SALLEY — If you had the guts to strut, Salley was be the place to be Saturday.
The town on the edge of eastern Aiken County bills itself as the “Chitlin' Capital of the World,” and it's got the numbers to prove it.
As on every Saturday after Thanksgiving for the last 54 years, thousands of chitlin lovers have converged on the small town – with a population just over 400, according to U.S. census estimates – to celebrate the Southern delicacy made from the small intestine of a pig. You might call Salley “hog heaven” on Earth.
Mark Hartley, a member of Salley's city council, said he and his staff would cook more than a ton – about 3,000 pounds – of chitlins for this year's festival. He estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 of the 20,000 to 30,000 people who attended the Strut would buy a plate of either boiled or fried chitlins.
But does he eat chitlins after preparing all week for the festival?
“No, I taste them. I wouldn't say I eat them,” Hartley said.
Dylan Bennett, who was working in the kitchen with Hartley, said preparations began at 4 a.m. Saturday.
“We've got five cookers for frying chitlins, two cookers for rice and three boilers,” he said.
For some, just tasting chitlins might be a gutsy choice, but for Susie Leavens, feasting on chitlins was eating high on the hog.
Leavens came a little more than 100 miles from Lancaster to Salley for her second Chitlin Strut.
“I love it,” she said, taking a break from her plate of boiled chitlins. “I love the people, and I love to see so much going on.”
But pigging out on chitlins is the main reason she came, she said.
“I love chitlins,” she said. “I love them any way you cook them. I love everything about them. I've been eating them all my life.”
And how would she describe their flavor?
“They taste like chitlins,” Leavens said after thinking for a few seconds. “They got a taste of their own.”
Joe Gantt, 83, comes to the Strut from Batesburg-Leesville in Lexington County every year. Fried chitlins are his favorite.
“My wife buys them at the store and cooks them, but she doesn't cook them like this,” he said. “She doesn't fry them. I like them fried.”
Like Leavens, Gantt said to know what a chitlin tastes like you just have to try them.
“They taste like chitlins,” he said. “They're really good.”