Nancy had a better offer, leaving me to fend for myself. The old me would sit on the couch eating lots of cured meats and salty snacks while quaffing brewed beverages. No more! I’ve turned over a new leaf of self-improvement and personal growth.
Why not go to South Carolina and research pork barbecue and South Carolina hash?
First, some planning. I decided to fly down rather than drive so as to avoid the distractions of North Carolina barbecue — I’d never get there driving. Next, I sought expert advice, and no one knows South Carolina barbecue like Robert Moss, the Barbecue Expert for Southern Living, restaurant critic for the Charleston paper, and the author of five or so books on Southern food and drink. I reached out and he graciously gave me not only recommendations, but also agreed to join me for lunch.
We met at Melvin’s in Mount Pleasant, founded by Melvin Bessinger.
The Bessinger family pedigree dates back to early in the last century when Joe Bessinger cooked pork over a pit he’d dug in the ground with the assistance of his seven sons. Most or all of them have gone on to start barbecue places. Keeping track of them is exponentially more complicated than the intertwining barbecue relationships I discussed on Whispering Pines. If you want full details, ask Robert. I’ll just note that Maurice, of the Confederacy-themed Maurice’s Piggy Park, was the gray sheep of the family, and solely responsible for his own eccentricities.
Getting back to Melvin’s, it’s been around since 1982. Melvin briefly fell from grace and switched to a Southern Pride. He saw the light as Rodney Scott’s and Lewis opened in Charleston cooking exclusively with wood, and Melvin’s returned to the true faith and BG direct heat cookers.
I was planning on four meals, so I only ordered a pork sandwich with a side of hash and rice.
That doesn’t show the meat, does it? Fear not. Robert ordered a two-meat plate (pork and ribs) with hash and butter beans as his sides. You also see some cornbread and their mustard sauce.
You can see there a good share of outside meat, the great bark you get by cooking in a pit over direct heat, and the yellowish mustard tinge. It’s different from my usual Ollie’s vinegar-pepper sauce, but it works well to offset the richness of the pork. And that’s some good pork, moist and smoky, with a nice balance of textures between the meat and the bark. The taste of rib that Robert gave me to try had those same merits in abundance, only without mustard.
I enjoyed the hash. This was maybe my fourth hash since I’ve been paying close attention, and I’ve been struck that no two hashes seem to be the same. Lake High, president of the South Carolina Barbeque Association and author of A History of South Carolina Barbeque, describes hash as “liquid sausage,” although it can be a malleable solid, as at Henry’s in Greenville. Hash usually is based on pork, but some cooks use beef, as at Midway. The meat cooks for many hours with onions, potatoes, or whatever the cook wants to add. Initially, it consisted of leftover parts of the hog, the “head, liver, and lights” (lungs): poor folks’ food. Today, with truly hardscrabble days behind us, hash has been tamed considerably, and many, perhaps most, are all meat and no offal. Others have a hint of liver, as you get in a good pâté de campagne, much as with today’s scrapple and livermush, only without their aggressive pepper and sage seasoning.
Melvin’s hash tastes liver-free, and it contains bits of carrot in addition to the usual onion and potato, all thoroughly blended and served over beautifully cooked rice. The flavor is mild and quite pleasant, with some real depth and a touch of earthiness to the flavor. The hash is pure comfort food, and I can see that anyone who grew up with it and then moves away will long for it. I lean toward heavy seasonings, so as I eat more, I may consider adding some pepper or that panacea, Texas Pete, but the flavor is fine as it is. Melvin’s barbecue and hash and rice hit the spot.
This was a wonderful meal, not least because I was dining with Robert Moss. He offered a wealth of knowledge about the history of barbecue (and hash) in South Carolina and beyond, and also about current barbecue places and the various styles of barbecue all over the United States. In addition to an encyclopedic knowledge and broad experience in the matter of cuisines, he has a wonderful relaxed manner and a bright sense of humor. You couldn’t ask for a better companion to start a trip across South Carolina.
Any fan of barbecue, or of food for that matter, should really explore South Carolina barbecue and the wide variety of mustard sauces. And order hash and rice wherever you go. You’ll learn to love it, as I do.
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One thought on “Melvin’s Barbecue, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina”
Beautiful southern barbecue tray!
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