Meeting “The Legend” Mike Mills was truly a highlight of my culinary journey. This world champion of BBQ is a gracious genius who has elevated the art of barbecuing into a celebration and collaboration of all sauces, techniques and tastes. “There is not a right way or wrong way to barbeue,” The Legend says. With a passion to share his knowledge and skills with others, Mike and his daughter, Amy, started a barbecue consulting company. Each year, five BBQ pitmasters from across the country are invited to demonstrate the different techniques and tastes of the regions, and the students experience a firsthand sampling and understanding of these varieties.
What a treat to go into Mike’s kitchen! He taught me the importance of balancing the flavor of four main items : meat, sauce, seasoning and smoke. As he teaches us in the video above, “Not one should overpower the flavor of the other. Then you have the perfect barbecue.” Mike also taught me how to test if a brisket is ready once it has reached the correct temperature. Here’s Mike’s tip: “If there is any tension when you push the thermometer into the meat , then it still needs a little more time. But if it slides through like melted butter, then it’s ready.” On a side note, I love that Mike names each of his barbecue pits.
As owner of six restaurants, including 17th Street BBQ and Memphis Championship Barbecue in Las Vegas, along with a partnership in Union Square Hospitality Group’s Blue Smoke in New York City, Mike Mills has a lot on his plate. However, in the midst of juggling business and BBQ, Mike still took the time to sit and chat over lunch. We shared a meal at 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro, the BBQ capital of Illinois. I immediately noticed an angelic pop-art winged pig suspended from the ceiling. I giggled and thought to myself, “When pigs fly…” I asked Mike about the artwork. How intriguing that a local woman artist carved this intricate flying pig with a chainsaw!
Mike Mills is passionate about his food. As he explains, “I want people to taste my food and say that it reminds them of a special time in their lives. Creating taste memories is what it’s all about.” During our lunch, I experienced a taste memory from childhood. One of the appetizers on the menu is Pimiento Cheese & Sausage, and this dish was actually served at the James Beard House. As I bit into this surprising combination of a crunchy cracker with spicy sausage tempered by the coolness and creaminess of cheese, I had a flashback. During my childhood summers, I would visit my grandparents in Missouri. My grandmother would always spread pimiento cheese atop white bread for my lunch. In the early evenings, my grandparents and I would spend time talking to the tempo of the rocking chairs on the front porch. When I shared this memory with Mike, he smiled and said, “That’s what it’s all about.”
Here is a link to his cookbook Peace, Love and Barbecue
What are your favorite barbecue recipes?
Savor the day!