King of the ’cue

Keep it sim­ple – that’s the ad­vice of big-time BBQ champ My­ron Mixon as he shares his se­cret to the best bar­be­cue.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Sto­ries by S. INDRAMALAR star2@thes­tar.com.my

My­ron Mixon has won more prizes in the world of com­pet­i­tive bar­be­cue than any­body else. So what’s the se­cret to his killer recipes?

MY­RON Mixon is some­thing of a leg­end on the com­pet­i­tive bar­be­cue cir­cuit in the United States. Hav­ing won three world bar­be­cue cham­pi­onships, 180 grand cham­pi­onships, 30 state cham­pi­onships and 11 national cham­pi­onships, Mixon has come to be known as the “win­ningest man in bar­be­cue” – a ti­tle he is proud to wear, and rightly so.

Born into a fam­ily of bar­be­cue masters, Mixon was ex­posed to the art of bar­be­cue from a very young age. His fa­ther, Jack Mixon, op­er­ated a well-known bar­be­cue take-out and sauce busi­ness in ru­ral Unadilla, Ge­or­gia, and Mixon and his brother were re­quired to help out, whether they liked it or not.

“I first started BBQ-ing with my dad when I was nine or 10. Not be­cause I wanted to, but be­cause he made me and my brother help him. I’m glad he did,” shares Mixon in an email in­ter­view. “My ear­li­est mem­o­ries of BBQ was when I was help­ing my dad get wood that we would use to BBQ with and then fir­ing the brick pits all night, cook­ing pork hams and shoul­ders.”

In an in­ter­view with epi­cu­ri­ous.com ear­lier this year, Mixon con­fesses: “I didn’t like it one bit, and I didn’t want to have any­thing to do with it, but I paid at­ten­tion to what my dad told me, be­cause I didn’t want to have to do any­thing twice.”

Jack Mixon was not a man you could ar­gue with, ex­plains Mixon.

“I had a very dis­ci­plined child­hood. My dad was strict about the rules he had for me and my brother. We had fun, but you did what he asked of you.”

The boys had to do a lot of grunt work – they had to fill two huge fire bar­rels with coals and once the coals were pip­ing hot, they had to shovel them into the bar­be­cue pits. The bar-bar­rels and the pit had to be topped up with coal ev­ery 20 min­utes or so. On top of that, they also had to help with the cook­ing.

It was no sur­prise that the nine-year-old Mixon had ab­so­lutely no in­ter­est in get­ting into the bar­be­cue busi­ness him­self.

But when his fa­ther died sud­denly of a stroke, Mixon was left to con­tinue the fam­ily busi­ness.

The first thing he did was sign him­self up for a bar­be­cue com­pe­ti­tion. That he wasn’t a trained chef and had no pro­fes­sional bar­be­cue ex­pe­ri­ence didn’t de­ter him one bit.

“When Dad died in Jan­uary 1996, I de­cided to en­ter a few con­tests so that I could pro­mote our fam­ily busi­ness and sauces. The first con­test (the Lock & Dam BBQ Con­test in Au­gusta, Ge­or­gia) was in June the same year and I won first place in the whole-hog cat­e­gory and ribs cat­e­gory, and third place in the pork shoul­der cat­e­gory in the com­pe­ti­tion,” he re­calls.

Those early wins gave Mixon the con­fi­dence he needed to run his fa­ther’s bar­be­cue busi­ness.

The fol­low­ing year, he en­tered the Big Pig Jig – a large pork cook-off in Vi­enna, Ge­or­gia (which made Dis­cov­ery Travel Chan­nel’s Top 10 list of “World’s Best Bar­be­cue Con­tests”). He emerged as grand cham­pion.

Though he has won many com­pe­ti­tions since, this tri­umph at the Big Pig Jig re­mains his most mem­o­rable win to date.

Mixon ex­plains: “Yeah, I’ve won over 180 grand cham­pi­onships and three world cham­pi­onships but my most mem­o­rable win was (the one) in my home­town (of Vi­enna) be­cause my dad had re­cently passed away and I was com­pet­ing in front of the peo­ple I grew up around.”

Bar­be­cue com­pe­ti­tions are huge in the United States. Each year, hundreds of bar­be­cue com­pe­ti­tions are held across the coun­try – from fairly small re­gional af­fairs to large fes­ti­vals that span sev­eral days to national com­pe­ti­tions that of­fer prize money of up to US$100,000 (RM314,000). Culi­nary mag­a­zine Saveur.com de­scribes Amer­i­can com­pe­ti­tion bar­be­cue as a “grow­ing sub-cul­ture” and “a sport, an ob­ses­sion, and a whole way of life” for a grow­ing num­ber of cooks, both am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional. This isn’t an ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

The Kansas City Bar­be­cue So­ci­ety – the main gov­ern­ing body of com­pe­ti­tion barbe- cue in the United States – has a (grow­ing) mem­ber­ship of over 14,000; the body over­sees more than 300 bar­be­cue com­pe­ti­tions in 44 US states ev­ery year. The so­ci­ety also trains judges for the com­pe­ti­tions.

For Mixon, com­pe­ti­tion bar­be­cue is a high­stake sport that must be taken se­ri­ously.

“Sure, it is like a sport. You have places given for how the con­tes­tants fin­ish (e.g. first, sec­ond, third). There is prize money, spon­sors and rank­ings. Oh, yeah, we got TV shows, too. And stakes are high be­cause you have ex­pen­sive equip­ment – some can cost over US$100,000. And there’s the stress of com­pet­ing for se­ri­ous money; some com­pe­ti­tions of­fer a US$100,000 prize purse. Ev­ery­one who com­petes dreams of mak­ing a liv­ing do­ing this, like me, and fi­nally there’s the pres­sure of do­ing well in front of your peers,” he ex­plains.

