Here we go...another South Carolina landmark.
Bessinger's BBQ is everyone's first recommendation for bbq when visiting Charleston. I've been coming to this fine city for nearly four years (recently moving here), but never ventured to Bessinger's for two reasons. 1) Most reviews I've read say they drown the meat with sauce (SC mustard based). 2) They cook hams (which I'm no fan of).
Well, my better half has been "bbq'd out" as of late, but Bessinger's has burgers and such so we stopped in this evening. She got a burger and I tried a combo of 3 bbq plate that included pork, beef, ribs, mac & cheese, and hash & rice.
Let's start with my sides. The ubiquitous hash & rice...we've had a couple pretty good examples of hash lately. Bessinger's hash didn't measure up in my opinion. When I first tasted it I immediately said that it tasted like hot dog chili. After a couple of bites I noticed quite a bit of liquid swimming around the bottom of the plate. This was some of the wateriest hash I've tried. It wasn't bad, but I've had much better in recent weeks. The mac & cheese was decent at best. The biggest flavor in the mac was egg. They are using double the amount of egg they need to be using. It really took over the flavor of the mac and made it difficult to enjoy.
My pork was exactly as other internet review describe. It was coarsely chopped/pulled and thoroughly coated with the Bessinger's mustard based sauce which made it sweet and tangy. I could tell that under all that sauce was some very bland, somewhat dry pork. Hams really don't have much flavor on their own and tend to be dry. I figure this is the biggest reason they drown it in sauce. I didn't detect any seasoning on the pork except for the sauce and a light smoke.
The beef looked to be slices of top round. Save for a light smoke flavor the beef really had no flavor on its own. They added a bit of sauce for me, but it was helped out tremendously by adding more sauce at the table. Again, the beef didn't appear (or taste) to be seasoned before cooking.
The ribs were tasty, but light on seasoning (there's a trend of under seasoned bbq here). Like the other meats on my plate, I don't think the ribs were seasoned prior to cooking. It did taste like some of the mustard sauce was cooked into the ribs before coming out of the pit. Again, there was a light smokiness. I got a three bone section of a St. Louis cut spare rib. These also improved with the addition of more sauce at the table.
Speaking of sauces on the table...you have a choice of the Bessinger's mustard sauce and a tomato based red sauce. Both of these are very sweet and have no spicy heat whatsoever. The mustard sauce would rate right in the middle of what I've been served so far in South Carolina. I've had worse and I've had much better. The red sauce was better than the mustard sauce. The red contains some liquid smoke which adds to its flavor.
One thing the Bessinger clan is known for is their BIG onion rings. Each meal comes with a single onion ring. These are supposed to be extremely popular, but I can't figure out why. It was like eating a doughnut shaped hushpuppy that happened to have an onion inside. These things were so doughy you couldn't enjoy them. We ended up pulling the slimy little onion out of the center and eating it, leaving the hushpuppy behind.
There were things we liked about Bessingers and things we didn't like. I've said this alot lately about some places we've been, "nothing we had was bad, but nothing was outstanding either." This bbq restaurant is supposed to be the icon around Charleston. While it wasn't bad, I'm not sure how long it will be before we go back to Bessinger's. We're in no hurry.