds that come in for lunch and dinner daily. After visiting all three, I noticed only subtle differences like sauce options and certain menu variations. Barbecue is an art form and a labor of love. So it makes sense that the flavors and influences will change depending on who is cooking it. Regardless, there were things I loved about each menu. Sampling from different restaurants all within the same city was a great way to experience the nuances in cooking and in what happens when people take their own experiences and apply them to the same meal or dish. You always get something slightly different, and it makes sense that the idea of barbecue has made its way into regional food spaces all around the country. America being a melting pot of people, it's also a melting pot of cuisines, Kearney said. And barbecue is, like, foolproof. You can mess it up, but the idea, the concept, is foolproof. We have meat, we have fire, we have sauce — let's put it together. You can't really go wrong with that.