Want to step up your BBQ game this summer? Then a guy nicknamed “the winningest man in barbecue” just might be able to help. Since 1996, Myron Mixon has done about everything there is to do in the BBQ world. He’s been named grand champion in more than 180 competitions; he has a full line of smokers, sauces, rubs and utensils; and he’s published books on barbecuing. Plus, Myron still competes regularly, he’s a judge on Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters and beginning this weekend, you can catch him on the network’s new show, BBQ Pit Wars (Saturdays, 10/9c). We grilled him for all you need to know to host the hottest BBQ in town this summer.

“Add something like apple jelly or pear preserves to your BBQ sauce as the glaze for the meat. This is a familiar flavor for a lot of people, and it adds a great punch of sweetness and flavor that’s a perfect complement to the meat.”

What are you up to these days?
I always try to compete when I have the time. I have a team that goes to competitions when I can’t, but luckily lately I’ve been able to attend a lot more of them. We did the last season of BBQ Pitmasters fairly quickly, so that freed up my schedule to get more into the competitions. That’s definitely helped with my cooking, too. It’s not like you forget how to cook once you learn, but in competitive BBQ, there’s a lot going on. Doing the competition helps keep you sharp when it comes to certain processes.

What kind of smoker do you use in your competitions?
I have my own line of smokers made in Connecticut, so I have access to almost any smoker I want. But I usually go with one that’s about 72 inches long and 32 inches deep. This gives me plenty of room to do a whole hog, or a whole bunch of meats like pork butt, ribs, chicken and brisket.

If a guy is interested in investing in a smoker, what should he look for? Any specific recommendations?
My biggest recommendation would be to do your research, and make sure you’re getting a smoker that’ll do what you want it to do, with the amount of work you’re willing to do. There are a lot of options out there, ranging from $100 to $4,000, so it can be overwhelming. Rather than just going to company websites, I’d suggest getting on some BBQ forums and seeing what people have to say about the different smokers. Size-wise, I’d recommend one around 48 inches long. If you ever see yourself doing a party with your smoker, this gives you the versatility to do about anything you want to do. You can do a small hog in a 48-inch smoker, or a whole bunch of meat at once. I always opt for more volume than you need now, rather than less and wishing you had more later. I’d say a good smoker will usually be around $800.

Any tips on making your BBQ just that much better than your buddy’s?
One thing that can really pump up the flavor when you’re smoking something like pork butt is to do an injection before you begin smoking. This doesn’t have to be elaborate either. Plain apple juice, for example, makes a great flavor injection. You can pick up a needle injector for $5, and then inject the meat about a day before smoking, and put it in the refrigerator. Another key is to have the right rub. If you’re fairly new to smoking, don’t be afraid to buy one of the pre-made rubs. There are hundreds of these available, and usually the people who make them know what they’re doing. Another trick is to add something like apple jelly or pear preserves to your BBQ sauce as the glaze for the meat. This is a familiar flavor for a lot of people, and it adds a great punch of sweetness and flavor that’s a perfect complement to the meat.

I know you’ve won a lot of awards for smoking a whole hog. Is this something the average guy can try to do, or is it too challenging?
I would say go for it. Some people get intimidated by the size of the hog, but it’s not all that hard to do. The secret with smoking is to smoke each individual piece of meat for one hour per pound. That’s at a standard smoker temperature of 250 degrees. Now, for a whole hog, the biggest piece of meat is the shoulder. And on an 80-pound pig, the shoulder’s going to weigh about 12 pounds, so twelve hours of smoking. Other than that, the same basic rules apply to smoking a hog as for other meats. 

What would you recommend preparing for a summer BBQ?
It seems like when men are smoking something for a party, they always try to show off. Then, inevitably one of two things happens: They either start it during the party, and it takes all day to cook, or they have to get up very early in the morning to get it going. It’s too much work, and the guy doing the smoking doesn’t have very much fun. That’s why I’d suggest doing smaller things for a party. Stuff like chicken, fish, or even ribs are always a hit and don’t take as long. You can get racks of ribs done in three to four hours most of the time. This lets you actually enjoy the party and not just sit there tending the smoker for eight or nine hours.

Any sides you’d recommend for that BBQ?
If I’m hosting, I’m always gonna have potato salad and my peach baked beans. You can do all kinds of other great stuff, too. One I really like is a BBQ deviled egg we came up with. You actually blend some of the BBQ with the egg yolks before piping it back into the egg whites. But the potato salad and baked beans are my two favorites.