We talked with Melissa Cookston, the Winningest woman in barbecue. She’s also authored a book and has three Memphis Barbecue Co restaurants in the southeast.
How did you start competing? I’d been around food / the restaurant business all my life. But because I liked barbecue I started competing in 2009. Winning the competitions lead to my opening my restaurants and writing my book.
What makes your barbecue different or better than others? Memphis style barbecue is smoked longer than other and with ours, it is pulled when you order it. Also because it cooks longer, it renders the meal healthier (less fat) for you.
Do you locally source meat? I can’t because of how much meat I go through a week. I go through about 4 tons of meat per week. So, I have my own vendors I use that supply quality meat.
You have three restaurants that are very spread out. How often do you visit each store? Once per week. It is tough as the restaurants as so spread out, but I like to visit each one once per week and keep a close eye on things.
Is there are popular menu item you like all guest to try? The Cheese Balls. They are made with four cheeses and served with a honey-dijon sauce. They were featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
What are you eating now? Brisket. I taste pork all day long, so I really enjoy the brisket. It is one of my favorite things right now.
Do you have plans to open more restaurants? Yes, absolutely. But I’m not sure where exactly. I know I always open them in the suburbs. We always do well there.
What’s next for you? I’m working on my second book now. Plus, Big Green Egg just called me to ask me if they could send me an Egg. So, I may start experimenting with cooking on that.