Who are the top pitmasters competing?

Table of Contents Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old SouthMelissa Cookston of Yazoo’s Delta QBrad Orrison…

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.

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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.)

Jack's Old South owner Myron Mixon at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South

Booth H-301

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 anxiously awaits the first judge during the Memphis in May barbecue whole hog competition from her booth on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Cookston has won the whole hog competition five times and taken home the overall prize of grand champion twice.

Melissa Cookston of Yazoo’s Delta Q

Booth H-337

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.

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The Shed owner Brad Orrison at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

Brad Orrison of The Shed BBQ

Booth H-303

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.

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Ubons owner Leslie Roark Scott during the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Thursday May 13, 2021.

Leslie Roark Scott of Ubons BBQ of Yazoo

Booth H-326

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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Peg Leg Porker owner Carey Bringle at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porkers

Booth H-334

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.

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Amy Mills , owner of 17th Street BBQ at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Thursday May 13, 2021.

Amy Mills of Apple City BBQ/17th Street BBQ

Booth H-321

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.

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Cool Smoke owner Tuffy Stone at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

Tuffy Stone of Cool Smoke

Booth S-242

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.

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Big Bob Gibson BBQ owner Chris Lillys poses next to his trophies at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson’s

Booth S-233

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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Lillie's Q owner Charlie McKenna at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

Charlie McKenna of Lillie’s Q

Booth S-243

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 of Heath Riles BBQ

Booth R-078

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. 

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