Chow Town

Barbecue legend Mike Mills incubates barbecue businesses around the world

If you want to learn about prize-winning pork from a legendary pitmaster, Mike Mills is your go-to guy.

Known as “The Legend,” he’s a four-time grand world champion of Memphis in May, a member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame, and co-author of “Peace, Love and Barbecue” (Rodale) with his daughter, Amy Mills. She is considered by Thrillist to be one of the most important women in barbecue, alongside Carolyn Wells, founder and executive director of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and Karen Adler, owner of Pig Out Publications, a distributor of barbecue books.

Last year at Memphis in May, Chow Town blogger and barbecue expert Ardie Davis used his connections to get me embedded with Mike and teammate Pat Burke. Their team, Apple City BBQ from Murphysboro, Ill., was entered in the whole hog category.

I was allowed a front-row seat to watch as Apple City BBQ prepped Phillip Ignatius Garcia, a 155-pound Duroc, for on-site judging, a theatrical, carnival-like display peculiar to Memphis in May.

Turns out I’m not the only one who has benefitted from Mills’ tutelage: Davis recently wrote about how Kansas City’s Brandon Woodruff apprenticed with Mills before opening a barbecue joint in Amsterdam called Pendergast Smokehouse.

To which Amy Mills tweeted back, “We’ve helped incubate #bbq restaurants all over the world, most recently in Amsterdam!”

A few weeks ago, I was traveling by car to Florida when someone in the back seat called out for barbecue. As luck would have it, I looked up at a passing Interstate billboard and saw we were coming up on 17th Street BBQ, one of Mike Mills’ restaurants.

We made a pit stop in Marion, Ill., one of several 17th Street BBQ locations, including Las Vegas. The dark wood interior has a sports bar quality with cartoon pigs, carved pigs and more pigs. We ordered a sampler platter to get a taste of a variety of meats, including baby back ribs and sides. If you wind up in one of Mike Mills’ restaurants, don’t forget to start out with a basket of pork rinds sprinkled with Magic Dust rub.

I’d also highly recommend the pulled pork stuffed baked potato topped with shredded cheddar, green onions and sour cream on the side for $6.99. Now that’s a real meal deal.

Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor, lead restaurant critic and Chow Town blog curator. Follow her on Twitter at @chowtownkc and @kcstarfood.