Fox News recently published a list of what it calls “America’s most influential BBQ pitmasters and personalities”. The list of 12 white pitmasters, which includes the likes of Aaron Franklin of Austin’s Franklin Barbecue and Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South BBQ in Geogria, has incensed some barbecue food critics and historians, with some like notable food historian and author John T. Edge blasting it for being “racist”.
From John T. Edge’s Twitter:
Every time I read that list, I get pissed again. Racist by omission, indefensible lack of cultural knowledge
Food critics have noted that all 12 pitmasters and personalities on the list are white and did not include influential pitmasters like Triangle’s own Ed Mitchell. Mitchell’s prominent status as a legendary pitmaster is well-known throughout the region, along with his Eastern-style whole-hog barbecue. The Wilson native, referred to many as the “pope” of barbecue, served as pitmaster for The Pit in Raleigh before opening his own restaurant in Durham called Que near the American Tobacco Campus. Que closed in February 2015 and Mitchell plans to relocate the barbecue restaurant.
The First We Feast blog was one of the first to report on the anger and disgust over the list, calling the omission of African-American pitmasters “unnerving” and “symptomatic of a broader disconnect between mainstream media and real BBQ culture”.
Barbecue experts and historians condemned the list for ignoring the historical origins of barbecue and African-American pitmasters and cooks. Some, like The Washington Post’s Jim Shahin, told First We Feast that the list should investigate beyond media-hype and personal knowledge:
It should have some research behind it. There is not a person on the Fox list who isn’t deserving of acknowledgement, but others should be included, most notably, persons of color. To not be more diverse is not only to deny the reality of the contributions of black pitmasters but to continue a long and bad tradition.
In the blog post, many critics like James Beard Award-winning author Adrian Miller attributed the omission of African-Americans to list authors’ tendency to draw from buzzworthy personalities and a lack of an in-depth investigation into the subject matter:
From First We Feast:
My sense is that the people who create this list don’t take the time or have the resources to fully investigate who’s doing what in barbecue. So they rely on previously generated buzz (mainly from publicists) to determine their list. If you don’t have a diverse circle of people to consult, and you don’t want to make the effort, lists like the one from Fox News are inevitable.
Regardless of his exclusion on the list, Triangle barbecue lovers will continue to recognize Mitchell’s importance and historical significance to North Carolina barbecue. List or not, area barbecue lovers can seek comfort knowing that they will be able to continue enjoying the legendary pitmaster’s barbecue at Mitchell’s next restaurant.