Politics, a Whole Pig, and the State of Barbecue

Politics, a Whole Pig, and the State of Barbecue

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To see Myron Mixon working in a room full of people, if you didn’t know better, you’d never know he was a five-time world barbecue champion.

She sits with guests as they go through the menu, laughs with them like she’s reconnecting with old friends, walks around with a double Crown Royal on the rocks like she’s hosting a neighborhood barbecue instead of a whole hog roast at her House. honor at his namesake restaurant in Old Town.

“You’d think it would feel like an old hat, but it doesn’t,” he confessed over beers and deviled eggs, his first kaleidoscope championship ring against framed competition posters as he spoke of his fifth win. “Not many people can say they’ve won five world championships at something,” he said.

He still felt the same adrenaline rush when it was announced that his team, Jack’s Old South, had won the Memphis World Championship barbecue contest in May, and Mixon said the way his team’s faces lit up was worth it.

Mixon started barbecuing when he was nine years old with his younger brother and father, Jack, who ran a take-out barbecue business in Vienna, Georgia. sounds like “vine,” he said.

His first job wasn’t as glamorous as being a pitmaster, but a more robust version of a bar back: “tout, fetch, and go get.”

Over time, Mixon “learned under protest” the ingenuity behind the barbecue from his father, whom Mixon described as “probably the best grill master I’ve ever seen.” His father died in January 1996 at age 56, five months before Mixon’s first barbecue competition in June 1996. There, he won first place in both pork and pulled pork.

From there, it all became a series of falling dominoes: winning contests led to shows, which led to cookbooks, which led to restaurants, which led to cooking schools.

When he entered the competitive world of barbecue in 1996, Mixon talked about how the industry was very “niche and boutique”—it existed as a genre of food that was primarily Southern. Now, as one of the most popular food genres in the country, people crave it and seek it out in all its forms, Mixon said, including cross-country barbecue crawls. Barbecue comes with a uniqueness and a love that he said he’s lucky to experience: how social and unifying barbecue is, and how primal and basic it is in nature.

To see barbecue progress, Mixon hopes to see a combination of flavors from different barbecue regions and turn it into a wave of Kumbaya-style barbecue. “Everybody always wants to talk about tradition,” talking about the Carolina-style vinegary flavors or the spicy Memphis-style that people know so commonly.

“There is a place for traditional barbecue,” Mixon said, including holes in the wall on the side of the road, where their menus are drawn on scrap wood and specials are made by word of mouth rather than Instagram.

You’re starting to see a mix of regions of people moving around and “bringing with them what they think is historic or traditional barbecue,” but at the end of the day, “it’s still barbecue.”

Mixon loves something different at each of its restaurant locations. Enjoy the “it’s 1 o’clock every night” feel of Miami and the trendy nightlife of Hoboken, but “there’s nothing like Old Town.” He tried to think of a better word to describe it, wincing “quaint” but settling on “reserved”: a laid-back town full of character, foodie hits, and people waving at each other on the streets. He would love to buy a property in Old Town, but he has to convince his wife not to set her sights on Daytona Beach, Florida.

Mixon still lives in the same county he grew up in, but in a different city. He is now mayor of Unadilla, Georgia (population 1,500). He lives in a 12-acre “barbecue compound” where he has been teaching barbecue classes since 2005.

Mixon “likes to fix things,” he said as he rearranged the menus on the table to line them up perfectly, saying that while he prospered and expanded his business, the other Unadilla residents struggled to pay expenses from month to month.

He was elected mayor in 2016 and re-elected in 2020 “strictly to help”: he donates the $400 he is paid each month to a municipal fund that allows families to receive Christmas lights every year. He also improved the parks, put the city’s finances in the black, and installed water games for the children of the community. “People laugh when I mention splash pads, but in a small rural community, they are a special thing to have.”

When asked “what’s next…” he was silent for a while. Someone broke the silence from the next table, shouting “number six”, to indicate a sixth world championship.

Mixon just chuckled and said, “Absolutely.”

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