“Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque” Tells the Story of the Man as well as the Black Experience in the South

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Monk: While Ed Mitchell’s The Preserve barbecue restaurant is still yet to announce its long-awaited opening in Raleigh, Ed and his son Ryan have stayed busy writing and releasing a barbecue cookbook co-written by them with author, filmmaker, and scholar (among many other things) Zella Palmer. But the book is so much more than your standard barbecue cookbook with recipes. Interwoven throughout is the history of Ed “The Pitmaster” Mitchell and his family in eastern NC as well as stories from the past to illustrate the black experience in the South, whether its the barbecue, tobacco, farming, or fishing.

The hardcover book is a gorgeously assembled book with Baxter Miller’s beautiful color photography of the Mitchells and the food for each recipe. Speaking of the food, in addition to the standard barbecue recipes you would expect – whole hog, brisket, ribs, chicken, etc – Ed really explores eastern NC recipes of dishes and sides through his family history and his experiences. Touchingly, many of the dishes are named for prominent black figures in his life.

From a storytelling angle, Ed tells his side of a couple of notable stories throughout chapters in the book – the time he went to prison for 30 days for not paying sales tax for his Wilson family restaurant (it should be noted that he later successfully sued the bank for racial discrimination and wrongful foreclosure), meeting Anthony Bourdain early in his fledgling media career, beating Bobby Flay at ribs, going to Oxford, MS to meet John T. Edge and the Southern Foodways Alliance, and his many years attending the Big Apple Block Party while only receiving on a small stipend for his efforts.

But Ed’s isn’t the only voice you read throughout the book. Other members of the Mitchell family get a chance to tell their story, including his son Ryan as well as his younger brothers Aubrey and Stevie. His mom Doretha in particular is a trip and essentially takes over the dessert chapter in the back of the book with her tales. And outside of the Mitchell family, the prologue features notable contributions in the form of introductory chapters by co-author Zella Palmer (whose family’s roots are in Eastern NC), Wilson, NC historian Lisa Y. Henderson, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance John T. Edge, and barbecuer/rocket scientists Dr. Howard Conyers.

Unfortunately, as of the writing of this post Ed Mitchell’s The Preserve still doesn’t have an opening date in Raleigh but the website still indicates a 2023 opening. I hope Ed Mitchell is able to soon open his restaurant and that it is successful, because the barbecue world is better when he’s actively cooking in it. Until then, “Ed Mitchell’s Barbecue” is a worthy read and deserving of shelf space in your bookcase.

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