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.
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.
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’.