Melissa Cookston

7-Time Barbecue World Champion, Restaurateur, Cookbook Author, Celebrated Southern Delta Cuisine Chef, Barbecue Hall of Fame Inductee

Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, Melissa Cookston is a trailblazing female food entrepreneur smoking the competition.

Cookston is a 7-time world barbecue champion; owner of restaurants Steak by Melissa in Southaven, Mississippi and Memphis BBQ Company, a successful barbecue restaurant with locations in Horn Lake, Mississippi; Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Dunwoody, Georgia; an author of two cookbooks, Smokin in the Boy’s Room and Smokin’ Hot in the South;” and a celebrated southern Delta chef who is sponsored by Smithfield Foods.

Recognized nationally from many appearances on national news and talks shows as well as cooking shows and Food Network, Cookston served as a judge on season 4 of Destination America’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” and was named one of America’s most influential BBQ Pitmasters and personalities by Fox News in 2015. Cookston is an Ambassador for Smithfield and is a frequent contributor to Smithfield communications and marketing efforts. She also proudly uses Kingsford and Tabasco products.


Awards and Accolades

While cooking, grilling, and barbecuing come naturally to Cookston, barbecue competition awards have never been easy for anyone to win, especially top-tier world championship barbecue competition awards. Akin to other masters in their field, Cookston has been perfecting her craft of cooking and barbecuing for years.

Competing in barbecue contests for over 20 years, Cookston has earned thousands of awards, trophies, and prize checks over the years. Cookston’s barbecue smoke rises taller than most as she is the only person to have won the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest Whole Hog division three years in a row and she was the first person to win the Kingsford Invitational, where only top barbecue pitmasters are invited to compete. The most notable barbecue competition awards Cookston is credited with winning are:

Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Contest

2012 Grand Champion

2010 Grand Champion

2017 World Whole Hog Champion

2014 World Whole Hog Champion

2012 World Whole Hog Champion

2011 World Whole Hog Champion

2010 World Whole Hog Champion

Kingsford Invitational

2012 Grand Champion

Memphis BBQ Network Team of the Year (Most points accumulated through wins in the circuit for the year)

2010 Memphis BBQ Network Team of the Year

2008 Memphis BBQ Network Team of the Year

When the Smoke Clears

Cookston can be seen in person in the Southeast at the helm of any one of her 4 successful restaurants working right alongside her 300+ employees; across the country in person competing in barbecue competitions and promoting her books; and on screens and airwaves nationwide teaching national television hosts, their audiences, and her fans how to whip up their next smokin’ hot meal, sharing her interesting southern Delta recipes and view on life, and  providing pointers on what it takes to compete with the big boys, and smoke the competition, in barbecue cooking contests.

Left to Right - Marissa Roberts, Lauren Cookston, Melissa Cookston, Beverly Weaver (Melissa’s Mother), Pete Cookston, Mark Nichols, Zack Cookston, Chad Nichols, Jessica Dennie, and Ben Dennie of Melissa Cookston’s Yazoo’s Delta Q barbecue team pose with the 1st place trophy in the whole hog category at the 2017 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. PHOTO: Morris Marketing Group

Melissa is Available for Expert Commentary and Cooking Demonstrations related to the following:

  • Barbecue
  • Grilling
  • Smoke as a Flavor
  • Southern Cuisine
  • Southern Fusion Cuisine
  • Barbecue Competitions/Circuit
  • Outdoor Cooking
  • Food Competition Judging
  • Food in General
  • Timely / Holiday or Season Specific Food Preparations
  • High-Volume Restaurant Operations
  • Starting Your Own Business
  • Following your Passion
  • Doing What you Love for a Living
  • Female competing against and winning against Men

Melissa is a consummate professional who will represent herself and your company/outlet/publication/broadcast in the highest regard and with the utmost respect.

Books by Melissa Cookston

Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room

Top pitmaster and restaurateur Melissa Cookston, two-time overall world champion and the winningest woman in barbecue, presents Southern Delta and barbecue recipes full of smoke and spice, as well as stories filled with the trademark fire and vinegar that make her a TV favorite, too.

One of the world’s top pitmasters, Melissa regularly smokes the competition on the barbecue contest circuit. Now, you can enjoy some of her best recipes for not only the barbecue that has made her famous, but also for baked and fried favorites, oh-so-good sides, and decadent desserts that will stick to your ribs.

In Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room, Melissa shares the inspiring story of how she got into barbecue and worked her way to the top with grit and determination, even becoming known for smoking a whole hog like no one else–an uncommon feat in the barbecue world. She also shares tips and tricks for turning out great meals from the grill, from Slow-Smoked Competition Brisket, to Fire-Grilled Pork T-Bones with Hoe Cakes and Mississippi Caviar, and even Grilled Pineapple Upside Down Cake. And no true Southern cook would be without her Buttermilk Fried Chicken, BBQ Shrimp and Grits, and Red Beans and Rice.

The recipes cover the gamut, from sauces and seasoning blends, to pork and bacon, beef, poultry, and seafood, as well as a few sides and desserts to round out the meal. Some are traditional favorites wherever you may live, and others are true to Melissa’s Delta roots. Many have won contests, and all are top-notch, having been honed to perfection in competitions or in the kitchens of Melissa’s restaurants, Memphis Barbecue Company.

Whether you’re a contest veteran or just getting started, there’s something for everyone in Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room. As Melissa can tell you, anyone can learn to man the grill. To be really good at it, it just takes a little work and a little attitude.

 Smokin’ Hot in the South

Melissa Cookston, the “winningest woman in barbecue,” the only female barbecue world champion, and author of Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room, is bringing the heat with her second cookbook. Smokin’ Hot in the South explores how to use fire in all its forms to craft more than 85 Southern-influenced recipes enhanced with the cultural flavors of Mexico, France, and Asia.

With the grill and smoker as her go-to tools, chef Melissa Cookston—named “One of the most influential pitmasters in America” by Fox News, and one of the “25 Super Women in Business” by the Memphis Business Journal in 2015—shares her all-new, modern interpretations of traditional Southern ingredients and recipes. Melissa explains how the culinary traditions of the South—long a bastion of slow-simmered vegetables and deep-fried everything—have expanded in the last decade to embrace Southwestern flavors, Asian spices, and the French palate. The nine chapters venture beyond the competition and barbecue principles of her first book and focus on instilling flavor with fire, using fresh herbs, and diversifying seasoning components in recipes that reflect the New South. She fire-roasts homegrown green tomatoes for a spicy take on a traditional pizza sauce and uses a barbecue smoker to add Southern nuance to porchetta. Also includes recipes for Butterbean Pate, Asian Pork Tenderloin with Watermelon Rind Pickles and Minted Watermelon Salad, Deep South Burgers with Pimento Cheese and Fried Green Tomatoes, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with Blood Orange-Jalapeno Glaze, Mini Sage Biscuits with Homemade Sage Butter, and Caramelized Fig Clafoutis. She also covers the tools, techniques, and ingredients needed to be successful grillling or smoking at home.

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