Smack-talking pitmaster Myron Mixon sports all the bling that goes with barbecue superstardom: hefty trophies, lucrative sponsorships, restaurants, TV shows, best-selling cookbooks, and a line of rubs, sauces and gadgets, including his signature “cupcake chicken mould.”
He has a line of custom smokers and he bought a plant that manufactures Myron Mixon BBQ Pellets to stoke them. For $795 per person, Mixon will even share his hard-won trade secrets during a weekend cooking class at his “compound” in Unadilla, Ga.
The “winningest man in barbecue” also travels with an entourage, including a publicist to set up media interviews and a driver to steer his big rig to a couple of barbecue competitions a year, including The American Royal World Series of Barbecue in the Kansas City area.
“I’ve been working on my brand since I was 9 years old,” jokes the silver-haired Mixon, who made a decision to wear head-to-toe black “like Johnny Cash” when he started to win big on the circuit.
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Mixon’s success reflects the American public’s ever-growing appetite for all things barbecue: Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s 2017 “State of the Barbecue Industry” reports seven out of 10 U.S. adults own a grill or a smoker, and a third of them are expected to purchase a new one this year. And 83 percent own three or more grill accessories.
“From buying gadgets to taking classes, it’s a multi-million dollar industry,” Mixon says. “It is a barbecue lifestyle, and people just get wrapped up in it.”
Of course, to become the name behind all those grills and accessories requires more than making mouth-watering barbecue: It also requires a big personality, a little bit of luck and plenty of business savvy.
“People say to me all the time, ‘Myron, I want to do what you’ve done,’ ” Mixon says. “I hit it at the right time … and it ain’t been like one big home run, but when you put all the pieces together, it’s a great business.”
Bacon and blog
Megan and Jason Day of Burnt Finger BBQ turned their barbecue lifestyle into a business. But Megan says the Lee’s Summit couple did “everything backwards.”
When Jason started competing with a buddy, Megan would hang out. “It was tailgating — with a purse,” she says. “It’s what you do on Friday night, and on Saturday you hope to win.”
But very quickly the cost of meat, fuel and contest entries began to add up. Jason and his buddy, Aaron Chronister (who has since bowed out of the business), decided they needed a way to fund their weekend hobby.
They created bbqaddicts.com and the second recipe that Jason posted went viral. It was the Bacon Explosion, 2 pounds of Italian sausage and bacon encased in 2 pounds of thick-cut bacon fashioned in a basket weave to create an edible belly bomb roughly the size of a football.
“At that moment, we knew it was a business,” Megan says. “People started asking us, ‘Do you have a sauce or rub?’ Then it became ‘I want to eat The Bacon Explosion, but I live on the 80th floor of a high-rise in New York City.’ ”
The moment also led to an award-winning cookbook, a heat-and-eat version of the Bacon Explosion available online for $39.99 or frozen at McGonigle’s for $45, and a line of Smokey Kansas City sauces and rubs.
Last year Megan, who has become a pitmaster in her own right, quit her job in public relations to handle the couple’s growing barbecue business, which includes company sponsorships. She also competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped” and made an appearance on “The Today Show.”
“I think there’s bigger money here,” she says. “I see it. It’s coming. (The question is) ‘How can we position ourselves to be good ambassadors and provide online support and recipe development, and do it in a way that makes (advertisers and sponsors) want to do more with our industry?”
In the meantime, fans can get their barbecue fix with recipes for serious and irreverent dishes, including the Atomic Buffalo Turds (Little Smokie-stuffed jalapeño peppers).
When Slap’s BBQ owners Joe and Mike Pearce imagined getting into the restaurant business, they never imagined they’d own one of Kansas City’s premiere barbecue joints.
“We kind of dive into something headfirst and become super-dedicated to it,” Joe says. “But I don’t think we ever talked about opening a barbecue restaurant. … We always talked about doing an Italian restaurant or a breakfast restaurant with our mom. No way, shape or form did we think that it would be barbecue.”
Joe was only halfway through their first season of competition barbecue when he was approached to be a contestant on Season 6 of “BBQ Pitmasters.” Myron Mixon was a judge — and Joe ended up Reserve Grand Champion.
“Then the conversation was ‘How can we make a living at this?’ ” Mike says.
In April 2014, the brothers decided to put their competition “street cred” to the test with a Kansas City, Kan., restaurant they named Slap’s — an acronynm for Squeal Like a Pig, the name of their competition team.
“We grew up understanding we can be the absolute best at anything we really want to do,” Mike says of the gutsy move.
Last year, Slap’s landed a deal with Kraft Heinz to create a recipe and brand Kansas City-style sauce as part of its “Pitmaster Collection” featuring five barbecue regions of the county.
YouTube features a 16-second clip of their “bumbling” outtakes with the announcer’s voice: “Pitmasters don’t make great spokespeople. They make great tastin’ barbecue sauce.”
National TV exposure has meant Slap’s hasn’t had to spend money on publicity, and now the Pearces are taking a page out of Mixon’s book by offering pitmaster classes. In February, they’ll share what they’re calling trade secrets of their success for $600 a person.
“We did things a little out of order,” Joe says of their meteoric rise to success, “but it happened organically, and it felt right.”
“We’re not just barbecue guys,” Mike adds. “We’re entrepreneurs.”