The "winningest man in barbecue" spills his barbecue secrets and ideologies.
"I teach cooking classes, and the first thing I tell those who want to compete is that the things we used to do in 1996 aren't the things we do today," explains Mixon. "You've got to stay in front of the curve of flavor profiles."
While flavor preferences are continually evolving and changing, texture-based features like tenderness and doneness of meat will always remain unchanged and very important to good barbecue.
Sweetness is Trending
According to Mixon, for the past eight years, sweeter flavors have been very popular in grilling. Maple syrup, honey, dark brown sugar and corn syrup are popular sweeteners.
"I'm big on jellies," explains Mixon. "I Iike homemade preserves to use in my sauces to give it a natural flavor and sweetness."
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Use Different Types of Jelly
"If you have a sauce that calls for jelly," begins Mixon, "all you have to do to change the flavor profile of it is use a different type of jelly."
Stick to Tradition
While Mixon does use more modern techniques like injecting marinades, he prefers to stick with traditional flavor combinations. If he is making pork, for instance, he will often marry it with vinegar and red pepper flakes, a traditional mixture. "I may add some sugar or some salt and a little apple juice, but I try to stay traditional to what the meat is," he explains.
While he has tasted wacky flavor combinations such as butterscotch and peanut butter on ribs, he prefers to keep it simple. "I like my chocolate cake and I like my ribs, but I don't want my ribs tasting like chocolate cake," he says. "Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should do it."
"You've got to have the right amount of smoke, the right amount of seasoning, and sauce that complements the meat, not smothers it," advises Mixon. One of the biggest mistakes people make is using so much sauce that you can barely taste the meat.
Look for Marbling
Mixon advises looking for a highly marbled piece of meat at the store. "You want to make sure that all the fat isn't just on the outside," he explains. If you are looking for the cream of the crop, try Mixon's favorite, Wagyu beef.
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Don't Overcook Meat
One of the biggest mistakes people make is overcooking their meat. "Beginners, a lot of the time, want to overcook something because everyone is scared to death about the bacteria you might get if it's not well-done," explains Mixon. "If you pick great, fresh products, then most likely you are not going to have any issues."
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Use What You Have
Grilling is all about using what you have, according to Mixon. From whatever ingredients you have in the fridge to whatever grill you have in the back. "You don't have to buy a new barbecue each year," he says. "If you have a gas grill, you can make great barbecue just as you can with charcoal or wood."
Don't Be Intimidated
Mixon has noticed that people are often intimidated by grilling, but assures there is no reason to be. "If you are doing burgers in your backyard, so what if you turn your back and you burn the burgers up," he says. "Go and open up another two-pound package of hamburger meat and make some more burgers. You will have them done within 15 minutes of when you would have [finished] the other ones."
The Georgia native learned to barbecue from his father out of necessity rather than hobby. "My dad had a barbecue business and my brother and I started helping him," says Mixon, who began grilling at 10 years old. "It wasn't because I wanted to learn how to do it, it was because he made us learn how to do it."
When his father passed away in 1996, Mixon first explored the competitive grilling circuit as a means of promoting the family's barbecue sauce. "My first contest was the same year my dad passed away, and I took a first place and a third place," explains the pitmaster. "I was hooked and from that day forward." Since, the all-star has won more than 200 grand championships including three world championships, 14 national titles and 35 state championships.
He first became involved with BBQ Pitmasters back in its first season when the show followed different barbecue competitors who were big on the circuit. For its second season though, the show had changed formats and brought on Mixon to judge. "I'd never judged barbecue before," he says. "As a judge, I think I'm a lot more forgiving and understanding with the competitors because I know how hard it is to do. I feel like I'm a fair judge but I always give the pitmaster the benefit of the doubt."
Whether as a competitor or a judge, Mixon hasn't lost sight of his passion for barbecue. "With very little effort you can turn out great food and you are doing it outside," he offers. "Especially at this time of year, there is nothing better than doing it outside."
Check out the slideshow above for secrets and insights from the grill master.