COOK OF THE WEEK: Marietta man answers to the call of the barbecue grill

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

FULTON – Gary “Cotton” Thornton didn’t really mean to get into the barbecue competition business. But once the bug bit him 20 years ago, he couldn’t help himself.
Thornton of Marietta and his teammates, Terry Gentry of Baldwyn and Joe Franks of Corinth, make up Twist-N-Snout, and they enter about six contests a year.
“The way I got started is I did some catering for Joe – he was the organizer at the Hog Wild in Corinth for years – and me and Joe just decided to start a team,” said Thornton, 53. “We had two more partners on the team and then they pulled out, and Terry decided to join us.”
Twist-N-Snout competed last weekend in Fulton at the Stand By Your Grill barbecue competition, a Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event. They cooked ribs, brisket, pork and chicken and placed 25th out of 39 participants.
“We enter all four meats everywhere we go,” Thornton said. “We’ve been the most successful with pork and chicken, but we’ve been on a roll with brisket lately. It’s been a hit-and-miss year this year.”
Thornton, a driver for UPS Freight, said his team used to travel to places like Hammond, La., and Mobile, Ala., to compete.
“But now there are so many that are close that we can do all this and stay within about 100 miles of home,” he said. “Everywhere we go we see somebody we’ve met before somewhere else.”
Twist-N-Snout also does a lot of catering for musicians. The men have prepared meals for Randy Owen of the group Alabama as well as Bad Company, The Marshall Tucker Band, Andy Griggs and Mac McAnally.
“They just hire us sometimes to feed the bands,” he said. “We feed a lot of the country stars.”
Thornton, who has been married 34 years to his wife, Lynnette, said he started grilling when he was in high school.
“My mama was the type where you either ate what was on her table, or you fixed your own,” he said. “So I fixed my own. I started out with steaks, burgers, hotdogs – just your backyard deal. Then, I came up with some recipes, and people liked them. You pick up something somebody else does you like a lot, and you tweak it a little bit and make it your own.”
Thornton said he’s known in the barbecue circuit as the “laugh of the party.”
“I’m always pulling something on somebody,” he said. “I’ll walk around with a bucket of pinecones, act like I’m going to put them in their grills. I’ve been known to hide some of their equipment. They come looking for it, and I say I don’t have it. But I always give it back to them before they really need it.”
Thornton laughed when asked how he got the nickname Cotton.
“When I was little, I got lost in the cotton field,” he said. “No, really, they called my daddy Cotton, and they call my son Cotton. But I really did get lost in the cotton field. Well, not really lost. I was just at the end of a row, and I didn’t answer when they called. Then my daddy got a hold of me. You better believe the next time he hollered my name, I answered.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or e-mail them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.