CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The patriarch of “the first family of BBQ,” Thomas Bessinger, Sr., has died, his family said on Facebook.

Bessinger was raised in Holly Hill, S.C., and began his cooking career at just 14, working for his father’s restaurant.

In his later years, he joined the U.S. Army and became a chef cooking for soldiers overseas. After being discharged from the Army, he relocated to Charleston to help his brother with one of the family’s Piggy Park restaurants.

He opened Bessinger’s BBQ in 1960, and the family-owned and operated barbeque staple was born. Bessinger continued to work in the kitchen well into his life. Today, Bessinger’s BBQ is owned by his two sons, Michael and Tommy.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to our BBQ patriarch. He is our SC BBQ legend, and his heart and soul was his restaurant. He worked harder than anyone and would take care of the needs of those around him, no questions asked. He had a tough exterior and a soft heart. Charleston has lost an amazing man, but he is with his creator in heaven. Thank you to all of our customers and friends who have asked about him daily and kept him in your prayers. We hope those who knew him will think of him fondly when they have some mustard-based BBQ. We hope to honor him by carrying on with his legacy of BBQ! Thomas Bessinger, Sr 1931-2023,” Bessinger’s BBQ stated.

Visitation for Bessinger will be on Nov. 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at McAlister-Smith Funeral and Cremation.