Barbecue Champion Melissa Cookston Talks Triple D, Babyback Ribs and New Restaurants
Melissa Cookston, co-owner of the Memphis Barbecue Company in Horn Lake, Mississippi, is the only female barbecue grand champion in the world, an accomplishment sure to have caught the attention of Guy Fieri's producers when selecting restaurants for episodes of Triple D. See for yourself Monday, when Cookston's episode titled “Surf 'N Turk Jackpot” airs on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-In's and Dives at 9 p.m.
A veteran competitor and this year's Memphis in May Grand Champion, Cookston and fellow pitmaster John David Wheeler opened Memphis Barbecue Company10 months ago. Last week, Cookston took time from her busy life to talk about filming, barbecue, and upcoming expansion plans for the restaurant.
Memphis Stew: Tell us what you prepared for your episode of Diners, Drive-In's and Dives.
Cookston: We made our Babyback Ribs, Cheese Fritters, and our BBQ Crunch Burger. For the show, they also film you making any associated sauces/condiments, so we also made BBQ Sauce, Honey-Dijon Dressing, Juke Sauce (our BBQ Mayo), and pork rinds.
I can't imagine how much barbecue Guy Fieri has eaten. What did he say about your babyback ribs?
Cookston: He said they were great! Guy is actually a pretty good BBQ competitor and has been around the competition BBQ world for a good while. Our ribs are about as close as we can get to a competition rib and still turn out 500 slabs a day, and I think he appreciated that.
What do you think makes your barbecue unique?
Cookston: We believe in making everything from scratch, and we cook our BBQ fresh everyday. Ribs are cooked several times a day, so we can maintain a high quality. We also believe in vibrant, full flavors, so you won't get the typical bland food from the corporate guys. We try to make our BBQ "competition ready." It really makes a difference in the quality. Since we do a lot of volume here, it also helps out a lot in keeping our products fresh.
How do you top being the only female BBQ World Champion? What's next for you?
Cookston: It's really pretty amazing. My husband and I have been cooking in BBQ competitions for years,and to win the World Championship at Memphis in May really lets you know you've done something right. It truly does take the most skill (and a whole lot of luck) to win versus the other big BBQ contests. We've been lucky enough to win the Whole Hog Category for the last three years, and the overall Grand Champion in 2010 and then again this year. We will always compete at Memphis in May, but we have definitely slowed down on the smaller competitions to concentrate on the restaurant. We are working right now on several other restaurants, and hope to have our second one open later this year.
I understand you are also going to be on an upcoming episode of ABC's The Chew. Do you have an air date yet?
Cookston: We've already aired on The Chew, but if you go to their website we've got some recipes up and you can catch the segment we did. They were great people to work with on the segment.
And finally, anything else new at your restaurant and any chance you'll open a restaurant in Memphis?
Cookston: We are constantly working on new items and specials, so you never know what we'll try next! The actual city of Memphis is not on our expansion list right now. Since we're only 10-15 minutes from Downtown, we get a whole lot of Memphians in the restaurant. We are planning on spreading the Gospel of Memphis BBQ through the country, however, so you never know!
Memphis Barbecue Company, 709 Desoto Cove, Horn Lake, MS (662) 536-3763