Ohio never had much of a barbecue heritage and growing up there I had no knowledge of what real barbecue was. I also had no knowledge of the great variety and the forever argument over who has the best. Barbecue to us buckeyes was what you got at a drive-in restaurant and it usually came out of a can, sauce and all.
My first experience with real Carolina ‘cue was at Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, NC. We spent a week at Atlantic Beach and when we’d talk to people on the beach they’d ask us if we had stopped at Wilber’s for the barbecue. At the end of the week, on the way back to Ohio, we stopped and had a large family style meal of pulled pork, vinegar slaw, potato salad, hush puppies, sweet tea, and banana pudding. For years we went to Atlantic Beach every year and never passed Wilber’s without stopping for a plate. It was my first and to this day, remains my favorite. Matter of fact, there’s a bottle of Wilber’s Eastern Carolina vinegar sauce in our fridge at this moment.
My second experience with Carolina ‘cue came from Maurice Bessinger’s Piggy Park in Columbia. A former student had moved to Columbia and discovered Piggy Park barbecue. On a trip home, he brought several pounds and gave one to us, along with a small container of mustard sauce.
On subsequent trips through Columbia, we’d get take out at Piggy Park and eat along the road in our motor home. Sometime later we took the time to go inside and that’s when I first learned a little of Maurice’s politics. One couldn’t help but notice all the printed materials being offered but I didn’t take the time to look into them. We were there for the food.
It was several years before Bessinger and his politics made the news up this way and I started to learn that he seemed just as interested in pushing his views on God’s own slavery, as he was in selling smoked hams. About the time he lost lots of his national business is when we wrote Piggy Park off our list of favorite Southern stops.
Over the years I became very interested in the history and variety of barbecue, even to the point of becoming a certified judge for the Memphis BBQ Network. For years we didn’t make a trip south without seeking out what locals said was the best. On one occasion I and a friend even drove to Huntsville, TX to check out a joint that CBS Sunday Morning claimed to have the world’s best. It was a fun trip but the meat fell far short of the claim.
My son and I decided to start learning some of the pit master arts and while we have a lot to learn about smoking brisket we’ve learned to handle our own with pulled Boston butts and ribs. It’s not competition quality but as good, if not better, than what’s typically found in restaurants.
Back to Maurice Bessinger, I recently wondered what became of that business? I know that he had passed but knew nothing about what he left behind. I saw a newspaper article in the Charlotte Observer saying that Bessinger’s children now run the business and that they have put the politics to rest and are concentrating on building a reputation based on quality food rather than segregation politics.
The author of the Observer article hadn’t been to Piggy Park for twenty-five years and was reluctant to do so. I haven’t been there for twenty years and share that same reluctance. It’s kind of a timely topic in that a German family that has a large stake in such companies as Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme Donuts has come forward with news that their grandfather was a strong supporter of Hitler and had used slave labor in his factories during the WWII era.
In the case of the German family, they are donating around $11 million to help those families who were hurt by the Holocaust. It will be interesting to see if they can avoid being hurt by their family’s past just as it will be interesting to see if a welcoming smile and a good pulled pork sandwich can do the same for the Bessingers.