A Few Words About BBQ and Other Things

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.


3 thoughts on “A Few Words About BBQ and Other Things”

  1. I will bet my last dollar that because of what some people call racism they have missed out on some of the most wonderful things in the world and they themselves have been guilty of the same things they accuse others of.
    Bessinger for whatever you think of him either good or bad was discriminated against to the extent that people went into places where he was selling his sauces and they would open the bottle and close it back thinking they were hurting him when really they were possibly making someone that bought the sauce sick now tell me is that Racist or not ?
    I travel 500 hundred miles just to have his barbecue and buy his sauces so I guess that makes me a racist well if I am it sure tastes good to be a Racist

    1. What Bessinger advocated was nothing but pure racist ideology. What companies did by not carrying his products because of it is called responsible capitalism and protecting a corporate image. What some did by sabotaging his product and endangering others is criminal. That you may have continued to buy and consume his products is just another example of capitalism. You voted with your dollars just as I did by choosing to stop patronizing his businesses. From what others, who know better than I, are saying, his children are not following in their father’s ideological footsteps. From what I’ve now been told, I’ll probably stop in for a sandwich and some real onion rings next time I pass through Columbia.

  2. Growing up in Columbia, SC I used to swoon at the delicious smell riding past Piggie Park on the way to visit relatives downstate but, Daddy would never stop. As I got older integration happened and Maurice Bessinger became one of the state’s most vociferous citizens opposing it so, I swore that I would never go there as long as he lived….never having tasted that wonderful smell. After moving away, when visiting, I would always get a ‘barbecue fix’ at another place which was pretty divine itself. Then, one year I heard my place had closed and like Roseanne Rosannadanna – “I thought I was gonna die!” as I refused to patronize Maurice’s establishment as long as he was alive. Fortunately, not much later, the old SOB died and I ended my 50 year boycott. Mom’s Mabley told a joke: “You ain’t supposed to say nothin’ about the dead unless it’s good. Well then, ‘He’s dead!….Good!’.”

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