Never trust a skinny barbecue guy," says Myron Mixon, eight-time national BBQ champion. He's poking fun at Chris Lilly, 10-time world champion, who is notably more slender than Mixon.
Lilly parries with, "There are some things for which I reach right past my dry rub and grab Myron's because it's best for some applications. Like a flea-and-tick barrier."
I start wondering whether my visit to the luxurious Greenbrier resort in West Virginia has been hijacked by good ol' boys channeling Don Rickles. Well, maybe a couple of comedians who can exquisitely smoke a pork shoulder or brisket and who, over three days, share many of their tricks—and more shtick—with about 30 students attending the yearly three-day BBQ Mastery program here.
Lilly, from Big Bob Gibson's in Alabama, and Mixon, from Jack's Old South in Georgia, take turns demonstrating recipes before students working in teams try them out. Among the 11 items we make on day one are shrimp wrapped in bacon, stuffed pork tenderloin and grilled fruit skewers with a spicy maple-cumin glaze. Particularly amusing is watching the less confident try to stuff an entire chorizo into a pork tenderloin.
The second day includes recipes I've already used to impress friends. Mixon's "I've-won-more than anybody-else" championship ribs cook for only four hours. Key to the unique flavor is smoking the ribs for an hour, then coating them with brown sugar, liquid margarine and honey.
"I like the little bear," Mixon drawls as he squeezes a bottle of honey. Lilly's smoked chicken with white BBQ sauce is remarkable and simple. He also has the teams make coal-fired sweet potatoes with maple pecan butter. Like putting a pecan pie on top of a sweet potato.
The last night is spent learning how to create your own rub and smoking cigars while the big meats smoke—seven pork shoulders, two briskets and a whole hog that students took turns injecting with a fruit juice concoction.
The package includes a three-night stay with lunches and runs this year from June 28 to July 1. At last year's gathering I learned at least four new techniques and met several kindred spirits. The big lesson is summed up by Lilly:
"It's about more than food. BBQ is about community."
And eating everything we cooked.