She is the only person to have won the Memphis in May World Championship Whole Hog Category three times in a row (2010, 2011 and 2012), and the World Grand Championship two times in the last three years (2010, 2012) thus making her the only woman to hold the title of World Champion, yet Melissa Cookston doesn't want to be remembered as just the "most successful female competitive Pitmaster in BBQ, or whatever," she says.
"I don't want an asterisk after my name. I just want to be remembered as the best barbecuer."
Introduced to the competitive barbecue circuit about 16 years ago through her husband, Cookston was immediately hooked.
"I tell people it's for adrenaline junkies. It's a lot of fun staying up with something all night long. There isn't anything like it."
She recalls her first competition. "I had no idea what to expect," she says. "It was a lot different back then than it is now. I do remember walking around during another competition and watching others interact with the judges. One competitor was singing to the them during his on-site presentation, and even I could hear the passion in his voice. His tone and the words he used painted a picture."
When it came to competing, she adds everything was done through trial and error.
"We had to learn how to created our own sauce and rubs, no one showed us how to do it."
And it worked, quite successfully.
Today, while competing has slowed down a bit, Cookston hasn't. Currently, she is overseeing the growth of Memphis Barbecue Company
restaurant (Horn Lake, Miss., and Fayetteville, N.C.) where she is the co-owner and has served as a judge on Destination America's "BBQ Pitmasters." She also has a forthcoming cookbook, Smokin' in the Boys Room
that she says was a rewarding process to see come alive through the photos.
"I don't sleep much," she points out. "I wear baseball caps most of the time. I have the best job in the world. I get up, get dressed and head to the restaurant. I don't even make coffee at home; I make it at the restaurant."
What exactly makes her barbecue stand out from others? Cookston says it is as close as one can get to competitive barbecue without being a judge.
"I know how to cook and prepare barbecue both KCBS- and Memphis-style. It's a knowledge and skill that many do not have, and I bring both together."
As for future plans, Cookston is considering expanding the restaurant. She adds there is nothing more humbling than to see people standing in line waiting to order her barbecue.