Pigs fly into the pit on 17th street

By Chase Myers | @chasemyers_DE | Daily Egyptian

A thin layer of fog fills the banquet hall of Murphysboro’s world famous 17th Street Bar & Grill as the scent of smoked pork and sound of friendly chatter fill the air.

The fourth annual Whole Hog Extravaganza/Brisket Bonanza/BBQ MBA is a three-day event where barbecue pitmasters from all over the country flock to the Murphysboro restaurant to either prepare their version of a full-grown hog and specialized meat or to learn the ins and outs of barbecue.

“In addition to learning about whole hog cooking, beef ribs, brisket and sausage, we have a barbecue MBA that focuses on various topics and this year’s theme is telling the barbecue’s story,” said Amy Mills, owner of 17th Street.


Mills is the daughter of world-famous champion pitmaster Mike Mills, founder of 17th Street BBQ and legend in the barbecue world, winning numerous grand world champion awards for both barbecue cooking and sauce.

In addition to the Mills dynasty, 35 barbecue personalities from Alaska to New York attended.


“This is really sort of a celebration of all things barbecue but very much focused on the business end,” she said. “These people are my inner-circle and my dearest friends.”

The event began Sunday night with the unpacking of four large hogs and the preparation of various cuts of meat.

The preparation continued Monday as attendees swapped methods of cooking as the brisket and four hogs, each weighing in at more than 100 pounds, were prepared.

The night concluded with a buffet-style meal with a collection of fall-off-the-bone beef ribs prepared by Wayne Mueller, owner of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas.

Mueller said the event is a great opportunity for people in the barbecue business to improve their techniques.

“They come here and they get a crash-course in barbecue 101,” he said.

The other main course was a smaller, 35-pound hog, a porchetta, stuffed with ground pork prepared by John Delpha of the Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar in Somerville, Mass.

“[The porchetta] is so far left of what these guys are doing when they come down here and split a hog down the middle and put it on a pit,” Delpha said. “I smoke it for four and a half, five hours. These guys are cooking for 20.”

On Tuesday, the final day of the event, attendees chowed down on four hogs, beef ribs, three different types of brisket and sausage prepared the previous day, while maintaining the focus on flavor and friendly suggestions, rather than cooking for competition.

“You can do whatever you want with the flavors, but it’s about cooking the meat right,” said John Lewis, pitmaster from La Barbecue in Austin, Texas.

This was Lewis’ first year at the extravaganza after befriending Amy Mills in Charleston, S.C., where he plans to open up a new restaurant.

“This is the only sort of class like this in the whole world you can take,” he said. “The best of the best are gathered here to show people things.”

The whole hog pitmasters can attribute some of the credit to Cape Girardeau, Mo. based barbecue equipment company, Ole Hickory Pits, providing the event’s pits and equipment.

David Knight, president of Ole Hickory Pits and long-time friend of Mike Mills hasn’t missed the event yet and has traveled as far as New York with his equipment.

“Mike has really got a way of expanding the barbecue industry,” Knight said.

Every year, Ole Hickory brings multiple pits capable of cooking the largest hogs.

“We can cook anything from 40 pounds per load, to 4,000 pounds per load,” he said.

While the smoke dissipated from 17th street and the event came to a close, the knowledge gained and shared in the town of Murphysboro will live on in barbecue communities all over the nation.