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Black Pit Master Talks Barbecue’s African American Legacy

Ribs and baked beans from the Big Apple Barbecue presented by Kingsford. Photo by Jennifer H. Cunningham

Big Apple Barbecue Presented By Kingsford Showcased The Best In ‘Cue

Barbecue is as American as apple pie and is sure to be a staple at cookouts this summer.

And it’s built on a legacy of African-American cookery and ingenuity, something that Ed Mitchell, the founder of Ed Mitchell’s Que in Wilson, N.C., takes very seriously.

“As African Americans, we perfected the art and techniques of cooking barbecue, but that part (of history) was sort of bypassed,” Mitchell, 70, said. “I wanted the legacy to be understood, how we contributed to barbecue.”

Photo By Jennifer H. Cunningham

Mitchell said during slavery when the plantation owner wanted to have a get-together, he would have the oldest African-American male to slow cook the meat, and he was referred to as a “pit boy.”

A whole slow cooked hog from Ed Mitchell’s ‘Cue at the Big Apple Barbecue

“I began to understand the legacy and I wanted people to know how it really related to us,” he said.

Barbecue has since morphed into an entire industry, with cookers, sauces, cookbooks and other products created to help you make perfect ‘cue.

“People are trying to replicate what we did with nothing,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell spoke to us at the Big Apple Barbecue Presented by Kingsford, where more than a dozen pit masters set up shop in the middle of Madison Avenue in New York City and served their best barbecue meals. Scott Roberts, of The Salt Lick restaurant in Driftwood, Tx. served brisket and sausage with sesame coleslaw, while Mississippi’s Ubon’s Barbecue handed out Mississippi chicken wings with bloody Mary cucumber salad.

Smoked pig’s heads at the Big Apple Barbecue. Photo by Jennifer H. Cunningham

Mitchell, along with his son, Ed Jr. and the rest of his barbecue team, served pork and ‘slaw sandwiches made from 20 whole hogs that had been slow cooked for eight to ten hours.

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