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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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David Bessinger

Bessinger, certainly the most famous surname in South Carolina barbecue. Mustard sauce, Piggy Park. Icons of South Carolina history and culture and Bessinger family inventions.

One of fourteen children born to Mack Bessinger, restaurant patriarch Joseph Jacob, was known as ‘Big Joe.’ He moved from the family farm near Orangeburg to open the Holly Hill Café in 1939. There, together with the Sweatman family, he concocted a mustard-based barbecue sauce, owning to their shared German roots. That “Golden Secret,” as the Bessingers call it, became the state’s signature sauce.

Melvin Bessinger, like most of his ten siblings, followed his father into the barbecue business. In 1961, with another brother, Melvin opened his first barbecue restaurant in west Charleston. In the 1990s, Melvin split off to found his own barbecue joint. Today, third-generation barbecue entrepreneur, David Bessinger, maintains the Bessinger family tradition.

Date of interview:
2012-06-26 00:00

Rien Fertel

Denny Culbert

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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