Mixon has been com­pet­ing for 15 years and doesn’t see him­self slow­ing down any­time soon. He loves to win and is con­stantly im­prov­ing his tech­niques and recipes to make sure he stays on top of the game.

“I love to com­pete. Be­sides, com­pet­ing and win­ning is what fu­els my whole BBQ busi­ness,” he says.

Though he takes part in a fair num­ber of com­pe­ti­tions each year, com­pet­ing is only one of the many things Mixon does. He still op­er­ates his par­ents’ sauce busi­ness and has in­tro­duced many new spice rubs and sauces of his own to the menu.

He has also opened his own bar­be­cue cook­ing school – Jack’s Old South (which he named af­ter his fa­ther) which he op­er­ates from his back­yard in Unadilla. Mixon is also a celebrity of sorts since ap­pear­ing as one of three judges on pop­u­lar re­al­ity TV show BBQ Pit­mas­ters (sea­son two). He re­cently pub­lished his first cook book this year, Smokin’ With My­ron Mixon: Recipes Made Sim­ple From The Win­ningest Man In Bar­be­cue which has made the New York Times best­seller list.

“I started Jacks Old South BBQ school years ago. I’m the win­ningest man in BBQ and I have worked hard to at­tain that ti­tle. I knew some­day I could fig­ure out a way to make a liv­ing do­ing what I love ... other than the prize money (from the com­pe­ti­tions). So, I be­gan sell­ing my rubs and sauces from my web­site store at jack­sol­dsouth.com and then later on came the school.”

Mixon teaches all the classes at Jack’s Old South him­self. His aim is to pay it for­ward: “I wasn’t born know­ing how to do this, but I did have some help, and I’d like to pass along what I’ve learned.”

For US$750 (RM2,355) any­one can learn the se­crets of great bar­be­cue cook­ing from this mul­ti­ple-time cham­pion. Mixon is gen­er­ous with the knowl­edge he shares with his stu­dents and many of his stu­dents have gone on to win com­pe­ti­tions – some have even beaten him. Mixon isn’t fazed at all. “I think any­one who is think­ing of teach­ing their tech­niques and skills, must ar­rive at a place within them­selves where they are com­fort­able with giv­ing up the se­crets that helped them win. I came to that place. On my

web­site, I have a Wall of Cham­pi­ons, where I put up the names of stu­dents who have gone on to win grand cham­pi­onships. I have more cham­pi­ons come from my class than any other class that teaches BBQ. Yes, I give up the se­crets for that day, but I’m con­stantly work­ing on new ones,” says Mixon.

De­spite his re­luc­tant en­try into the bar­be­cue busi­ness, Mixon is now a proud bar­be­cue mas­ter him­self.

“I’ve been suc­cess­ful in BBQ for a long time be­cause I try to stay ahead of the curve. I’m con­stantly tweak­ing my recipes and tech­niques to make the world’s best BBQ.

“But the most ful­fill­ing part is know­ing that I’m do­ing some­thing my fa­ther did, and his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther. I come from a long line of BBQers. It’s a fam­ily tra­di­tion.”

De­scrib­ing his fa­ther as his big­gest in­flu­ence, Mixon reck­ons that he has some­what mor­phed into Jack Mixon on many lev­els.

“He was very fo­cused. When he had a task to do, he wouldn’t turn it loose un­til it was com­pleted. He was very de­mand­ing and some­times rough in get­ting what he wanted. He didn’t show emo­tions of­ten but he was very gen­er­ous when he felt it was de­serv­ing. I’m my fa­ther’s son. In a lot of ways, I am a clone of Jack Mixon,” he says.

Mixon has four chil­dren of his own. His son Michael re­cently started his own bar­be­cue team – Jack’s New South. His other chil­dren are pur­su­ing their own ca­reers though they still help out with the fam­ily busi­ness in vary­ing ca­pac­i­ties. How­ever, they are spared the grunt work that Mixon him­self did as a boy.

“My daugh­ter Kylie is in phar­macy school but when she’s home she helps with send­ing in­for­ma­tion to stu­dents at my school. My son David looks for dif­fer­ent av­enues of mar­ket- ing and sell­ing my prod­ucts while his brother, Cory, han­dles all my graphic and logo de­signs, though he has his own busi­ness. If one or all of them wanted to keep Jack’s Old South alive, it would make me proud,” says Mixon.

If there is one piece of ad­vice on bar­be­cue that he would like to im­part, it is to “keep it sim­ple”.

“Don’t try to make French food out of BBQ. BBQ is a sim­ple food and we should use sim­ple ingredients such as juices, vine­gar, salt and su­gar for sea­son­ing. BBQ that stays true to tra­di­tional tastes is the best. The grill or smoker you have is ir­rel­e­vant as long as you know how to use it prop­erly. Most im­por­tantly, you must have fun and en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Mixon.

picin­set).

Win­ningest man:

My­ron Mixon is glad that his fa­ther roped him in to help out with the fam­ily busi­ness when he was a young boy. the dis­ci­pline and train­ing has stood him in good stead as Mixon now owns a very suc­cess­ful bar­be­cue busi­ness be­sides win­ning bar­be­cue com­pe­ti­tions and writ­ing about his pet sub­ject (

Meat the stars: My­ron Mixon was on the theJayLenoShow in Jan­uary last year, with ac­tress San­dra bul­lock as fel­low guest. He also ap­peared on the­co­nano’brienShow in June this year ( pi­cright), and their con­ver­sa­tion was pep­pered with phrases such as ‘grab your meat’, ‘stick your meat’ and ‘rub your meat’.

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