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In 'Ed Mitchell's Barbeque,' legendary pitmaster and son share trade secrets

Ryan Mitchell (left) and his father Ed Mitchell (right) are the authors of "Ed Mitchell's Barbeque." (Baxter Miller)
Ryan Mitchell (left) and his father Ed Mitchell (right) are the authors of "Ed Mitchell's Barbeque." (Baxter Miller)

North Carolina barbeque legend Ed Mitchell and his son Ryan Mitchell have just published “Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque” — and that’s ‘q-u-e,’ not ‘c-u-e.’

Barbeque is neither ribs, pulled pork nor brisket. The Mitchell family’s story in rural North Carolina connects to what’s called whole-hog barbeque, an African American tradition that entails roasting an entire animal from whiskers to tail in a pit.

“The hog is what survived the test of time as far as cooking barbeque,” Ryan Mitchell says. “But our story kind of starts there, that ranges from the plantation to sharecropping and all the way up through modern-day living here in the Carolinas, man.”

Ryan Mitchell wrote “Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque” with his dad, Ed Mitchell. (Baxter Miller)

Ed Mitchell — a legend in the business who defeated celebrity chef Bobby Flay — started cooking barbeque as a teenager. In 1991, Ed Mitchell’s grandfather died and he returned home to Wilson, North Carolina, to help his mother run the family store. That’s when a customer saw barbeque cooked for a family dinner sitting on the counter.

“My grandma’s like, ‘Just give him some. Don’t worry about it.’ So my dad looks at the guys like, ‘Hey man, here, take a sandwich,” Ryan Mitchell says. “And [the customer] goes off into the neighborhood and tells the community, ‘Yeah, man, the Mitchells are selling barbeque.’ And that’s how it began.”

Long before Ed Mitchell started cooking barbeque, Black Americans found a sense of pride in cooking whole-hog barbeque, his son says. On plantations, enslaved people used skills like cooking to establish value.

“It was just about finding a way to be proud of something that originally was not meant to be some badge of honor,” Ryan Mitchell says. “Giving a voice to those ancestors is kind of what we do throughout the book.”

Historically, pit masters — the experts in those days — were Black Americans. But as time goes on, they’re not necessarily the barbeque business proprietors in places like North Carolina.

Ryan Mitchell says the history of whole-hog barbeque is largely untold.

“The way in which we decide who the greatest are is usually determined by what business has operated the longest. Usually, that doesn’t include a lot of African Americans because we don’t have the resources to have those businesses and to be in those positions,” he says. “Our story gets under-told quite a bit because we’re usually in the back cooking while someone else’s name is on the proprietor side of the business.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

Book excerpt: ‘Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque’

By Ed Mitchell and Ryan Mitchell

Cracklin’ Hush Puppies. (Baxter Miller)

Cracklin’ Hush Puppies

Serves 5 Prep Time: 10 minutes • Cook Time: 20 minutes

In 1993, Tony, one of our chefs, was freestyling in the kitchen and making some food for himself on his break. He took some cracklin’ crumbs, added them to our hush puppy batter, and fried them. As soon as Ryan tried Tony’s cracklin’ hush puppies, they became a household favorite.

  • Canola oil, for frying
  • 1 cup self-rising cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 medium-sized egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup crumbled fresh crispy pork cracklin’
  • True Made Foods’ Carolina Gold BBQ
  • Sauce or tartar sauce, for serving

HEAT oil in a deep fryer or high-sided frying pan to 350°F (if using a frying pan,

make sure you use enough oil for the hush puppies to float). In a large bowl,

stir together the cornmeal, flour, and onion. Stir in the egg, buttermilk, and

honey. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then stir again, but this time add the

pork cracklin’. It’s important to add the cracklin’ last to hold its crisp texture.

Working in batches, drop the batter by the tablespoon into the hot oil (or

portion it into the oil with a small ice cream scoop). Fry until the hush puppies

are golden brown or start to float. Drain on a paper towel and enjoy them nice

and hot. Serve with BBQ sauce or tartar sauce.

Let ‘Em Roll Fried Green Tomatoes

Serves 4 Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes

Let ‘Em Roll Fried Green Tomatoes. (Baxter Miller)

Fried green tomatoes were a side dish my mother made to go along with our barbeque. We started visiting other barbeque restaurants in other cities and saw fried green tomatoes on their menus, so we added Mama’s fried green tomatoes to our menu. They became a hit in both North Carolina and New York. Season your tomatoes, batter them in flour, put them in your oil, and let ’em roll.

