For many, this weekend marked the start of the summer, and what's summer without some serious barbecues? No one knows the pit like Ed Mitchell, a certified Pitmaster who's been barbecuing since the tender age of 14, and owner of The Pit restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he specializes in whole hog barbecue. He's also one of the founding meat masters of the Big Apple BBQ Block Party, the annual Madison Square Park celebration of all things barbecue, now in its ninth wildly successful year. We talked to Mitchell ahead of his annual trip to the city about the best barbecue in New York, his plans to spread the gospel of barbecue across the country, and his favorite part of a pig.

Since you're heading up here in a few weeks, I'll start by asking about the roots of the Big Apple BBQ event and why you wanted to bring BBQ to New York. Well, I was involved in some sort of a fact search that was put on by the Southern Food Alliance. Back in the early 2000s they sent a group of members of the organization along the BBQ belt line, which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Kansas. When the group came to North Carolina and tried out my BBQ, we were voted the best tasting BBQ in the state. Of course, I was still doing it the way I was taught with my grandfather and my father, very traditional in style. When they informed me that I had been selected as the best BBQ in the state, they invited me to come down and receive that award at Ole Miss, so I did and when we got there and found out that there were about 400 food writers from all over the country there, too. So they asked me and the other winners from the other regions to sort of strut our stuff before these writers, and then to make a long story short we ended up on the front page of the New York Times and from there it just started snowballing.

Now the way it got to New York proper was because Danny Meyer wanted to bring BBQ to the city. This was when he was opening up Blue Smoke, so we were invited to come up there and join his pitmaster Ken Callahan along with Mike Mills, who’s a seven-time national champion, and the three of us got along so well that we ended up starting the Big Apple BBQ Block Party together.

So, that was what, nine years ago now? That was nine years ago and it was a rainy weekend. I think the attendance was somewhere around 5,000 people. Now it’s about 150,000-200,000 for the weekend.

That’s pretty insane. It’s interesting that a BBQ party is so popular here, because New York doesn’t really have its own BBQ style per se, the way that the Carolinas or Texas do. But if you had to describe New York BBQ, what would you say? Well, you just hit the nail on the head—the thing about New York is that it’s a melting pot and almost any style of BBQ would make it here, because you have so many different people from so many different areas. Though I will say that it seems like every time we come up here, we seem to be the fan favorite, we have lines six blocks long, and we keep getting voted just about every time we come up as having the best BBQ at the party.

You're one of the few guys there that does the whole hog, correct? Well, yep. See, that’s the key. BBQ started by actually cooking the whole animal, and some people specialize in certain areas of the animal like the butt or the shoulder, but to get the true flavor of BBQ you must experience all the different parts of the animal. It’s good to be able to really taste the different flavors on the different pieces and parts.

I once ate a whole barbecued pig’s head here in New York that just blew my mind, it was smoked and came out all crispy and charred and black and we dug in with our hands. Yeah! Yeah! That’s how you need to do. I once did a whole hog and then I crisped up the skin, to make those cracklings, and then spread that over the whole mound of BBQ and these people from the New York Times were just blown away.

I think these days a lot of New Yorkers are interested in this concept of “nose-to-tail eating,” where you eat everything on the animal. Down here it’s called from the rooter to the tooter [laughs].

Why hasn’t that caught on up here? Maybe you can make that popular! Another thing we say is “everything but the squeal,” and we’ll put that in a jar and sell it to you, too.

So do you think that us New Yorkers ever have chance of becoming a great BBQ city? Of course! New York is the stage o the world and there are so many opportunities for guys who want to venture into the world of BBQ. And as a matter of fact, that sort of brings me to the announcement that I just made last week, that I’m actually getting ready to take my vision to the next level and I’m leaving The Pit. One of the reasons is that I want to go into the next phase, and build BBQ restaurants across the country, in places like New York, where we can help people experience what BBQ really tastes like. There aren’t many whole hog cookers out there and we’re the first to bring it to national attention.

So you're talking about bringing Carolina-style whole hog BBQ to New York? You got it.

Can you tell me some of your favorite BBQ spots in New York? Sure! First I go to Blue Smoke, I go to Dinosaur, this year I want to come out to Brooklyn and check out some of the spots there. I’m normally pretty out of it because we cook about 32 whole hogs and I don’t miss a second of it, which is a pretty huge undertaking, so when I’m finished I’m usually pretty zonked, but this year I want to take some time off after the Party and hang around and check out some new spots.

So what do you think of these newer styles of BBQ, I’m thinking of what’s going on in Brooklyn at Fatty Cue, for example—less traditional methods, more ethnic flavors? Well, I always make this clear—I don’t think there’s any bad BBQ if first of all a person has the fundamentals, the basis of knowing how to cook. I will be the first to stand up and say that I’m sort of an old guard of the traditional way of doing it, an old guard of the flame so I stick with wha ti know, which means I don’t do fruitwood and I don’t do injections. I don’t change the ingredients that I’ve been using since I knew anything about BBQ, and I’m 64 years of age and I just think: keep it simple.

What are those ingredients you've been working with your whole life? Apple cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, a little sugar, a little cayenne pepper. Mix that up, season to taste and crisp up some of that skin to make cracklin’.

And you’ve been BBQing since you were how old? 14.

Any plans to, dare I say, retire? Oh, yeah. I have a son who will be accompanying me this year. I have to brothers and a nephew and I’m hopefully moving more into the tutoring and teaching part of it. I want to develop a culinary school specializing in teaching the art of cooking whole hog BBQ. I actually reached out to Dorthea Hamilton, from the Culinary Institute of America, and she and I have been talking and she seems to have expressed a great interest in it.

I will be keeping a close eye on that development. Is there anything else we should know about the Block Party? We’re just excited to come back up there, I always feel good when I come to New York, you guys make me feel so welcome. When I come up it’s like I’m coming home, so I’m just excited to return.