Articles / Food with Mark Bittman: Ed and Ryan Mitchell

Food with Mark Bittman: Ed and Ryan Mitchell

Published June 14, 2023

Transforming the tradition of authentic barbecue into a pure labor of love — plus, working with your dad

Since I work with one of my beloved daughters, Kate, one might say that for me, every day is Father’s Day. (Awwwww….) But when she and I got a pitch about Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque, written with his son Ryan, we knew we wanted to do an official Father’s Day episode, with all four of us.

Both Ed and Ryan have had rich journeys, with many stops along the way — journeys that led them to where they are today, working alongside each other. Ed grew up during the Jim Crow South; segregation dominated life in Wilson, North Carolina, his hometown. He went to college, served in Vietnam, and worked at the Ford Motor Company until he was 45 and came home to help his mom with their small family grocery store. One day, his mom wanted barbecue, and Ed rolled his parents’ rustic cooker into the parking lot and smoked a 35-pound pig while his mother prepared coleslaw and collards — and a career in barbecue began, a career that’s drawn the attention of Anthony Bourdain, Calvin Trillin, and Michael Pollan.

Ryan worked alongside his grandparents in the Mitchell family corner store from a young age, then went off to play football in college and to investment banking, quite sure that he would NOT end up in the family business. He pictured a different path for his career, rebelling against barbecue because it felt like a chore. But after eight years in banking, a major market crash and brutal layoffs, Ryan stepped back and reevaluated his professional life and left his desk job to return to his roots and pursue what he realized was his real passion: working alongside his dad.

Ed and Ryan remind me a lot of me and Kate, except perhaps a bit more organized. They work really well together, and I think you’ll be touched by our interview with them. And here is the recipe for “I Don’t Eat Everybody’s Potato Salad!,” from Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque.

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