Memphis Barbecue Co. in Fayetteville North Carolina is the pride and joy of world champion BBQ pitmasters Melissa Cookston and John Wheeler, and may very well be the only BBQ restaurant in the U.S. that features two world champion pit masters. Wet or dry, Hickory or oak, Pork or beef — no matter which way you take your ribs, there’s something beautifully primal about sitting down to a meal of finger licking good southern BBQ. Two-time 'Memphis in May' Grand Champion and a three-time winner of the 'Whole Hog Championship,' Melissa regularly smokes the competition on the barbecue contest circuit. As well as being a successful restauranteur with two Memphis BBQ Co. locations, she's has also just released her first cookbook, 'Smokin' in the Boys Room: Southern Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue.' Now, everyone can enjoy some of her best recipes for not only the barbecue that has made her famous, but also for baked and fried favourites, delicious side dishes, and decadent desserts that will stick to your ribs. "The cookbook grew out of my 17 years of cooking on the male-dominated barbecue contest circuit. Here you'll find recipes I used to win world barbecue championships, recipes from my restaurants, and recipes from my soul and upbringing." We made a special stop at Memphis BBQ as we were driving though North Carolina, and gave Melissa's ribs a sticky two thumbs up!
Top pitmaster and restaurateur Melissa Cookston
The recipes cover the gamut, from sauces and seasoning blends, to pork and bacon, beef, poultry, and seafood, as well as a few sides and desserts to round out the meal, from from Slow-Smoked Competition Brisket, to Fire-Grilled Pork T-Bones with Hoe Cakes and Mississippi Caviar, and even Grilled Pineapple Upside Down Cake. And no true Southern cook would be without her Buttermilk Fried Chicken, BBQ Shrimp and Grits, and Red Beans and Rice. A native of Greenville, Mississippi, 150 miles south of Memphis, Cookston was introduced to barbecue by her husband Pete. They went to a BBQ contest when they started dating, then began experimenting on her own recipes and entered her first contest in her late 30s. Now she teaches men how to smoke meat. "I'm just preaching the gospel of barbecue," Cookston says."I do what I love."
Melissa Cookston's 'Smokin' in the Boy's Room' cookbook
Memphis BBQ Co. laminated pork-centric menu
Southern unsweetened Iced Tea
Deep Fried Pork Rinds
The Full Rack Spare Ribs Pitmaster's Sampler complete with pulled pork, brisket, potato salad, onion rings and corn bread
"Finger Lickin' Good" to the last
Pulled Pork Sandwich with Cole Slaw and onion rings
The mark of any fine dining establishment — a moist towelette!
Competition Pork Baby Back Ribs
Recipe courtesy Melissa Cookston
2 slabs baby back ribs, about 3-pounds each
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp Ultimate BBQ Rub — see below
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp yellow mustard
2 tbsp honey
4 tbsp turbinado sugar
4 tbsp purple grape juice
1/2 cup Sweet Glaze — see below
Chipotle chile powder, for sprinkling
Rinse the ribs and remove the membrane from the back. Trim any excess fat from the tops of the slabs. Trim 1 bone from the large end of the ribs and 2 bones from the small end. This will give you a much more consistent slab for cooking.
Starting on the backs, sprinkle the ribs with approximately 1 1/2 teaspoons of rub each, then add 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard each and massage into the meat. Flip the ribs over and repeat. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. For a contest, I marinate ribs like this for 12 to 16 hours.
Prepare a smoker to cook at 225°F with around 4 chunks of apple wood and 4 chunks of cherry wood so that the wood will smolder throughout the cooking. Remove the ribs from the refrigerator, unwrap, and repeat the rub and mustard procedure, massaging them in. Don’t get it too thick or paste like, as this will give you a dark appearance when cooked.
Place the ribs in the smoker meat side up and cook for 2 hours. Remove the ribs from the smoker and increase the temperature to 250°F. Apply rub and mustard to both sides of the ribs as before. On each of the top sides, slather approximately 1 tablespoon of honey over the surface, then sprinkle heavily with about 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar each. Lay the ribs meat side down on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold up the edges. Pour 2 tablespoons of purple grape juice into the bottom of the foil for each rib then finish wrapping the ribs, but don’t crimp the edges—you want steam to be able to escape.
Return the ribs to the cooker for 2 hours, then test for tenderness. (I cook ribs at this stage until they look overdone and too tender. Don’t worry; they’ll tighten up. If they still have too much texture, leave them in for 20 to 30 more minutes.) Remove the ribs from the cooker, open the foil, and drain off the liquid. Brush sauce on the bone side of the ribs. Then, using the foil as a tool, “roll” the ribs over so the meat side is up and glaze the tops. Using long tongs, carefully remove the ribs from the foil and place them back in the smoker for 15 minutes. This will let the glaze cook onto the ribs and let the ribs tighten back up. Remove from the cooker and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Apply a very thin coat of glaze to “glisten” the ribs, then very lightly sprinkle with chipotle powder before serving.
Ultimate BBQ Rub
Makes about 6 1/2 cups
1 cup turbinado sugar
5 cups Basic BBQ Rub — see below
1/4 cup light chili powder
1/4 cup granulated garlic
1 tsp cayenne
Place the turbinado sugar in a clean coffee grinder and pulse until lightly powdered. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. (You may have to work in batches.) Add the rub, chili powder, granulated garlic, and cayenne and stir until well incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
Makes 3 cups
"Barbecue competitions are not just about flavour — they’re also about appearance. Honey will not only add some sweetness but also give your products a beautiful sheen".
2 cups BBQ Mother Sauce — see below
1 cup honey
2 tbsp Basic BBQ Rub — see below
In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the mother sauce with the honey until incorporated. Add the rub and stir until the sugars in the rub have dissolved and there is no grainy texture. Remove from the heat, cool, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To use, brush on the meat in the last 10 minutes of smoking or 2 minutes of grilling, so the glaze doesn’t burn.
Basic BBQ Rub
Makes about 1 3/4 cups
"This is my all-purpose grilling seasoning, as I like the saltier overtones for the grill. It’s great on steaks, pork chops, and grilled chicken".
1/2 cup freshly cracked black pepper
1 tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp dill seeds
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 cup kosher salt
2 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tsp light chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
Place the cracked black pepper, onion flakes, coriander seeds, dill seeds, and hot red pepper flakes in a coffee grinder and pulse until reduced in size but not pulverized. Transfer to a small mixing bowl, add the salt, granulated garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and stir until well incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
BBQ Mother Sauce
Makes about 6 cups
"This recipe has always been our “mother” competition sauce—the base we use to make the sauces we serve for competition judges. It is very forgiving of tweaking, so use it as a palette with which to add your favorite flavors. One of my favorite variations is to add a cup of peach or mango puree to 2 cups of the sauce for a fresh taste. When cooking competition chicken, I leave out the diced onion and substitute 1 tablespoon of onion powder, as I like a smoother finish on chicken".
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup finely diced sweet or yellow onion
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water, or as needed
1/2 cup Basic BBQ Rub, or Ultimate BBQ Rub, or to taste
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low if the onion is cooking too fast—you don’t want it caramelized or browned. As the onion is getting close, add the garlic and cook until lightly golden, about 2 minutes longer. Add the ketchup, honey, tomato paste, vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire, dry mustard, cayenne, and black pepper and stir well. Slowly add water until the sauce reaches the consistency you like. A slightly thick consistency is best. Add about 3 tablespoons of the rub, stir well, and taste. The sauce should have a good, well-rounded flavor. Add more rub in 1-tablespoon increments until your desired flavor is achieved. Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.