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All reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, especially those like ours which are typically one-time experiences.
Restaurants, like you and I, have their good and bad moments. Couple that with the fact that each person has his or her own taste preferences, and you can understand why any two reasonable people may come away with two entirely different opinions about the same meal.
In an earlier review, we had some not-so-nice things to say about Bessinger’s in the West Ashley area of Charleston. The truth is, we were pretty brutal in that review, so much so that I chose to go back and revise the original.
Upon reflection, I had to agree with owner Michael Bessinger that the review had gone beyond the bounds of fair criticism and was damaging to a business’ reputation. I have also revised our original review of Home Team on Sullivan’s Island for the same reason.
Frankly, when we began this venture, this was a simple blog documenting a family’s “Summer BBQ Tour” in the summer of 2012. I didn’t know that it would evolve into what it has, and I didn’t fully appreciate that our words might harm good people who are working hard to feed SC the BBQ we want and love.
That is not to say that our reviews will avoid being critical. They will criticize when warranted based on our experience, but I hope you find our reviews to be balanced and fair.
To that end, we had an opportunity to revisit Bessinger’s and honestly had a much different experience.
Camden, Heather and I had been doing some back-to-school shopping, and Heather suggested BBQ for lunch.
We discussed a number of places — Melvin’s in Mt. Pleasant, JB’s Smokeshack on John’s Island (now closed), neither of which we’ve reviewed but both of which are closed on Sunday — but I wanted to give Bessinger’s another try.
We arrived at around 1:30. I expected it to be busy. It usually is and the after-church crowd was certain to have added to the numbers, but in this case, we didn’t have to wait.
We entered the buffet side this time.
Bessinger’s has two entrances: on the right, as you approach the building, there is the sandwich shop and on the left, the buffet.
Bessinger’s serves their buffet Friday – Sunday (see hours below). If I remember correctly, the buffet is just shy of $14 a head. Our meal was around $50. (Note: Bessinger’s has since closed their buffet.)
We entered and a friendly waitress took our drink orders, told us to help ourselves to the buffet, and have a seat wherever we’d like, and so we did.
We each filled a salad plate and found a table. Within moments, the waitress arrived with our drinks and a pitcher of sweet tea for refills.
The salad was good, with a crisp, cool, fresh lettuce mix and many options to choose from as you build your salad. We enjoyed them.
Not much to say since it is a salad and you make your own, but the important part was that the options were fresh and there was a good variety of options for building the salad that you wanted.
Next, we went in for the main course.
I returned with pulled pork, ribs, collards, and hash and rice. Heather got the hash and pulled pork with a sausage link, limas, and green beans. Camden returned with pulled pork, mac and cheese, red rice and a roll.
First, believe it or not, I dove into the collards. On our previous visit, I found them lacking in flavor, but Bessinger’s has clearly stepped up its game. Immediately, I noticed small cubes of meat among the leaves. Before, I complained that there was “no hint of any flavor other than collards.”
Today, was different. Many places serve their collards sweet, sometimes too sweet. Bessinger’s doesn’t go that route, allowing the collards to stand on their own, not trying to make them into something else. The meat adds a nice smokey essence and flavor to complement the collards but doesn’t take over.
“They were definitely better than the last time,” I commented in our post-meal discussion. ‘They weren’t sweet like a lot of the collards you’ll get — and frankly that I like — but that certainly didn’t make them bad. They were more salty than sweet, I would say. They put meat in there, which is one of the things I complained about last time that you’d think there would be smokey meat in there, and there was this time.”
I enjoyed them, but I would say my portion, though not obvious in the photo below, was stem-heavy, having lots of thicker stems included in the mix. Not a big problem, but it was just something that stood out at the time.
As for the pork, is it truly 100 Mile BBQ?
We cannot argue with the rating. Bessinger’s is cooking in True ‘Cue style, using wood as their only heat source, and the barbecue we tasted today was as good as any barbecue we’ve tasted on a buffet.
Camden was the first to say it: “The pulled pork was pretty good.”
We all agreed. Heather then described succinctly, yet thoroughly:
“It was sauced ahead of time. It was pulled, it wasn’t chopped. It was not overcooked; it was not mushy,” she said. “I would tell you it did not have a smoky taste to it. As far as BBQ goes, they didn’t chop it, it wasn’t mushy, definitely cooked the right way, it just didn’t have the smoke flavor in it, but again with the quantity of the meat they are probably producing how much smoke flavor can you get in it?”
Camden followed: “Alright, so here are my thoughts about the pulled pork: I think it was pretty good. I’m still holding it to the standard of ordered pulled pork, I mean if you’re going to make pulled pork, you’ve got to do it right. It was still pretty good. But I think when they put it on the buffet, they just got a bottle of mustard sauce and poured it on there; they didn’t mix it in.”
