By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
Melissa Cookston knows a thing or two about barbecue. The Nesbit woman, along with her husband, Pete, won the Memphis in May barbecue championship in 2010, making her the world champion.
“For us, this is a full-time job,” said Cookston. “This is how we live. If I don’t win, we don’t eat.”
The Cookstons, who call themselves Yazoo’s Delta Q, are one of 34 teams from five states competing in the Don’t Be Cruel BBQ Duel at the Link Centre. The contest began Friday and continues today.
More than $16,000 in prize money will be awarded to professional and amateur teams, and the championship winner will compete in the Memphis Barbecue Network’s Invitational Championship.
“Consistency is the key to success,” Cookston said. “For me, it’s about hitting times and temperatures. And you have to start with good-quality meat.”
Cookston lives and breathes barbecue. She teaches classes on barbecuing and on how to prepare and cook at competitions. Last summer, she was on TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” and she’s currently working on a show with the Food Network.
“I have the best job in the whole world,” she said. “I really do.”
On Friday, the parking lot at the Link Centre looked like a tailgating party, with tents of every color set up and teammates milling around, getting advice from one another.
“One of the things we’re drawn to at these competitions is the camaraderie,” Cookston said. “Any patio teams we can get to move up and join us the better. More teams means more prize money.”
Kelly Webb of New Market, Ala., and Rusty Smith of Hernando are a patio, or amateur, team. The two men met while growing up in Memphis some 15 years ago, and three years ago they formed a team.
“We’ve placed in the past at competitions for our seafood and our ribs,” Smith said.
“We got sixth place for our vinegar sauce at Memphis in May,” Webb said. “That’s our best showing so far.”
Don’t Be Cruel BBQ Duel
– When: All day today
– Where: Link Centre on Main Street in Tupelo
– What: Barbecue competition, arts and crafts, music, children’s activities, raffle tickets
– Cost: Free, except for children’s area, which has a $5 charge; People’s Choice tasting ticket is $3