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The legendary authentic whole hog pit master returns as the corner stone of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party Festival at Madison Square Park. A flat tire, no fancy cookers, long lines of appreciative fans, and family at his back sets the stage for the next level of his vision.

The Pitmaster, Ed Mitchell will establish his Q Restaurant in the latter part of this year, more on that another time. This year 2016 on Saturday June 11th and Sunday the 12th, ‘The Pitmaster’ brought back an original part of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party celebrating its 14th year! When Chef Danny Meyers sold the Big Apple Barbecue event in 2014, he was consolidating an IPO for his Shake Shack fast casual restaurants, which received a phenomenal reception on Wall Street. Ed Mitchell did participate the first year afterwards but not the second year under the new event management. Due to those changes, Madison Square Park, for which the original event was its fundraiser, acquired the event to reestablish its successful 11 year run. The top pit masters from all over the country would converge on streets surrounding the park with their shiny cookers preparing their specialty pork shoulder, ribs, and pulled pork. Loyal New Yorkers make this annual pilgrimage to the park at 29th and Madison Avenue.

I was not able to attend this year. The Pitmaster of whole hog and smoked Turkey BBQ landed in Raleigh on Monday June 13th, heading back to Wilson, called to share the highlights of his experience. A normally laid back guy with little to say was in a storytelling mode excited about ‘how it came together’ . All his planning could not have created a dramatic entrance. Ed and his son arrived by airplane and his brother, Aubrey and his son drove in by truck. His family gave him great confidence and assurance this would be successful. Ed mentioned his youngest brother Stevie, a trucker, had to come off of a cross country run earlier in the week to pick up the smokers from Wilson, NC then head for New York City to arrive Friday afternoon. A tire blew and had to be fixed. This set the stage for drama that Ed Mitchell could not have scripted any better. He was cool, though the organizers got a little nervous, they were assured by both Ed and his brother Aubrey, that all would be well by the time people arrive on Saturday morning. It didn’t make it any easier when all the other pit masters, who traveled across the country, had already set up their stations and had their food under preparation in very fancy cookers.

The delayed tractor trailer arrived at 10 pm full of uncooked whole hogs, with an on edgy Ken Callahan, (event organizing consultant) created the perfect entrance for the rig with a larger than life picture of the Pitmaster on the side. They had to shut down traffic by closing off the street to park the big rig just next to the set up area. I could hear in Ed Mitchell’s voice a moment of pride. Ed’s son, Ryan, his brother Aubrey and his son were set and ready to do the hard work. New York fans where there that night. They did not stay away waiting for Saturday morning. They came to see Ed Mitchell that night, checking in, greeting him, and ‘talking trash’ about missing him last year.

His fellow peers where glad to see him too as they came by to taste his whole hog barbecue sandwiches. Moonshine is an ingredient. He felt the camaraderie and appreciation from his peers, and with the large crowds on Saturday and Sunday, his position as the leading authentic pitmaster of whole hog was affirmed. Butterball contributed smoked turkey barbecue (Ed’s recipe), for all the New Yorkers who did not eat pork. His sauces, the turkey and whole hog barbecue were sold out by the end of Sunday. This usually means the annual fundraiser for the Madison Square Park was a resounding success. I recall on my visit, New Yorkers would show their appreciation forming very long lines, they'd come up to him, talk, do interviews and take pictures. They even taste the pork skin while the hog is being pulled from the traditiona black smoking cookers, thrown onto the wood block table, chopped, bone separated and remixed with skins, seasoning, then piled into a pan delivered to the food assembly line. One side turkey; one side pork. Separated on one side from the busy sidewalk by a 10 foot high wire shelving units on wheels stacked with packages of buns to be pulled as needed. Paper basket quickly unfolded as servers dip for the cole slaw while the other places the meat on the buns. Volunteers included some former employees of Ed Mitchell, who helped to run the serving efficiently for long, long lines of people so thrilled to taste the best whole hog! It was also a family affair where the Mitchell’s legacy of authentically cooked, farmed raised, whole hog was like no other. Good showing, and I guess for the rest of us, we will have our taste later this year, right here in North Carolina!

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Lillian L Thompson
Lillian Thompson received a Master's of Architecture from Columbia University and Interior and Environmental Degree from Pratt Institute, se

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