'Praise The Lard': A Barbecue Legend Shows Us How To Master Smoked Chicken Wings : The Salt Mike Mills' chicken wings have been named the best in the country. He is even in the Barbecue Hall of Fame. His new book with daughter Amy Mills shares the gospel of barbecue with home cooks.
NPR logo

'Praise The Lard': A Barbecue Legend Shows Us How To Master Smoked Chicken Wings

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/529563192/530257576" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Praise The Lard': A Barbecue Legend Shows Us How To Master Smoked Chicken Wings

'Praise The Lard': A Barbecue Legend Shows Us How To Master Smoked Chicken Wings

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/529563192/530257576" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Mike and Amy Mills are a father-daughter team from southern Illinois. Mike was trained as a dental technician.

MIKE MILLS: I made false teeth - crowns, bridges, partials, this type thing. It's what I did, you know, as a trade. Later on, I started barbecuing just for the fun of doing it.

SHAPIRO: And that's what made him famous.

I see that in your pocket you've got a pen, glasses and also a meat thermometer.

M. MILLS: Yes, all the necessities of life.

SHAPIRO: Mike is 75. And he doesn't like to brag, but he's in the Barbecue Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo. He's won a bunch of international competitions. In short, the guy standing on my porch in the rain right now is a barbecue legend. With his daughter Amy, the family runs a place in Murphysboro, Ill., called 17th Street Barbecue.

AMY MILLS: Spreading the gospel of barbecue, hence the words praise the lard.

SHAPIRO: "Praise The Lard" is also the name of their new cookbook. It has simple recipes like pimento cheese and tangy coleslaw, then also more ambitious projects like instructions on how to select and prepare a whole hog. We're not getting in that deep today. I asked Mike and Amy Mills to show us something people can do at home.

A. MILLS: Today, we are going to smoke and then finish on the grill some chicken wings. And that's something that's very easy to do in your own backyard.

SHAPIRO: Awesome. Lead the way, and we will follow.

These barbecue evangelists preach that you don't need fancy equipment to make great meat. To prove it, they set to work on a well-used and very basic Weber charcoal grill.

M. MILLS: Let's see what we got going here. Perfect. This is just - this looks exactly like they should look, like they've been used before. It's not the first time out of the box.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

For heat, Mike likes a natural lump charcoal, not charcoal briquettes.

M. MILLS: You know, natural wood has not got chemicals and coal and other additive just to extend the wood product. It's a hundred percent wood. So I'm just going to put this in the chimney.

SHAPIRO: Once the coals are red hot, he dumps them onto the grill.

M. MILLS: You know, you want your coals to be nice and red and charred.

SHAPIRO: Then right on top of the glowing coals goes an almost magic ingredient - a branch.

A. MILLS: We have some applewood here.

SHAPIRO: Did you bring this applewood from southern Illinois?

A. MILLS: I did.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) This is really authentic.

A. MILLS: We packed this in our suitcase. This is really authentic.

M. MILLS: Something a lot of people just don't know, trees have bark. Bark blackens your meat. Your applewood has a skin. You'll notice it's very thin.

SHAPIRO: It's not a thick bark. It's a very thin skin.

M. MILLS: Very thin.

SHAPIRO: Applewood won't make the meat turn dark?

M. MILLS: No.

A. MILLS: So charcoal is the heat source, and wood is the flavor.

SHAPIRO: As soon as the applewood goes on, a sweet smoky aroma fills the porch.

M. MILLS: Smells like heaven (laughter).

SHAPIRO: And that's before there's even any meat.

M. MILLS: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Now the wings go on over indirect heat. They've already gotten the spice rub, and they should sit there for about an hour and a half undisturbed - not intensely cooking just yet, just slowly smoking.

M. MILLS: Barbecuing probably is without a doubt, when people get together, they're not in a hurry. They're more relaxed. People aren't shoving and pushing. And they know when it's ready, it's going to be something good.

SHAPIRO: Finally, it's onto the second phase of these two-step wings. With more coals on the fire, it's time to apply a couple of different house sauces with a tiny little mop.

M. MILLS: A lot of times you'll see somebody with a brush. You know, we're not painting a house. We're fixing a meal. That's why we use a mop.

SHAPIRO: The cookbook includes the family's recipe for barbecue sauce. We'll post it online.

M. MILLS: Barbecuing is a great friendship maker. You've got time to talk to each other. And in this life anymore, you don't have a lot of time to talk, you know, other than hi, bye, how's the kids, and I'll see you next week. Barbecuing puts it down on a different level. And can you cook the ribs faster? Yes, but they won't be like they supposed to be.

SHAPIRO: You want to pull the wings off the grill when the internal temperature hits 165 or when they look nice and charred but not blackened.

M. MILLS: You eat with your eyes, too. Like, that's the first thing you eat with is with your eyes and your nose. The smell when you walked up here, and then when we open this up to see what's on there and to get another whiff of that aroma.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)

M. MILLS: I'm going to get a bowl right quick.

SHAPIRO: Now, at this point, I need to recruit an impartial judge to help me taste these wings.

DIANE SWANN: Hello, Mr. Mills.

A. MILLS: Hey, how we doing?

SWANN: My name is Diane Swann, and I'm the next-door neighbor to Ari.

SHAPIRO: She's lived in this neighborhood for decades, and she knows a good wing.

SWANN: I like the hot ones, the mild ones...

SHAPIRO: The in-between ones. All of the above.

SWANN: ...And the in-between ones.

A. MILLS: Do you prefer the drummy (ph) or the wingettes (ph)?

SWANN: The wingettes. That's the one. There you go.

A. MILLS: I'll give you one of each, but you can have more.

SWANN: OK. OK. I'm going to try this one - tastes good.

(LAUGHTER)

SWANN: Very delicious.

SHAPIRO: Did you know Food & Wine magazine called these the best wings in the country?

SWANN: Oh, they do? They're good. They are good.

A. MILLS: So there's just many, many layers of flavor here - garlic, salt, dry rub, smoke, the chicken itself and then the sauce.

SWANN: Poor chicken don't stand a chance.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: My neighbor, Ms. Diane Swann with two legends of American barbecue, Mike and Amy Mills. Their new cookbook is called "Praise The Lard: Recipes And Revelations From A Legendary Life In Barbecue."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAR-B-Q")

WENDY RENE: (Singing) I like barbecue. You like barbecue. We like barbecue. You know I sure love barbecue. Sister's out back sitting in the swing. She wants some barbecue.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.