The "Legend" of Barbecue - Mike Mills Interview | Grilling with Rich The "Legend" of Barbecue - Mike Mills Interview

The “Legend” of Barbecue – Mike Mills

Posted By: Richard Wachtel
Published: June 9, 2011

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For this week’s Meet the Pros I got a chance to talk with Amy and Mike Mills who in the world of barbecue, who is affectionately known as the “Legend.” If you aren’t familiar on who Mike is Mills is, here is a little of his background.

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Currently, Mike watches over his seven nationally acclaimed barbecue restaurants four 17th Street Bar & Grill restaurants in Southern Illinois and three Memphis Championship Barbecue restaurants in Las Vegas.  In the early 1990s Mike Mills was co-captain of the Apple City Barbecue team, one of the most celebrated teams ever on the circuit. Mike is a four-time World Champion and three-time Grand World Champion at Memphis in May, otherwise known as the Super Bowl of Swine. Mike is also the 1992 Grand Champion of the Jack Daniel’s World Invitational Barbecue Cooking Contest and he won the Jack Daniel’s Sauce Contest that year as well. Mike is the barbecue guru at and a partner in Blue Smoke restaurant in New York City. His book, Peace, Love, and Barbecue was nominated for a 2006 James Beard Foundation award and received the 2006 National Barbecue Association Award of Excellence. In October 2008 he was honored with the Pioneer of Barbecue award at the Jack Daniel’s World Invitational Barbecue Cooking Contest. According to my friend Kevin’s BBQ Joints Blog Amy is “the barbecue go-to girl and a writer, restaurant consultant, television personality, brand, marketing and PR pro, and member of the Missouri Mafia.”

Okay enough with the boring stuff its time to Meet the BBQ Pro!:

Grilling with Rich: My first question that I always ask my guests for the Meet the Pros Series, is what made you start to barbecue? What did you like most about it?  Why do you think that a lot of people love to barbecue?

Mike Mills: My first memory was waking up to the smell of smoke. My daddy barbecued all his life and my job, when I was young, was to help haul the wood in a little wheelbarrow. Barbecue not only tastes good, but traditionally you are cooking it and sharing it with the people you love. The first chapter title of Peace, Love, and Barbecue says it all: Barbecue = Friends + Family + Love.

Peace, Love, & Barbecue: Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales, and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbecue

Grilling with Rich: Why did you start 17th Street Bar and Grill? and what was the biggest challenge that you had in creating the restaurant?

Mike Mills: I bought 17th Street in 1985 and it was a bar that’s served a barbecue sandwich and a hamburger for 100+ years. I was more concerned with selling alcohol than food at the time. I slowly added some good comfort food-type items and barbecued as a special several days a week, with a pit in the parking lot. Not sure there’s one specific challenge. We face challenges every day.

Grilling with Rich: What is the most popular food item on the menu? and why do you think that is?

Mike Mills: Our Apple City World Grand Champion Baby Back Ribs are the most popular. We won four World Championships, three Grand World Championships and The Jack with these ribs.

Grilling with Rich: What do you like the most about Memphis in May?

Mike Mills: I obviously have very fond memories of cooking there as Apple City Barbecue, but the friendships we’ve made are what’s most special to me. It’s like a giant family reunion and I get to see people I might not see any other time. It’s my favorite weekend of the year; closely followed by The Jack.

Grilling with Rich: You are considered a Legend in the Barbecue world, when people say that obviously you have a intimidate emoition, what is it?

Mike Mills: Well, I feel both humbled and honored when I hear that. But mostly very humbled.

Mike Mills Trophies

Grilling with Rich: What was the inspiration in writing your famous barbecue cookbook? How much time did it take to put something like this together?

Mike Mills: My daughter, Amy, was the one who came up with the idea and pushed it along. She spent over a year coming up with the concept and then about six months actually writing and photographing it.

Grilling with Rich: What was your greatest accomplishment?

Mike Mills: I hope it hasn’t happened yet!

Grilling with Rich: What is the single most important piece of advice that you can give to professional, amateurs about the sport of barbecue?

Mike Mills: The SPORT of barbecue and the BUSINESS of barbecue are two different things entirely. To excel in the SPORT of barbecue, you have to figure out how to cook what the judges are looking for. What flavor profiles are trending. And in order to cook it and time it properly, you need to know your equipment inside and out. We won many contests and our first Memphis in May on a 55-gallon barrel cooker I made. Then we made a pit out of a propane tank and finished our competition cooking run on that. My partner, Pat Burke, still uses that pit to compete under the name Tower Rock. You don’t need expensive equipment, you just need to know how to use what you have.

Grilling with Rich: What is one thing that your fans don’t know about YOU that you would like to share?

Mike Mills: If they don’t already know it, it’s because I didn’t want to share it.

Grilling with Rich: Can you give us a sneak peak on your next great barbecue adventure?

Mike Mills: Every day’s an adventure in the barbecue business. We do have lots of great events coming up. I’m a founding pitmaster of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party on June 11-12 in New York City and we’re cooking at the James Beard House on July 15. In August we have giant events in Illinois, the World Grand Shooting Competition in Sparta and the Illinois State Fairs in Springfield and DuQuoin. At the end of August we’ll be in Aspen for the Big Aspen Barbecue Block Party, followed by Best of the West Nugget Rib Cook-off in Sparks, Nevada over Labor Day weekend. We’re also working on two more books.

Legend Mike Mills

Grilling with Rich: Well thank you for taking the time and visiting Grilling with Rich. By the way, what do you think of the site?

Mike Mills: Thank you, it was a pleasure. You’re building a really nice site that will become a good resource for people who want more information about barbecue and grilling.


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