A two-time grand champ of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest openly sharing her secrets? Seems unlikely, but here it is: Melissa Cookston's Smokin' in the Boys' Room: Southern Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $22.99).
"I really didn't think that I would be honest if I didn't give those recipes out. It's hard to fathom, 'Oh, well, here's a recipe you can use, but it's not the good one.' I really just laid it all on the line," Cookston says, adding she doesn't plan to compete much in the future.
Plus, Cookston says, "I used to teach barbecue classes, and I would tell these guys, 'You can buy my rub and sauce and use it against me, and I'll still beat you.'"
The co-owner of two Memphis Barbecue Company restaurants offers much more than ingredient lists in her first cookbook.
The photography is vivid (the fried chicken may make your stomach growl), and Cookston laces the book with Southern culture and sass, offering anecdotes from her childhood and providing her unique perspective as a woman invading a man's culture.
Next to a recipe for grilled corn on the husk, Cookston spins a tale about stealing corn from her grandparents' garden as a girl despite their warnings: "I would nibble on the baby ears right off the stalk."
The book encapsulates Memphis barbecue as well as foods from the Mississippi Delta. After leading with some lessons on barbecue tools and techniques, Cookston delves into recipes for pork, lamb, bacon, beef, and poultry before venturing to seafood, sides, and desserts.
Some of Cookston's personal favorites include grape salad, a recipe beloved by her husband, and a pair of dishes she whipped up in her own kitchen. "The cayenne grilled peaches are something that I came up with just a couple years ago when the desserts were becoming more savory, had a little heat to them, and weren't so sticky-sweet," Cookston says. "The pinto bean pie was something that I thought would be a fiasco but turned out fantastic. There are things in that book that nobody would've ever thought about making or putting together."
It was important to Cookston to inject some humor, dishing out stories about barbecue superstitions and her experiences.
"There's no ladies' tees in barbecue. I get my own hogs on the smoker. And for the most part, I have been treated with the utmost respect," Cookston says. "So many people are intimidated by big pieces of meat. From a woman's perspective, if a girl can do it, anybody can do it, right? When I thought about writing the book, I really just wanted everybody to realize it's not that hard to do."
Available wherever print and e-books are sold.
Rick Browne, the tablecloth shirt-clad host of the PBS show Barbecue America for seven years, is launching a new bimonthly national magazine by the same name.
The first issue features an advance on the Memphis in May barbecue contest. Browne plans to give away 20,000 copies of the magazine in the Bluff City, where the publication will get its official introduction.
"We want to be an insider's magazine for the barbecue aficionados in this country," Browne says. "Barbecue is a big family, and we want to be a very important part of that family."
In the first issue: a review of pellet grills; the story of "Old Ray," who went from making sausage in his garage to selling 50,000 cases per year; and a profile of a Michigan man who lost his construction job, started selling barbecue from a roadside stand, caught someone's attention, and is now a pit master at a restaurant.
A one-year subscription (six issues) of Barbecue America is $24.97. The publication will be available at more than 30,000 retail outlets, including places like Walmart and Kroger.
"Memphis is one of the top four barbecue cities in America, as far as I'm concerned," Browne says, citing barbecue contest venues. "You've got Kansas City. You've got Lynchburg, Tennessee, which is small, but Jack Daniel's is there and that makes it a lot bigger. You've got Memphis in May, and you've got the Houston Rodeo and Bar-B-Que. Those are the four biggest and most prestigious events."
During the Memphis in May barbecue contest, Browne will show off an eight-foot stainless-steel dragon sculpture that doubles as a grill at his booth, and he also plans to have plenty of giveaways.
"I've been to Memphis in May five times," Browne says. "I love the city. I love the barbecue. The [contest] venue along the Mississippi River is fantastic. The city has a great spirit. They truly love to barbecue, and they truly love to party."
Print or digital subscription packages are available online at bbqam.com.