Friday, December 3, 2010

Jack's Old South BBQ Cooking School...

Schooled By A Legend: My 3 Days At Jack's Old South BBQ Cooking School
By: William Wilson

He’s bold, brash, and larger than life, but Myron Mixon isn't really the Gene Simmons of competition BBQ.
The three-time World Champion and celebrity judge on
TLC's BBQ Pitmasters admits as much:

"Ain't nothin about reality in most Reality TV," says Mixon. "A lot of it is staged."

Nothing is staged when Myron Mixon is behind the grill, and I was lucky enough to spend three days with this wizard of the pits.

But, let’s rewind a bit here.

I first became familiar with Mixon during season one of BBQ Pitmasters. With a mouth that would make a sailor blush and the wisdom and experience to back it up, Mixon and his team, "Jack's Old South" (named after his father), were standouts in competitions chocked full of teams just itching to take him down a notch or two. When my online BBQ forum suggested that we attend the August, three-day, "Jack's Old South Barbecue Cooking School" as a group, I jumped at the chance. It would mean an eight hundred mile car ride (the JOS Cooking School is located in Unadilla, Georgia... roughly an hour south of Atlanta), but to me (living in Montgomery County, Maryland), it was worth the long drive.

I should note: I’m not a professional chef.

My first and only food service job was working for my local Dairy Queen when I was fifteen. That job lasted for about two weeks before the owner and I parted ways. It was one of those “meeting of the minds” moments you have with a boss when you both realize that you’re not very good at your job. I knew: employment in the ranks of the food service industry just wasn’t me. But working in the field, and having a love of the culinary arts are two completely different things.

TLC's Celebrity Judge: Myron Mixon

Myron instructs students on what they will learn

You see, by fifteen years old, I was already three full years into my life-long addiction: barbecue.

I’d come by it honestly. I inherited the family grilling duties at age twelve. And, it wasn’t easy. We had one of those $4.99 grills you bought on impulse at the local drug store. You might remember them. Worse, you might still be using one: no top… a mere aluminum charcoal grill with a grate supported by slide inserts that fit into pre-cut grooves and a stand made of legs similar to the ones you find on the cheapest TV dinner trays. Good for hamburgers and hot dogs, bad for anything else. Learn to cook on a grill like this and you can cook on just about anything. By fifteen, I’d learned. And, I was turning out some pretty tasty dishes. Fast-forward to the future: I’m age fifty-three, and I've been cooking barbecue for over forty years. The chance to attend the JOS Cooking School was a dream come true. It was August before I knew it, and soon, I was Georgia bound.

At first glance, Unadilla seems an unlikely home for Jack's Old South. A railroad-dependent town that ceased to be an important rail stop decades ago, the roofless buildings that make up much of downtown Unadilla have rendered this small, two-street village into a modern day ghost town. We arrived early Friday ("Meet & Greet" night). Parking was directed by Myron's nineteen year old son, Michael Mixon. Michael made sure that we were directed to the correct seating area, and was a great source of information.

Some improvements have been made between the monthly classes. Gone are the large white tents in the parking lot, replaced by a built-in BBQ area with a fixed roof and concrete based foundation. This allows for permanent class seating and a large (nearly complete) cooking area: a dramatic improvement over the previous system.

After a surprisingly good dinner of fried catfish, hush puppies, and his signature mayo-based coleslaw, everyone gets their chance to get their picture taken with Myron. It's at this point when the real man emerges from behind the wall of the myth: Mixon is an extremely nice person, and is happy to chat and have his picture taken. This became abundantly clear as we watched him make his way to every table, and speak with nearly every one of the sixty people attending the class. While we waited for our turn, our table used the time to get acquainted. From coast to coast, our group had travelled from all over America to attend this class. By the time he’d made his way to our table, the crowd had begun to filter out. We soon joined them. Myron warned us: day two was going to be a long, hard day, and we’d better be prepared.

We'd find out the next day how right he was.

Downtown Unadilla, Georgia - A modern day ghost town

Myron poses with students

Day 2: The Class Begins

Day two started early. After grabbing a quick breakfast (a basic breakfast is provided in the fee for the class, but it consists of honey buns, and your choice of coffee, or tea: we opted for a hot breakfast at the local Cracker Barrel), we arrived at class just after 7am. Although class was slated to begin at 7:30am, we wanted to arrive early to secure a table as close as possible to the speaker's podium.

Our first order of business was whole hog, and we began by creating the injection that we would be using. While I won't be divulging the actual recipe for this, a quick Google search will provide many good injection recipes and links to sites that sell commercial injections. After creating the injection, it was set aside to cool and the process of "fine butchering" began.

