Myron Mixon thinks Chicago is prime for his style of barbecue. A legend on the competitive circuit, Mixon appears on Destination America's "BBQ Pitmasters," and the celebrity chef and Georgia native has also appeared on "Today" sharing his recipes with the country. He's now going into the restaurant business, as he'll open his first Myron Mixon's Smoke Show next month at 3801 N. Clark St. in Wrigleyville.
Mixon, 54, is no stranger to Chicago, as he'll return to the city for the Windy City Smokeout. On July 15, he'll hold a mobile session of his cooking school, teaching students barbecue techniques away from his Georgia compound. They'll use his father's recipes —meats dipped in vinegar and mopped with secret ingredients. Mixon spoke to Eater Chicago about his new restaurant, his school and Chicago's barbecue reputation.
So who's the ideal candidate for your cooking school? Will they have to do any preparation before showing up?
Myron Mixon: The thing is, the classes that I teach, including the one I'm doing at Windy City, it's old school, it's for the person that's never lit a fire or never picked up a piece of meat because they don't want do that. But it's also for the barbecue enthusiast or the competition cook who wonders what it takes to get to the next level. They get to do something they've never tried before. Where you're actually using your hands, your eye, or your smell, to find out when your meat's done. When it's ready. Because we're not going to use any type of gauges or meat thermometers, we're going to let it all be by feel and touch. So it will take them to the next level of being a better pit master.
I know you're not a fan of gauges, but is everyone born with that instinct to be a pit master or is that something you can practice and learn?
Well, you've got to practice that. I don't think anybody's born with certain talent, I think people are perceptive enough to know if they love something they're more enthused about it. And I think that's what it is. People have got so enthused about being outside and doing the things...when you're actually cooking up the fire and I think you got some that are just more enthused about it than others. Those are the ones I'm looking forward coming to class.
What do you eat when you're not eating barbecue?
Fried chicken. Anywhere I travel, I try to find the best local fried chicken place.
What Chicago barbecue spots have you tried?
The only Chicago spot I've tried is Bub City, which is owned by Lettuce Entertain You group. I mean, it's pretty good. They've got a couple of my menu items they took from my cookbook, "Smokin," which is the peach barbecue beans and the baby back mac and cheese. They do a pretty good job of that.
Why did you pick Chicago as the city for your first restaurant?
Chicago is probably the top, if not the top food city in the country. I know everybody thinks a lot of it revolves around New York City. But I don't believe food revolves around New York City. I know it's a great food town, also. But I look at Chicago as being more diverse. But also more of the meat and potatoes. Sometimes New York doesn't have the meat and potatoes. For me, Chicago was the prime place to go. Not taking away from anyone else that's got a restaurant, but I don't think they have quality of barbecue that I could bring. Myron Mixon Smoke Show Barbecue, next to Wrigley Field, is going to be awesome. I mean, I'm going to be there four to six times a month to make sure everything's done. I'm going to be working the pits. These are my recipes. It's going to be an experience that no one in Chicago's had before.
How are you going to adapt those recipes for a restaurant versus the competition circuit?
Just because you said you're a pit master on one day doesn't necessarily mean they're a pit master. A lot of them, we call them a "four-category trick pony." They learn how to do four blind boxes, which is what we call the little styrofoam trays that you send back to the judges. And they go back to their day jobs on Monday. And then get going on the travel circuit on the weekends. And that's most. But you do some pit masters on there that actually know how to cook barbecue. I happen to be one that started out the pit master side of it with my dad's take-out barbecue business and I went into competition. i know how to do both. And I'll be able to take the recipes that I've learned that I've learned doing comps, along with the recipes that I've learned doing with my dad. Again, we're going to have a barbecue experience that people in Chicago have never had.
Why is barbecue so connected with family?
I started when I was 9 years old. My dad fired the pits. I'd get the wood up in the pits, too. That was our whole chore. Not only did we cook, we had to go get the wood that we burned. We actually carried, chain-sawed it, spread it through the wedges, it wasn't fun for somebody young. You'd rather be swimming, playing with your friends or whatever that you were doing. We did that every week. But the thing is it is about family. If you think about it, all those barbecue guys and gals who came over when this country was founded, there's about feeding large families as cheap as possibly. The livestock they had on the farm. They took trees from the forest as fuel. They took whatever ingredients that were in the root cellar, the distilled vinegars. And it was all about feeding family and friends. And it's progressed all through the years like that. Just think about political functions, it's always about having a barbecue for whatever candidate. Over at the grounds at the church: You'll always find them doing barbecue. And the same things with family reunions. Down in the South, at funerals, a lot of time barbecue is brought to the house after the funeral. It's just a very social thing.
Why should I sign up and take your $500 class to learn barbecue?
Being frank, straight up, it might be the only opportunity in Chicago to take my class. Unless you want to travel to Unadilla, Georgia and take my class. Which is a longer class, 2 1/2 days. We're going to do this in Chicago in a day. Having that opportunity to be with a pit master that I feel like I do know how to cook meat; I've been doing it for a long, long time. And to have somebody stand there, and it's going to be a small class. It's going to be very intimate, very hands on. We'll be doing a question and answer while cooking.
What's Chicago's barbecue reputation nationally?
It's like New York. New York right now, 20 years ago, maybe you had two, maybe three places in New York where I'd get barbecue. Today you've got maybe 100. It's the same way in Chicago. Chicago is growing leaps and bounds. Barbecue is growing leaps and bounds everywhere. I mean California is getting wrapped up with barbecue places. The simple fact it's the hottest genre of food out there right now. If you think about TV, food personalities back in the day, they looked down doing anything barbecue related. It's basically always considered a blue-collar man's food. Today, everybody from Bobby Flay on forward wants to have a show about barbecue. If they don't have a show devoted to barbecue they want to have one or two episodes a year where they go and do something barbecue related. Everybody wants to get on the barbecue bandwagon.
Tell us more about your plans for Chicago.
We will be doing whole hog maybe once a month. We'll of course be doing ribs, chicken; cupcake chicken where we cook them in a cupcake mold; chicken thighs. We'll also have our burned ends from the brisket. We're working on July right now. I won't get into a specific date right now...we're coming along with it. It's a cool place. It's the whole building. We've got the look to it. It's four blocks from Wrigley Field. You couldn't ask for a better venue.
Are you much of a baseball fan?
No, I'm not a real baseball fan. But I will be by the time we have this one open.