Game of Bones

Myron Mixon is a good ole boy from Georgia with a penchant for good whiskey and occasional profanities who in short order has become the winningest man in barbecue. That alone virtually guarantees a following of America’s backyard grillers and armchair cooks during the summer. He’s an author (Smokin’ With Myron Mixon, a New York Times bestseller, and Everyday Barbeque). He is a restaurant owner (Pride & Joy BBQ in Miami and New York), and the chief cook of the Jack’s Old South Competition Bar-B-Que Team.

Little wonder, then, that Mixon has drawn record ratings as the star of Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters.

BBQ Pitmasters, now in its fourth season, is the single most popular original series on Discovery’s fledgling new network Destination America, formerly Planet Green.

This year, the show will follow the circuit of the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) and Memphis BBQ Network (MBN), filming at BBQ festivals across the country. Mixon and his amiable sidekick and fellow judge Tuffy Stone, along with a surprise guest judge each week, sample the entries and, at the end of the season, crown one as the BBQ Pitmaster, along with a $50,000 prize from Kingsford Charcoal.

Multichannel News editor in chief Mark Robichaux caught up with Mixon recently to talk about celebrity chefdom, viewer psychology and how to grill good chicken.

MCN: Myron, you’ve always had a little bit of celebrity on the circuit, but how has the last four years with Discovery and now Destination America changed life for you?

Myron Mixon: Well it just gave me more opportunities to do things this side of barbecue that have helped me as far as making a living, whether it’s our cooking schools, the cooking books, the restaurants. We build smokers now. None of the things that I do hasn’t benefited from being on BBQ Pitmasters.

MCN: I know they changed the format after the first season. You were a contestant and now you’re the judge. You still compete, so do you really share your best cooking secrets?

MM: You’ve gotta get it in your mindset that they’re there to do a TV show. And you got to come to terms: Are you willing to let everybody that’s a viewer watch what you’re doing or not? And a lot of cooks, especially barbecue cooks, have a problem with that. And from the start I decided, you know, I think I can still win regardless of what they see me do and pass onto the viewer. So I did. I do what I do and let everybody watch.

MCN: To what do you attribute the ratings success of the show?

MM: Well, BBQ Pitmasters is pretty straightforward. You have three expert judges judging three contestants standing in front of you. They turn in the food, we eat the food, we judge the food.

But the big difference now in BBQ Pitmasters on Destination America and what we added in, it’s more of an educational tool also.

MCN: Can I actually become a better griller by watching your show?

MM: That’s what it’s all about. Even though we have some very entertaining moments on Pitmasters now, if the viewer really pays attention, he can get some great recipes, tips, a whole lot of things about barbecue from contestants and from the judges.

MCN: Don’t you think there’s a fundamental difference between watching it being done and then doing it?

MM: Maybe sometimes. I mean you got different people that watch the food shows for different reasons. But one thing I do know, whether they like making it or not, everybody eats. Now, they may not eat barbeque but they eat something. And everybody likes to watch people prepare food of any kind.

I love to watch the process. And it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m gonna go out in the kitchen and make cupcakes, but I like seeing ‘em being made. And the same with people with barbecue. They like to watch it being made.

They can watch these contestants cook this meat and they can do what they watched on TV to some degree. And that’s what makes it so cool — and it doesn’t take a lot of money to be able to do that.

MCN: What do you think is the American, especially male, fascination with grilling?

MM: There is something about meat and fire, and especially the fire aspect, that really attracts men to it. I mean growing up as a kid, you know, kids, especially boys, love to run around and they build a fire and they might not have supposed to been doing that. They love to do that kind of thing.

It also takes place outside, and that’s a big draw. And probably the third thing I would say is, it really revolves around, in most cases, family and friends. And when you put fire, you put meat, you put outside and you put family and friends, you got a winning combination every way you look at it.

MCN: You’ve been described as demanding as a judge, and maybe a little hard on contestants. And that’s from a fan.

MM: You know, well, there’s two Myrons. There’s the Myron that competes — that’s the Myron that fan is talking about, and I’m a lot more intense when I compete, and then there’s the Myron that judges. Because when I’m judging, I’m a little more laid back and stuff . I wanna eat good food.

MCN: Any advice for grilling chicken this summer? I always ruin it on the grill.

MM: The main concern people always have with chicken is when they pull it off , when to pull it off . Well it really doesn’t have anything to do with the temperature you’re actually cookin’ at. You can cook chicken at 225, you can cook chicken at 250, you can cook chicken at 275 or 300, depending on what type of smoker you have, what type of grill you have.

But one thing I will tell you about pulling it off , whether you’re cooking pieces or whether you’re cooking chicken halves or chicken quarters, invest in buying yourself a meat probe, a meat thermometer. You can get ‘em for less than $10.

When you’re cooking chicken breast, the white meat of the chicken, you wanna probe that chicken breast in the thickest part till it reaches 165 degrees. When it reaches that, you pull it. It’s done. Only the dark meat side of the chicken, the legs and the thighs if you’re cookin pieces, when those pieces reach 180 degrees internal temp, you’re ready to pull ‘em. You pull the chicken off , when it hits those internal temps, let ‘em rest for about 15 minutes and they’re ready to eat. It’s pretty simple.

MCN: Do you rub ’em or do you put a sauce on them?

MM: Oh yeah. I put a rub on ’em during the cooking process and I like to do a little brine, a little water, salt and sugar, do about an hour brine before I cook my chicken. Then I place my rub on and it goes on the smoker.

The Only Barbecue Rub You’ll Ever Need

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons mustard powder [1]

2 tablespoons onion powder [1]

2 tablespoons garlic powder [1]

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

[1]2 tablespoons kosher salt [1]

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

— From Myron Mixon’s book Everyday Barbeque