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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Book review: Melissa Cookston's "Smokin' in the Boys' Room"

Viewers of the popular television program “BBQ Pitmasters” are familiar with brash, cocky celebrity judge Myron Mixon, who always is introduced as the “Winningest Man in Barbecue.” 

But Melissa Cookston, a frequent contestant and judge on the show and a three-time whole hog champion at Memphis in May, easily can say she’s put out a new cookbook that is superior in content, detail and flavor to Mixon’s and many other "good old boys."

Smokin’ in the Boys' Room (Andrews McMeel Publishing)” not only provides information that instills confidence to the novice and experienced barbecuers alike, but it also shares excellent insights about replicating Mississippi Delta delicacies and deserts, including Meyer Lemon Pie (Yum!).

Cookston doesn’t need to bill herself as the “Winningest Woman in Barbecue;” but her female perspective doesn’t hurt. In the book’s 180 pages, she comes across as warm and encouraging. She never assumes that you know too much and never dumbs down the text either.
The co-owner of MemphisBarbecue Company restaurants in Horn Lake, Miss., and Fayetteville, N.C., Cookston has been serving up barbecue since 1996, when she entered her first barbecue competition with her husband Pete.

From the first chapter, Cookston offers details missing from testosterone-fueled tomes, such as information about what to stock in your pantry, the tools she’d rather not do without and several practical tips.

Before getting to the meats, “Smokin’ in the Boys' Room” provides recipes for rubs and seasoning blends for grilling, marinades and sauces and the tools you'll need.

“My barbecue and cooking are about building layered tastes that unite on the palate to create a wonderful full-flavored effect,” she suggests. “I tell every judge to put a little sauce on his or her finger, then on the front of the tongue. The flavor should travel all across the palate – a little sweet, a little acid, a little salt and kick at the back to tell you it was there!”

It’s the kind of practical advice anyone can use.

Cookston naturally includes chapters about pork – including for whole hog (for which she is particularly known) – and poultry, beef, fish and seafood. In many ways, her book is useful for the budding competitive barbecuer as well as Bubbas holding court in the backyard.

She offers recipes she has used to win world championships, satisfy diners at her restaurants and feed her family on Tuesday nights. 

Cookston spills some of her secrets and writes from success. Last month, her team, Yazoo’s Delta Q, won first place again -- in the whole hog division of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

In addition to the barbecue, Cookston offers advice about how to prepare other Delta favorites, such as tamales, buttermilk fried chicken, grape salad and praline sweet potato casserole. And there is a chapter on making your own bacon and then what do with it (But don’t overlook the recipe for BBQ Bacon Sauce on page 25.

The photos by Angie Mosier, whose work also can be seen in Food & Wine, Town and Country, the New York Times, Southern Living and Garden and Gun, nicely complement Cookston’s recipe descriptions. Mosier's work also can been seen in John Currence’s interesting new book, “Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey (Andrews McMeel Publishing).

“Smokin’ in the Boys' Room” is a nice addition to the barbecue book canon, a useful resource for the guys with their grills. Hopefully, it also will offer some inspiration to their wives. Maybe this book will save a few marriages as well. 

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