The "winningest man in barbecue” has plenty to say about beef.
Georgia-based celebrity chef Myron Mixon, the chief cook of Jack’s Old South Competition Bar-B-Que Team and star of Destination America’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” began competing back in 1996 and has since won more awards for barbecue than anyone else in the world. With over 1,700 trophies under his belt, Mixon has a no-nonsense approach to preparing some of the most succulent, juiciest dishes from Down South. Whether it's hearty brisket, saucy ribs, or even sausage-stuffed pork chops, the man in black knows how to make mouths easily water.
How does he do it?
In time for the New York City Food and Wine Festival, FOX News Magazine spoke with Mixon about making the best barbecue at home, how the right wood can enhance flavors, and his guiltiest pleasure.
FNM: How was your father a major influence when it came to learning how to barbecue?
MM: He was the one who got me started. Not willingly, I might add, but he ran a barbecuing business. He took myself and my brother at a very young age and we were just free labor (laughs). We used to help fire the pits, go with him to get the wood, and prep the meat. You know, at age 8 or 9, we didn’t want to be doing that, but we learned as we got older and got better at what we were doing.
FNM: What are your top tips for making the best barbecue ever at home?
MM: First thing is, whatever kind of smoker, grill or pit you have, you have to know it inside and out. You should know what it’s capable of doing and what its shortcomings are. Start out with recipes that are easy. Build yourself up to work on more complicated recipes. Barbecuing in general is not complicated, but a lot of recipes take more time and prep work. For big meats like brisket, you’ve got injections that I like to use a day ahead of time, whereas if you’re doing small meats like ribs or chicken, you can do them the day-of. I would suggest taking any of the smaller meats, maybe even pork chops, and get really comfortable working on them. Create a skill where you can do those first very easily and then move forward to the bigger meats and more complicated recipes.
FNM: You mentioned ribs and chicken are some of the easiest meats to barbecue. Which are some of the more complicated meats to try?
MM: The most difficult — and everyone is taught this, whether they’re competitive cooks, barbecue enthusiasts, or the novice getting started in their backyard — is beef brisket. That’s probably the hardest one to get done properly. It’s a hard meat to get tender, but if you follow good recipes, they can get done. But beef brisket. I would say. is the hardest to get past because it’s lean and doesn’t have a lot of fat content, so it’s got to be cooked right to wind up being a tender piece of meat.
FNM: What are some of the most common mistakes you have found people make when it comes to barbecuing?
MM: Most of the time they’re overcooking the product, whatever it happens to be — the first thing you need to learn how to do well is manage your fire. But when it comes to poultry, don’t undercook it, either. You don’t want to make anybody sick. Most of the time, people end up charring. They overcook their meats and get it too hot. That all goes back to not managing your fire. A lot of times, people are focused too much on their adult beverages and not paying attention to their pits.
FNM: There are different styles of barbecuing, such as Texas, Memphis, etc. Is there a specific style you prefer?
MM: I live in south Georgia, born and raised. My ancestors came here in the 1600s and came through the Carolinas right into Georgia. We’ve been here a long time, and the kind of barbecuing you see here is Carolina style. It’s vinegar-based with a hickory note. That’s what you find in the backwoods of the South. But regional style doesn’t matter as much as it used to, because you have so many people that move around now. People move from California to Carolina and vice versa, so the regional aspect isn’t what it used to be. And the regional style comes down to the flavor profile. In the South where I grew up, barbecue sauce rules. We love vinegar-based sauces. You go out to Texas, it’s more spicy, ketchup-type flavors. In Memphis, it’s sweeter.
Good barbecue is good barbecue, no matter the regional style. It all comes down to the tenderness of the meat. It just depends on what kind of flavor profile you like. With all the migration of different people, those flavor profiles do change. But to me, that’s a good thing, because that also means barbecue is going to last. It’s going to continue to grow and stand on its own. You got people now in New York who know what good barbecue is. You don’t really have to stick to strict guidelines as far as region goes. But I’m sure there are people from the Carolinas and Texas that want to come cut my throat now.
FNM: A lot of sauces these days tend to be on the sweeter side.
MM: Here’s the thing, if you go to nearly any supermarket now and walk by that sauce aisle, there are hundreds of them there and the majority on that shelf is going to be sweet, ketchup-based types. Well, that’s very similar to Kansas City and Memphis-style sauces. It’s more mainstream, and it’s a flavor profile that anybody can relate to, and even like. Hickory-style sauces are loved in the South, but not everybody in the country is going to like that. Not everybody likes hot and spicy, but everybody loves something sweet.
FNM: Let’s talk about wood. I read you like to use Georgia peach wood for your grills. How does this particular wood, or even fruit wood in general, make the meat taste better?
MM: You’re burning the wood during the cooking process, so whatever impurities are in the wood are going to be absorbed by the meat, along with the flavors of the bark. I found that when you used fruit wood, it was a lot milder. It didn’t overpower the meat. You still had a great smoke flavor, but the meat was able to come through on its own. And that’s what real barbecuing is about. You want to taste the meat, whether it’s pork, poultry or beef. And fruit woods don’t mask that meat flavor. And being in the South, and being surrounded by all the peaches of Georgia, I have access to peach wood. Apple wood is also great for barbecuing, but we don’t have a lot of apples in south Georgia. Peach wood is what I used to hone my competition skills.
FNM: It’s interesting to know that specific woods can impact the flavor of your barbecue.
MM: It does. I’m not saying hickory wood isn’t good. For me, I’m working on some blends where I use some hickory, oak, pecan and peach wood. It really turns out some great flavors. The earliest pit masters we ever had in this country, they used whichever woods they had around them.
FNM: Few people know fried chicken is actually a weakness for you.
MM: I love it!
FNM: What has been the best and worst fried chicken you’ve ever had?
MM: Well, the best I’ve ever had came from my grandmother on my mother’s side. My granny used a cast iron skillet that was just about nine inches across and she pan-fried hers after flouring it. She didn’t deep fry. Once she passed away, my brothers were fighting with each other over who got that pan fryer because they thought it was the magical thing behind that fried chicken. It wasn’t. That was her skill. But some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had was at Stroud’s in Kansas City. Another amazing place is Gus’s in Memphis.
As far as the worst? I don’t want to tell you that, but whenever I’m traveling for competitions, I always ask the locals where I can get the best fried chicken. Most of the time, they’re accurate, but I’ve had some that, well, let’s just say they tried to reinvent the wheel and failed.
FNM: What can audiences expect from you at this year’s New York City Food and Wine Festival?
MM: We’re going to be doing barbecue wings with different flavored sauces that I use. It’s going to be more like a tailgating experience. What the rest of these guys are going to be doing? I have no idea, but I don’t think it’s going to be as good as what I’m doing.