Growing up in West Columbia, I always considered Maurice Bessinger a sort of father figure. I’ve mentioned before that my tee-ball team was sponsored by Piggie Park, and I considered Little Joe, the illuminated cartoon pig who monitors the intersection of Charleston Highway and Airport Boulevard, to be one of the Seven Wonders of West Columbia.
But the name Bessinger is synonymous with barbecue in the Lowcountry, too. Octogenarian Melvin, whose son David now runs Melvin's Bar-B-Que in Mount Pleasant, is the oldest living Bessinger restaurateur -- a word which surprisingly lacks an n. His relationship with his Midlands-based younger brother, best as I gathered from reading “The Story of Melvin’s Legendary Bar-B-Que” and Defending My Heritage: The Maurice Bessinger Story, has been strained, to put it lightly.
Each Bessinger claims to have been promised the family biz in Holly Hill by father Joe, after whom each of the brothers has named a sandwich. According to Melvin’s story, “Melvin’s father asked him on his death bed to run the famous restaurant after he passed away.” This was 1949.
According to Maurice’s account of his teen years, “I’d never given such matters much thought, but Daddy said to us that ‘Maurice will get the business…’” This was 1947.
Each claims their sauce is the secret family recipe. Says Melvin’s, “His father gave him at the age of 10 years old the Golden Secret Recipe and how to cook the hogs in the ground as well as other family recipes.”
Maurice has a different account. “It was an old family heirloom. Actually, it is hundreds of years old. Daddy went on improving and refining it for the rest of his life. I inherited the recipe when I built Piggie Park Enterprises into the largest barbecue operation in the world.”
I have my own theory, called the Third Bessinger-Hunley-Lizard Man Conspiracy, but I’ll share that at another time. For now, let me say that if you find yourself in Mount Pleasant, like Gervais did last weekend, you must go get some of Melvin’s 'cue. I had the Blue Plate Special: pulled pork, the best collards I’ve had this millennium, cornbread, and cole slaw. It was great. Not a buffet, but that’s my only gripe. The cheeseburgers are supposedly world renowned, too.
Also, maybe read the Maurice Bessinger story. Even if you don’t believe that public education is an instrument of the New World Order, which is the forerunner to the anti-Christ, you might enjoy this book. Um, no, it’s not at Barnes & Noble.