A new book from the famous Wilson pitmaster explores North Carolina barbeque traditions through essays, memoir and recipes.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | portrait by Eamon Queeney
This month, pitmaster Ed Mitchell and his son, Ryan Mitchell, released Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque. It’s a cookbook that’s less a how-to than an exploration of the craft: What are the roots of barbeque? Who honed the techniques, and why? Can the next generation embrace this tradition and move it forward?
“It was an easy story to write — it’s truly about our own experience,” says Ryan. The Mitchells wrote in collaboration with Zella Palmer, who spent months interviewing them, along with family and friends, to capture their stories and recipes. “Zella spent weeks just with my grandma in the kitchen. All her food is freehand, she didn’t have anything written down,” says Ryan.
Inside, Ed shares a slew of his own recipes, from his whole-hog method to his approach to barbeque chicken to sides, desserts and libations. He also shares family recipes and ones from people he’s worked with, like John Hellwig, Ed’s chef at Que in Durham. “It was really important to us to bring in other people,” says Ryan. “Recipes are so specific, you can get five friends together and argue about whose grandma makes the best fried chicken.”
Throughout, the Mitchells emphasize that the flavors and traditions of barbeque — cooking slowly, dousing meat in strong sauces, pickling trotters or snouts — were a response to a need. “Whole-hog barbeque is a form of survival, a means to feed a group of people,” says Ryan. Essays and historical photos drive the point home.
Ryan and Ed will be on book tour this summer and plan to open a new restaurant in Raleigh, The Preserve, late this year. They found a location off Wake Forest Road that’s zoned both industrial and commercial, so they can smoke a whole hog on-site, the way it’s been done for generations. Just like in the cookbook, they hope the restaurant will encourage folks to come together and get a fuller appreciation for a long undersung craft.
“We wanted to make sure we highlighted the origin of barbeque and give voices to the people who really started it,” says Ryan. “We wanted to paint a picture but also tell the truth and give some motivation at the same time. Barbeque is too inclusive to be divisive.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.