  • 4 green tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dash of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • Vegetable or canola oil, for frying
  • Pimento cheese and cooked bacon or fried pork belly, for serving

CUT each green tomato into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Pat with a paper towel to

remove some of the moisture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

IN a shallow dish, combine the flour, garlic powder and sugar, plus salt and

pepper to taste. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl. In another shallow dish,

combine the bread crumbs, onion powder, and Italian seasoning.

COAT each green tomato slice in the flour mixture, then dip it into the egg

mixture, and finally dredge it in the bread crumb mixture, making sure that

each slice is fully dressed. Fry 3 or 4 slices at a time for 3 to 4 minutes on each

side, until golden brown in a fryer or in a deep pan on low-medium

heat. Drain them on paper towels. Top with pimento cheese and cooked bacon or fried pork belly.

Rib Tips with Ed’s Memphis Barbeque Sauce. (Baxter Miller)

Rib Tips with Ed’s Memphis Barbeque Sauce

Serves 8 Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 4 hours

We didn’t know that Chicago had a rib tip history and culture. We were just trying to find a way to cut our overhead costs and not waste product. Waste not, want not! That’s the pitmaster’s secret principle when it comes to rib tips.

I wanted to add a finger food appetizer to the menu. When I introduced the idea to serve rib tips, our partners and cooks said, “Who is going to eat gristle?” Well, our customers loved it, and clearly I was thinking like Black pitmasters from Chicago did almost a hundred years ago when they left the South and had to make a way out of no way.

To cut rib tips, you have to take a full slab of unprocessed spareribs, or untrimmed spareribs. The trimmed parts that you would normally discard are the BEST part.

  • 1/2 cup True Made Foods Ed’s Undefeated Legend Rib Rub
  • 1/2 cup of True Made Foods Ed’s Kansas City BBQ Sauce
  • 5 pounds pork rib tips

MIX the rib rub and BBQ sauce in a medium bowl. Generously spread the mixture on the rib tips. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

SMOKE the rib tips at between 225° and 250°F for 3 to 4 hours. First, get your coals hot. The coal temperature should reach 350°F. Use the indirect cooking method, where the coals are placed on one side of the smoker and the other side is bare. Place the rib tips over the hot side of the grill for the first 10 minutes of cooking. Then offset the rib tips indirectly away from heat for the remainder

of the cook time to slow smoke. If desired, for the last 30 minutes of cooking, baste the rib tips with more BBQ sauce, wrap in aluminum foil, and place them back on the grill over indirect heat for tenderness.

PULL the rib tips from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Chop the rib tips into smaller pieces before serving.

Silver Dollar Corn Cakes with Smoked Honey Butter

Serves 3 to 5 Prep Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Silver dollar corn cakes. (Baxter Miller)

These corn cakes are to beans and barbeque what tortilla chips are to salsa and

guacamole—the perfect vessel for scooping up food. We source our bourbon-infused honey from a local beekeeper at Garden Supply Company in Cary, North Carolina. If you can’t find it, mix a few drops of good bourbon, like Woodford Reserve Single Barrel, into your favorite honey. These silver dollar corn cakes will have you licking your fingers, savoring every bite.

Smoked Honey Butter:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup (1 to 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup bourbon-infused honey (see directions below)
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Corn Cakes:

  • 1 cup old-fashioned stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup almond milk or oat milk
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons light molasses (not blackstrap or robust)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Hot honey or molasses, for serving

PREHEAT your smoker to 200ºF with oak or pecan wood chips.

MAKE THE SMOKED HONEY BUTTER: In a medium stainless-steel bowl, combine

the butter, paprika, pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Add the bourbon-infused

honey, two small shots of a good bourbon and 1 tablespoon of honey. Mix the butter. Put the bowl on the grill and smoke the butter for 8 minutes. Do not let the butter scorch. Let the butter cool for 3 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, and nutmeg. Mix with a spoon or an electric mixer. Let cool at room temperature until the butter solidifies. Cover and store in the refrigerator for no more than 2 days.

MAKE the corn cakes: In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour,

brown sugar, and salt. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the almond

milk, water, and molasses until blended. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry

ingredients until just combined.

HEAT a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add just enough vegetable oil to coat the pan, 1 to 2 tablespoons. When the oil shimmers, drop the batter by 1 full teaspoon into the skillet for true silver dollar-sized as t/o corn cakes. Sear each corn cake on the first side until light golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a metal spatula, flip the cakes and cook until light golden brown on the second side, about 1 minute more. Drain the

corn cakes on paper towels. Repeat until all the batter has been cooked, adding oil to coat the pan between batches. Serve the corn cakes with the smoked honey butter and hot honey or molasses.

Excerpted from “Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque” © 2023 by Ed Mitchell and Ryan Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.