Myron Mixon may write BBQ cookbooks. He may host a show about cooking with smoke and fire ("BBQ Pitmasters"). He may manufacture a line of smokers. He may teach barbecue classes down in Georgia. He may be an outspoken and colorful popularizer of BBQ. But when it comes time to enter some of his smoked brisket or ribs in a high-dollar high-prestige contest, Mixon, the most winningest barbecue competitor ever, means business. Mixon doesn't compete as an excuse to chill out with friends and drink beer. He aims to win. And he's serious about doing what it takes to take home the prize.
Mixon will be competing on Sept. 29 in Connecticut's Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) state championship, held for the third year in a row in New London. (In addition to the competition, there will be local barbecue for sale, as well as live music.) Mixon spoke with the Advocate last week by phone from his home in Unadilla, Georgia. As it happens, Mixon has business ties to Connecticut; his line of smokers are made in a partnership with Waterford-based Seconn Fabrication. (The smokers have an innovative water-pan feature that allows for steaming while smoking and cooking, making for some juicy BBQ.)
In addition to a second cookbook, Everyday Barbecue, which came out this summer, Mixon had plans to open a barbecue restaurant in New York City. But that deal went south, figuratively, when Mixon's partners didn't want to do things according to his standards, he says. "I'm not gonna have my name on something that's not what I wanted," says Mixon. "I'm not gonna do anything mediocre. There's nothing gonna be half-ass." He still plans on opening a restaurant in the Northeast or Midwest in the future, maybe Chicago, or New Jersey.
Mixon is an entertaining barbecue proselytizer. And in an age of culinary-school experimentation and celebrity-chef flourishes he's a voice for tradition, championing the flavors of vinegar, salt, smoke and meat over any novel approaches. "I'm not looking for new frontiers," says Mixon. "What I'm looking for is traditional barbecue."
When he's competing, which he does about 14 weekends a year, Mixon says he knows how to pitch his flavors right toward the tastes of the judges — the sweet spot. Judges, he says, tend to like a slightly sweeter barbecue than he might, or than he might use at a restaurant. "You gotta get something that pretty well is middle of the road," he says. "You gotta figure it out quick that you're cooking for the judges." (There is a total of $4000 in cash prices as part of the New London event.)
Despite his character, which has what you might call salty and vinegary notes, Mixon has some very practical advice for anyone who wants to be a backyard barbecue champion. You don't need to have the latest and greatest and fanciest equipment, he says — though he suggests now is not a bad time for spice-rubbing hubbies to start whispering that they want a Myron Mixon smoker for Christmas. As with any worthwhile pursuit, practice is crucial. Mixon urges grillers and barbecue hobbyists to get very familiar with their equipment.
"The key to the whole thing is — whether you got a Myron Mixon smoker or not — you need to understand and know how to cook on that smoker inside and out," he says. "You need to know how that cooker functions and how it works. You need to know the hot spots and cold spots."
Of course you've got to have good ingredients. But that will only get you so far.
"You can have the perfect injection, perfect rub, perfect sauce, the highest quality meat that money can buy, but if you don't know how to run that cooker, how's it gonna turn out? Like crap," says Mixon. "Use some damn common sense. Barbecue is a simple damn food, it always has been."
The Best BBQ Chef Competition
Sun., Sept. 29, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., New London Waterfront Park, 111 Union St., New London, (860) 443-3786