Fine butchering is a term I coined to describe the special cuts Myron likes to make to augment the prep the hog underwent when it was cleaned and gutted at the butcher shop. To do this, several special cuts are made. This allows the various areas inside the hog to separate evenly while cooking and provides easy access to the meat upon completion. The most notable (and frequently imitated) cut made is the "rib" cut, which can be seen in the accompanying side image. The rib cut allows the pitmaster ease in pulling a completed rib for sampling, while providing a visually appealing sight line which enhances the overall presentation.

From a student's perspective, watching this process is mesmerizing. Mixon moves around a hog like Fred Astaire worked a dance floor: no wasted motions, and a seemingly endless knowledge gained from decades of experience. The viewer is left to wonder whether there's anyone on the planet that knows as much about hogs as Myron Mixon does.

After injection, the hog is foiled and set aside to allow the marinade to set in. It will ultimately spend twenty hours in the smoker, rendering the meat tender, juicy, and delicious.

After a hot lunch (burgers, dogs, fries, and slaw), we moved on to pork butt, ribs, brisket, and the most controversial of Myron's dishes: his famous cupcake chicken. This part of class begins with note taking (you're given all of Myron's injection recipes and techniques), but transitions into the interactive, where students break into individual groups and prep the various meats. Classmates take turns practicing the butchering, seasoning, and marinating skills necessary to create these complicated dishes. After preparation, they're collected by Myron's crew and set aside to allow time for marination. During various intervals in the night and early Sunday morning, the meats are placed on the smoker by Myron and his crew to allow for mid-day Sunday completion. Students are invited to remain, or return during the night to observe the cooking process.

Injection recipe is shared with the class

Whole hog after fine butchering and injection

Students practice butchering and injection techniques

Day two concluded with a classic southern dinner: the low-country boil. This consists of shrimp, several different vegetables, and seasonings that are brought to a boil in a large pot. Students are invited to stay for dinner, and various soft drinks and beers are provided. We opted for a restaurant dinner: a bountiful peach crop had led to an over-abundance of repellent-resistant gnats, and our day-long battle against them had taken its toll on us. Sleep would bring welcome relief.

Day 3: Let The Feast Begin

There was a buzz in the air when we arrived on Sunday. Our lunch menu would consist of the various meats created the previous day, and the unique opportunity that sampling the wares of a World Champion presented wasn't lost on the class.

But lunch would have to wait. We had a full morning of classes left, and the emphasis would be shifting toward subjects of interest to many in attendance: chicken, and competition techniques.

For the record, chicken takes a very short time to cook. It's placed on the smoker late Sunday morning, and is easily done within the confines of other cooking times.

The real challenge? It's texture: crispy skin, or bite-through.

Myron's default? Bite-through.

Worth the price of admission for many in the comp world was the after-cook butchering. Turn-in box examples are created for each competition category, and special attention is given to detail. Smart teams took multiple photographs of the boxes with an eye toward creating a laminated notebook that could be used in modeling their own during competitions.

Finally, lunch-time arrived. Students are welcome to eat to their heart's content. Large plastic baggies are provided for those who wish to take some home.

The tastiest dish?

Most felt the chicken was a close second to whole hog. It took a mere forty minutes for sixty people to consume eighty pounds of whole hog. I was lucky to get two pieces of the chicken.

I did slightly better with whole hog... but, not so much. I was able to secure enough for my wife and son to sample the next day. But hands-down, my favorite dish was brisket. There are no words to describe this amazing delicacy.

By the end of the class, I began to recall Myron's euphemisms:

Sage advice: "Barbecue is simple food. Keep it simple!"

On taste: "Don't waste your time adding different things like star fruit and other fruits. It just throws your flavors off."

On fat: "The fat I'm interested in is already 'in' the meat... not the fat you're gonna cut off."

On judging: "Don't listen to judges. One told me my sauce didn't taste like the sauce he tasted that his Granddaddy made when he was ten years old. How the hell is he gonna remember what it tasted like when he was ten years old?"

Favorite TV show: Cake Boss.
Comment: "I think it's staged, though."

Favorite butt to kick in competitions: Chris Lilley

Class price: $750 per person.
Group rate available.
Website URL:

Myron demonstrates his cupcake chicken technique

Myron pours his special after-cook sauce on the whole hog

Myron creates his famous chicken turn-in box

Myron Mixon's mouth-watering brisket

No comments:

Post a Comment