Barbecue royalty: Here are 10 top contenders at Memphis in May this year
The competition field at the 2022 Memphis in May World Championship Cooking Contest is as fierce as ever. This week, 215 teams will battle for the title of Grand Champion at the Fairgrounds in Liberty Park.
The roster of participants this year includes the top names in competition barbecue. They are all here in Memphis to win the most coveted title in competition barbecue.
These are the expert pitmasters considered “barbecue royalty” — each with multiple wins to his or her name.
Several have been featured on national TV shows. Many have their own line of sauces and dry rubs. Four in this group have been inducted into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame, which is one of the highest honors for a pitmaster.
Here are 10 of this year's top contenders. (If you're heading out to the contest this week, swing by their booths to get a glimpse inside the world of competition barbecue at its highest level.)
Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South
Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South is a five-time World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest Grand Champion. He won the title in 2021 after also wining first place in the Whole Hog division. This Georgia native has won over 200 grand championships resulting in more than 1,800 total trophies, 30 state championships, eight Team of the Year awards and 11 national championships. He was inducted onto the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2013. Mixon has competed at Memphis in May for decades. His first WCBCC Grand Champion win was in 2001. Mixon is competing in Whole Hog.
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Melissa Cookston of Yazoo’s Delta Q
Melissa Cookston is known as the “Winningest Woman” in competition barbecue. Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, Cookston is a seven-time world barbecue champion, having been named Memphis in May Grand Champion twice. She is also the owner of Memphis Barbecue Company restaurant in Horn Lake, the author of two cookbooks and frequent host on barbecue cooking shows. She was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2017. Cookston competes in the Whole Hog division. In 2021, she placed third in Whole Hog.
Brad Orrison of The Shed BBQ
Brad Orrison is the team captain for The Shed BBQ and owner of the Ocean Springs, Mississippi, restaurant of the same name. Orrison has won the title of Grand Champion twice, won the Whole Hog division three times and has multiple ancillary competition (poultry, beef and booth) wins. This will be his 16th year to compete in the Whole Hog division.
Leslie Roark Scott of Ubons BBQ of Yazoo
Leslie Roark Scott has been on the competition barbecue circuit since 1990, when she joined the team run by her father, Garry. In 1992, she became the first female to win a grand championship in the Memphis circuit. With multiple wins, she now runs the family’s Yazoo City, Mississippi, restaurant, Ubons Restaurant. Ubons is competing in the Whole Hog division. In 2021, Ubons placed 10th in Whole Hog.
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Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porkers
Nashvillian Carey Bringle is head of the barbecue team Peg Leg Porkers and the owner of the award-winning Nashville barbecue joint Peg Leg Porker. Bringle has been cooking at Memphis in May for decades. Before moving to Nashville, he was a lead cook for the Hog Wild-Real Memphis Barbecue team, placing second twice and making several Top 10 showings with that team. Peg Leg Porkers has placed third and seventh in the Whole Hog division. Bringle is competing in Whole Hog this year.
Amy Mills of Apple City BBQ/17th Street BBQ
Amy Mills is the team captain for Apple City BBQ / 17th Street BBQ. In 2013, she began competing alongside her father, Mike Mills. Mike Mills, who died in 2020, was a three-time WCBCC Grand Champion and was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2010. Amy Mills now runs the Illinois-based family restaurant 17th Street BBQ and continues her father’s competition legacy.
Tuffy Stone of Cool Smoke
A native Virginian, Tuffy Stone is a six-time World Barbecue Champion pitmaster. He was named WCBCC Grand Champion in 2019. Stone is also a Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee, a cookbook author, a former Marine, a French-trained chef and an occasional reality television star. He owns a restaurant and catering company in Richmond, Virginia. Stone competes in the Shoulder division and placed fifth in the category in 2021.
Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson’s
Chris Lilly has five Memphis in May Grand Champion titles and has won the Shoulder division 11 times. Since 1992, Lilly has been the lead pitmaster of Big Bob Gibson’s team and part of the restaurant of the same name. In 2016, Lilly was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. He also has authored multiple cookbooks. Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que restaurant has been a dining institution in Decatur, Alabama, since 1925.
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Charlie McKenna of Lillie’s Q
Charlie McKenna has competed on the competition barbecue circuit since 2005. McKenna has won multiple Top 10 awards and placed first in Shoulder in 2007 and 2016. Raised in South Carolina, McKenna cooks Southern-style barbecue at his Chicago Lillie's Q barbecue restaurants. McKenna is competing in the Shoulder division this year.
Heath Riles of Heath Riles BBQ
Heath Riles has more than 70 championships and multiple perfect score category awards in the Memphis Barbecue Network and Kansas City BBQ Society competitions. The Mississippi native also has an award-winning line of barbecue rubs, sauces and injections that can be found all over the U.S. and in 11 countries. He releases cooking videos weekly on his website, HeathRilesBBQ.com. Riles is competing in the Ribs division and said he is hoping to take to the top prize this year, especially since his team hasn't won Grand Champion since 2002. His vinegar sauce placed eighth in the 2021 competition.
Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.
Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
When: May 11-14
Hours: 5-10 p.m. May 11, 11 a.m.-midnight May 12-13, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. May 14
Where: Fairgrounds in Liberty Park
Tickets: Single-day general admission tickets are $14 and four-day passes are $48. Tickets can be purchased in advance at memphisinmay.org.