The 4th of July is right around the corner.  So, what better way to celebrate America’s birthday than with barbecue?  But getting your meat just right can sometimes be as tricky as playing with high-power pyrotechnics.

We caught up with barbecue expert and co-owner of Memphis BBQ Company Melissa Cookston for some tips on how to make the best of your Independence Day barbecue.  A three-time world champion, Cookston is the only woman ever to win the Memphis in May World Barbecue Championship, and is now the new permanent judge on “BBQ Pitmasters,” a popular series on the television channel Destination America. 

She says the biggest mistake she sees people make when barbecuing is picking the wrong wood.

“You need to stick with more mellow woods like apple, peach, and cherry,” she says.  “Hickory comes to mind at any barbeque but you can definitely overpower a lot of products with hickory; pork especially, and chicken.  So you really want to stick with those fruit woods.”

If you go for charcoal, she says pick an even burning charcoal.  Don’t go for the cheap stuff.  Cookston prefers Kingsford, which she says has a great flavor.

But beyond cooking the meat, she says seasoning and saucing is fraught with trouble.  Cookston says it’s a two-step process: first you start with the rub, then slab on the sauce.

For a fast and easy rub, she recommends mixing together ingredients such as salt, pepper, Turbinado sugar, cumin, chili powder, paprika, onion, and garlic.  “Mix all of that together and you are going to get that great flavor profile,” Cookston says.

Here are some of her tips to provide the greatest quality barbecue on the July 4.