Melissa Cookston and her stellar, three-person team won the "best of the best" competition, held in Belle, Missouri, last weekend. The first-ever Kingsford Invitational was like no other contest I've ever been to, as it was pretty teeny tiny. Just eight teams were vying for first prize, winner takes all of the $50,000. But these were the top teams in the nation, having won big in other competitions throughout the season.
The first clue that the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest Grand Champion was going to come out on top of the heap was when the team handily won the quick-fire one-bite challenge on the first day. Each team was charged with coming up with a compelling appetizer using just five ingredients. Yazoo's Delta Q made grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos. Winning the challenge was worth $5,000 and an extra point in the finals score.
On Saturday, five judges with some major BBQ chops evaluated teams on pork, beef brisket, ribs and chicken. Before the prize was announced, the panel gave the crowd a juicy preview, agreeing that it had been a mighty tough decision.
After all the boxes were turned in to the judges, Melissa and her crew invited the crowd to come do a little pig picking, with chunks of beautifully smoked meat from her whole hog placed in containers for everyone to try. A very generous gesture! It was so, so, so delicious, moist and incredibly flavorful. I tried some loin and a bit of shoulder meat, but my favorite was the meaty part of the belly, also known as bacon. Oh man.
The ribs were also out of this world, thanks to teammate and sometimes fellow competitor, John David Wheeler, whose team Natural Born Grillers is a perennial winner at Memphis in May.
Congrats to all the teams for making it to this prestigious competition! Can't wait to see who makes the cut next year!!
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