“I think I disagree with that,” I countered, “but they definitely topped it with some sauce. I thought Heather was right, it was not mushy. I think it was sauced some beforehand and topped when they added it to the bar. It’s their “Carolina Gold” mustard sauce, a mustard sauce that has sweetness…”
(Note: Bessinger’s sauce isn’t actually called Carolina Gold.)
“It doesn’t taste mustardy to me,” Heather interjected.
“It wasn’t like Jackie Hite’s or Cannon’s in Little Mountain,” I agreed, “that strong yellow mustard that I don’t like either. It is definitely a Bessinger-style mustard sauce.”
The Bessingers are arguably the first family of BBQ in SC, with several sons of patriarch Joe Bessinger having many restaurants spanning much of the Midlands and Lowcountry of SC. While their sauces aren’t all the same recipe, they all very similar.
In the end, we all agreed that the pulled pork BBQ was very good.
As for the ribs, that generated a bit of conflict in our discussion.
First, we’d like to point out that ribs on a buffet is rare in our experience, so finding them on the buffet was a treat. I don’t know if ribs are always on the buffet or if that is just a Sunday treat, but it was nice to find them there.
“They had smoke flavor,” Heather started.
“I thought they had a strong smoke flavor, definitely more than the BBQ itself,” I agreed.
“And they were on a buffet,” Heather continued, “and I don’t know many places that put ribs on a buffet.”
“It was a good, strong, smoke flavor. It wasn’t a great rib by rib standards, but I don’t think it is fair to judge them by that standard.”
That is to say, it is not like we ordered a rack of ribs. We think it is fair to assume ribs on a buffet should not have to be of equal quality as those you place an order for.
“If you put ribs out for human consumption, they go to a certain, universal standard,” he insisted. “Am I wrong? So you get one standard for ribs, and you either cook them that way or you don’t.”
Camden likes his ribs and isn’t very forgiving, it seems.
Heather continued: “They had smoke flavor. Beyond the smoke flavor, they didn’t seem to be seasoned by anything other than the sauce. I thought they were overcooked, but that is not hard to do when they are sitting on a warmer on a buffet. They were probably cooked the right way and if served right after would have been fine, but you know, it’s a buffet.”
(Let it be noted yet again, Heather doesn’t really care for buffets.)
“I think probably what they did was cook them on racks, took them off the grill, cut them, and then they had to go in a warmer or had to be wrapped, you know, so obviously we’re not getting the ideal serving,” Heather finished.
“Clearly, they fell off the bone,” I said, “which is also not ideal, despite what most people think. They were small..they weren’t meaty ribs.”
“Which is partly my issue…” Camden pouted.
“We didn’t order ribs” I defended. “We didn’t get the order that you’d get if you ordered ribs. We got buffet ribs….”
“Which were perfectly acceptable for what they were,” Heather said.
So while Camden clearly has a single (and very high) standard for ribs, we are confident you will enjoy them. They are tender, smoky and go well with their sauce.
Another thing we’re confident you’ll enjoy is the hash. Yum…
“The hash was great,” I said. “Sweet…”
“No, it was peppery,” Camden countered.
“Isn’t that funny? He keeps saying that…” Heather questioned.
“I didn’t get peppery at all from the hash,” I agreed.
“I loved the hash,” Heather said.
“So did I,” Camden concluded, “but I think it was pretty peppery.”
“I really liked it, too,” I agreed, “but I am going to give them the same complaint that I gave to Robert’s in North Charleston, which is their cousin, so to speak, in that they use ‘industrial rice…institutional rice,’ which again I guess is to be expected on a buffet (whereas Roberts was serving me individually ordered portions). You know, that parboiled, you-can’t-screw-it-up rice.”
That is a minor complaint, and who really cares about the rice when the hash is the star of the show? All in all, the hash is very good.
Turns out we didn’t talk much about the sides afterward, other than the collards. Though I do remember, Heather didn’t care much for the green beans, but we both enjoyed the limas.
“I loved the lima beans. They were good,” Heather said. “The hash was great.”
Also, Heather didn’t love the sausage, saying it was a boiled or steamed. This seems like an odd choice as links cooked on the pit would be so much more flavorful, but it is was it is.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Clearly, our experience this time was very different from our previous visit.
“So the food was better. Obviously, going to the buffet, we had more options of tasting different things, so it wasn’t just what we ordered and that was it and that’s what we had to judge,” Heather pointed out.
That is true. This time, we had an opportunity to sample a wider selection and came away quite pleased with our meal. We think you will, too.
Mon – Thur: 10:30 am – 9:30 pm
Fri – Sat: 10:30 am – 10:00 pm
Sun: 11:30 am – 9:30 pm
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We’ve published a number of great recipes on destination-bbq, and we’ve published even more sauce (and rub) recipes in the SCBBQ Recipes: Going Whole Hog Cookbook. If you are a fan of Bessinger’s Golden BBQ sauce, check it out.
Read more about the cookbook here, and here is a listing of some of the mustard sauce recipes in the book:
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