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Behind the Pitmasters of the Big Apple BBQ Block Party: Ed Mitchell and Chris Lilly

Southern Foodways appears on Fridays as part of our collaboration with the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization based in Oxford, Mississippi, that "documents and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South." Dig in!

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Photograph of Ed Mitchell by Amy Evans.

If you're in the vicinity of Madison Square Park in New York City this weekend, June 7-8, your nose (and stomach) will likely lead you to the 6th Annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Follow that lead! And to wet your appetite, the SFA offers a BABBP insider's pass.

If the history of this event tells us anything it's that the lines for Ed Mitchell's Whole Hog North Carolina BBQ will be long. Where Mr. Mitchell is concerned, eating his barbecue is a good thing, but getting to hear his story is indeed a great thing. His oral history is a part of the SFA's Southern BBQ Trail and is not to be missed.

Ed Mitchell of The Pit

In 1990, Mrs. Mitchell (Ed's mother) wanted some old-fashioned barbecue, so Ed cooked a pig behind the family grocery. Two years later, Ed converted the store into a barbecue stand. He cooked whole hogs and country-style sides, and he offered what he called a “pig bar,” where customers could eat their fill of chitlins, feet, and snouts.

As Ed’s business grew, so did his commitment to tradition and quality. In 2003, in an effort to reclaim a taste of the past, he began cooking free-range organic pigs. In 2005, he ran into business trouble and closed his restaurant. But Ed Mitchell didn’t stop cooking—he catered special events and began exploring other opportunities. At the time of this 2007 interview, he was working to open a restaurant in nearby Raleigh. That restaurant, The Pit, is now open.

Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson BBQ

Pitmaster Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson BBQ in Decatur, Alabama will be on hand at the BABBP to offer his family's North Alabama barbecue. To learn more about Chris and Big Bob Gibson, watch Joe York's film BBGBBQ on the SFA Films page. Commissioned by the Block Party back in 2006, this film tells the story of North Alabama barbecue through the eyes of one of the South's most venerable restaurants.

About the author: Melissa Booth Hall, a Southern Foodways Alliance staff member, grew up in Middlesboro, Kentucky, just a few hundred yards from the Cumberland Gap. Her culinary education began at age four, when she was allowed to stand on a chair in front of a gas stove and make fried pies. She has Centre College and Chase College of Law to thank for her everything-else education. A lawyer by training, she recently figured out a way to turn her passion for food into a paying job.

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