South Carolina native M.C. Heyward has lived on Johns Island his entire life (“Folks can do the math and get close, but I ain’t telling nobody my age outright”), the past 42 years of which he has manned the pit for The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Monday-night oyster roast.
What’s the “M.C.” for? Mason Charles. One time I was hunting on Kiawah with Daddy before there was anything here, and I got separated and lost overnight at Sandy Point – that’s the Ocean Course now. I had this young dog with me, and he kept the gators away. In the morning, I hear, “M.C.! M.C.!” I said, “Daddy, why you call me M.C.?” He says, “I can holler ‘M.C.’ longer than ‘Mason.’ ” So it stuck.
How’d you learn the secret art of oyster roasting? From Daddy when I was 11 or 12. But everybody in the family used to help: my brothers, sister, mother – she just recently died at 98.
How’d you come to do it at the resort? We had this big group up from Hilton Head – this was before The Sanctuary – and Frank Brumley, the owner at the time, said, “How are we going to entertain all these folks to keep them from going to Charleston?” So I said, “I’ll do an oyster roast and barbecue for ’em.” That was in 1976, and I been doing it ever since.
Describe the oyster roast party. Mingo Point is right on the banks of the Kiawah River, on the back side of the island. We have a huge pit for roasting oysters, a shed with a barbecue pit, and a big crowd – biggest we had was around 1,300 folks. I still do it the old-timey way that Daddy taught me: a wood fire in a pit with a grill over it and wet burlap sacks thrown on top of the oysters. We have live music, drinks, and local crafts, and we do boat rides, because our pier is right there.
On a good day, you’re roasting up how many bushels? Seventy to 75 bushels – around 7,000 to 7,500 oysters.
Number of kids who get their first roasted oyster from you? A lot. Their parents come up, “You remember when you taught me how to eat an oyster? This is my son. Would you please teach him?” So I do, and then I teach ’em how to shuck. Now I get folks I taught bringing their grands to learn.
Your perfectly roasted oyster in three words? Firm but light.
Cocktail sauce or dipped in butter? Plain, sometimes a little hot sauce. At home I eat ’em with a little rice or grits.
The one other South Carolina seafood everyone should try: Crabs. We get crabs, shrimps, mussels, clams, fish. Growing up, we used to trade what we didn’t eat with farmers for corn, okra, peas; we hardly ever bought any food.
If we’re heading off the property for barbecue, we’d best be going to: My house. But Mike Petrillo up at Crave Smokehouse wood-smokes barbecue – he’s pretty good too.