To see Myron Mixon working a crowded room — if you didn’t know any better — you would never know he was a five-time barbecue world champion.
He sits down with guests while they walk through the menu, laughs with them as if he were reconnecting with old friends, walks around with a double Crown Royal on the rocks as if he was hosting a neighborhood barbecue instead of a whole hog roast in his honor at his Old Town namesake restaurant.
“You’d think it would feel like old hat, but it doesn’t,” he confessed over beers and deviled eggs, his first championship ring kaleidoscoping against framed competition posters as he talked about his fifth win. “Not many people can say they have won five world championships in anything,” he said.
He still got that same rush of adrenaline when they announced that his team, Jack’s Old South, had won the Memphis in May World Championship barbecue contest, and Mixon said the way his team’s faces lit up was worth it in itself.
Mixon first started barbecuing when he was nine years old with his younger brother and his father, Jack, who had a takeout barbecue business in Vienna, Georgia — “spelled the same as your Vienna” in Virginia, but with a twangy “vi” that sounds like “vine,” he said.
His first job wasn’t as glamorous as being a pitmaster, but a beefier version of a bar back — “tout, fetch, and go get.”
Over time, Mixon “learned under protest” the artfulness behind barbecue from his father, who Mixon described as “probably the best pitmaster I have ever seen.” His father died in January 1996 at age 56, five months before Mixon’s first barbecue competition in June 1996. There, he won first place in both hog and pulled pork.
Everything from there became a series of falling dominos — winning competitions led to shows, which led to the cookbooks, which led to restaurants, which led to cooking schools.
When he entered the competitive barbecue world in 1996, Mixon talked about how the industry was very “niche and boutique” — it existed as a food genre that was mostly a Southern thing. Now, as one of the most popular food genres in the country, people crave it and seek it out in all forms, Mixon said, including cross-country barbecue crawls. Barbecue comes with a uniqueness and a love that he said he is blessed to experience — how barbecue is social and uniting, and how primal and basic it is in nature.
To see barbecue move forward, Mixon hopes to see a marriage of flavors from different barbecue regions and make it one Kumbaya-esque wave of barbecue. “Everyone wants to always talk about tradition,” talking about the vinegary flavors of Carolina style or tangy Memphis style people are so commonly aware of.
“There is a place for traditional barbecue,” Mixon said, including holes in the wall on the side of the road, where their menus are sketched on scrap wood and specials are done by word-of-mouth instead of Instagram.
He’s starting to see a blend of regions from people moving around and “bringing with them what they think is historically or traditionally barbecue,” but at the end of the day, “it’s still barbecue.”
Mixon loves something different about every one of his restaurant locations. He enjoys the “it’s 1 o’clock every night” feeling of Miami and the modern nightlife of Hoboken, but “there’s nothing like Old Town.” He tried to think of a word best to describe it, grimacing at “quaint,” but settling on “reserved” — a sleepy town packed full of personality, foodie hits, and people who wave to each other on the streets. He would love to buy property in Old Town, but he has to talk his wife out of setting her sights on Daytona Beach, Florida.
Mixon still lives in the same county he grew up in, but a different town. He’s now mayor of Unadilla, Georgia (pop. 1,500). He lives on a 12-acre “barbecue compound” where he has been teaching barbecue classes since 2005.
Mixon “likes to fix stuff,” saying this while he rearranged the menus on the table to line up neatly, and said that while he flourished and expanded his business, the other residents of Unadilla struggled to pay month-to-month expenses.
He was elected mayor in 2016 and re-elected in 2020 “strictly to help” — he donates the $400 he gets paid each month to a town fund that allows families to get Christmas lights every year. He has also improved parks, got the city’s finances into the black, and installed splash pads for kids in the community. “People chuckle when I mention the splash pads, but in a little rural community, they are something special to have.”
When asked “what’s next…” he was silent for a while. Someone broke the silence from the next table over, shouting “number six,” to signify a sixth world championship.
Mixon just chuckled and said, “Absolutely.”