Six years ago, when retired general contractor Buster Porteus moved to Hendersonville and tried his very first boiled peanut, it wasn’t love at first bite. “I didn’t particularly care for them,” he admits.
That’s partly because Porteus hails from Connecticut — a locale where slowly simmering peanuts on the side of the road seems just as ludicrous as putting sugar in iced tea. (Peanuts were first brought to America by enslaved Africans, and boiled peanuts became a Southern delicacy during the Civil War when Confederate soldiers ran low on rations.)
But the boiled peanuts Porteus first sampled were, simply put, gross. Improperly cooked and scantily seasoned, the snack tasted like bland mush. Determined to up the ante, Porteus got to work refining his own recipe.
In the years since, he has emerged as something of a local legend. People come from near and far for his specialty, which he sells out of Buster’s Boiled Peanuts, a food cart parked at Johnson Family Farm off Kanuga Road.
The entrepreneur cooks the peanuts here, too. Most days of the week, you can find him tending to massive 50-gallon stockpots of bubbly brine right in the parking lot. Exactly what goes into this liquid is classified, as is much of the process. However, Porteus does disclose two trade secrets: First, he uses Virginia peanuts, an extra-large variety with a distinctive texture and flavor. Second, he cooks his peanuts for at least eight hours, sometimes 10.
His patience pays off. Search any Hendersonville-based forum, and you’ll find dozens of folks raving about Buster’s. “Always fresh and delicious,” reads one review. “Boiled to perfection,” another swoons.
Purists stick to the classic flavor, which is salty and oh-so-satisfying when paired with an ice-cold soda. But Porteus offers Cajun and garlic flavors, too. The Cajun variety is piquantly spiced; hints of white pepper and perhaps a smidge of oregano come through the cayenne. Meanwhile, the garlic offering is addictively savory with an almost buttery aftertaste.
“Garlic is definitely my top seller,” Porteus says. “People can’t get enough of them.”
Fanfare aside, Porteus says he’s worried about the future of the boiled peanut business. “Young people just aren’t interested in continuing the tradition because it’s a lot of labor and little pay,” the 73-year-old explains.
But if you’re willing to put in the work, Porteus is willing to teach. “If someone wants to learn how to boil peanuts,” he says, “they know where to find me.”
Buster’s Boiled Peanuts, 1202 Kanuga Road, Hendersonville, open Tuesday through Sunday, 12-6pm or until sold out. The peanut cart closes for the season on December 20 but will reopen on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.