Taste for Success

When Ryan Mitchell ’01 came to ECU, he thought he had seen the last of the family barbecue restaurant in Wilson where he had been working since age 13.

“I was just a country kid at heart growing up, a country kid with big city dreams,” said Mitchell, son of renowned North Carolina pitmaster Ed Mitchell.

Ed Mitchell's Barbeque


  • Saturday, July 8, ticketed pig-picking on the Downtown Greenway in Greensboro,
    11 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 20, 6:45 p.m., Smithsonian Associates
    (virtual event)
  • Sunday, Aug. 27, 2 p.m., Lenoir Book Club, Buxton Books, Charleston, S.C.

Those dreams involved playing college football for the Pirates, earning an economics degree and working in the banking industry.

Soon, he realized supporting his father’s growing business with his financial knowledge was the place for him, and he left the corporate world — sort of. Now, Ryan Mitchell is the CEO of Pitmaster Enterprises and co-founder of True Made Foods.

“I was able to combine my passion for helping people, cooking and hospitality with my business degree,” he said.

True Made Foods produces a line of Ed Mitchell’s barbecue sauces and condiments that are a healthier alternative to traditional sauces that are high in sugar. The national brand can be found in major grocers such as Walmart and Harris Teeter.

“My dad was diagnosed with diabetes in 2017, and so we decided to take our legacy and his business and create products and barbecue sauces that are made from all-natural recipes with no added sugar,” Mitchell said. “That has been really a game-changer as far as impacting the community and getting our name and our brand out to the world.”

As plans come together for a Raleigh restaurant, the Mitchells were approached about sharing their recipes and journey, one that started with a 35-pound pig cooked in the parking lot of the family’s small grocery store in Wilson. Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque, released in June, is no ordinary cookbook.

“(It’s) a life story narrative based around my dad and my family and all it took to be a relevant pitmaster coming from eastern North Carolina and all the things we had to go through to get our business noticed and to compete and rise through the ranks with being a pitmaster and all of the things that come along with being a minority business,” Ryan Mitchell said.

He has fond memories of his time with teammates and coaches on and off the football field at ECU, and he credits professors for taking an interest in and helping guide him toward his goals. He said ECU’s family atmosphere can’t be beat.

“It was an amazing, amazing part of my life,” he said. “Between classes and playing sports and the people who I had a chance to meet, it was definitely one of the propellers to get me to this stage in my career.”

Plus, as he points out, ECU and barbecue just naturally go together.

“East Carolina and eastern North Carolina vinegar-based barbecue sauce, that’s a marriage that’s taken over the world. It’s where it’s at,” he said.

Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque, written by Ed and Ryan Mitchell with Zella Palmer, is available through HarperCollins Publishers at major and independent retail and online bookstores for $35.