Rex McKinney

Dead Dog Saloon
Surfside Beach, SC
Chef Swap Ingredient:
Secret Spice Blend
Cuisine Style:

As a youngster, Rex Mckinney was a busboy at a water park and yearned to learn more about the inner workings of a commercial kitchen. He is a steadfast soldier in an industry he loves but believes everyone needs big dollops of patience to be a part of it.


About Rex McKinney

Rex Mckinney is busier than a worker bee, talented, an expert at multitasking, a visionary, and a lover of food and its history.

His food is family-friendly, American to its core, and familiar. Mckinney is a fixture at Dead Dog Saloon, a popular restaurant known for its crowds, eats, views, and live music. The eatery, at 4079 US 17 Business in Murrells Inlet, is one of the reasons traffic frequently comes to a crawl in the summer. Locals and visitors like Murrells Inlet restaurants with live music, seafood, and exquisite views of the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk.

Inside one of its most happening hangouts, Mckinney cooks nearly nonstop. He is engaged in the kitchen business even when other restaurants shut down until February.

He has been in the industry for 25 years. His baptism into it came as a busboy employed at Wild Water & Wheels, a former water park in Surfside Beach.

“My parents worked very hard to try and provide the best life they could for us,’’ Mckinney said. “They instilled in me how important it is to work hard to provide for your family. I continue this now with my family. Of course, being young, I was excited about making my own money to be able to purchase things I wanted in life at the time.”

His first intimate views of cooking came when he worked as a busboy, not at home.

“My mom was always the cook in our home unless we were grilling then my dad would be in charge of the food,’’ he said. “I didn't get involved too much with cooking growing up. I just had a love for food. I started learning to cook when I worked. When I started my first job as a busboy, the cooks there just sort of took me under their wing and I loved the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. It just grew from there.”

During his early years as a rookie, Mckinney quickly acquired an understanding of his career.

“You are going to burn yourself a lot,’’ Mckinney said.

Chefs can show burns to their arms and hands, which is a hazard to a job wherever heat sources are.

Experience, however, is a maker of wisdom. He gets fewer burns, but the details of this high-octane industry are in stone.

“You cannot please everyone,’’ he said. “I think all chefs should know this. You just have to continue to do the best you can do and try to give people the best dining experience possible.”

McKinney knows how to deliver esteemed eats, especially barbecue.

“From pulled pork to ribs, everyone seems to come back for more,’’ he said.

He gets compliments for other foods, including his seafood interpretations.

“Dinner was very good,’’ said Jeff Meyers, a local guide for Google reviews, who gave Dead Dog Saloon five stars. “Crab cake was delicious.”

Poised under pressure, Mckinney believes one of the paramount personality traits a chef must have is tolerance.

“I think everyone knows that you have to have the ability to cook, but this is only a small portion of being a chef,’’ Mckinney said. “What I don't think people realize is how much patience you need to have in this field of work. You need patience with your staff, your food purveyors, your guests, and everything else that involves running a kitchen operation but most importantly patience with yourself. You are not always going to please everyone. Some people are not going to like some of your food and sometimes you will think you have failed but you must keep going.”

Tara Kennedy, a server at Dead Dog Saloon, said Mckinney handles stress with aplomb.

“His most unique quality as a chef is his ability to think and act quickly under pressure,’’ said Kennedy, who has known him for about 20 years. “He seems to work better the more pressure he is under.”

When not working, he relaxes by playing golf, traveling, and doing anything related to technology, including gaming and custom computer building.

McKinney is about the business of building and recognizing the capacity of food to connect people.

“Good food makes it a more pleasant experience,'' he said. "Regardless of the food quality, people are still brought together by the dining experience,’’ he said. “I would also say that most chefs cook from the culture that they know. So not only are you connecting people but whole culture.

By Johanna Wilson Jones

“You cannot please everyone. I think all chefs should know this. You just have to continue to do the best you can do and try to give people the best dining experience possible.”

Rex McKinney
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