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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

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GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

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Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $289 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

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The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.


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Melissa Cookston's Prize Winning Grilled Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Shrimp

melissa cookston & john wheelerBy Meathead Goldwyn

Melissa Cookston is the world's best competition barbecue cook. She won the title at the 2012 Kingsford Invitational head to head against the winners from the eight most prestigious competitions head to head. Her team, Yazoo's Delta Q, based in Nesbitt, MS, just a few miles south of Memphis, got there by winning the huge Memphis In May competition, where she has won the whole hog category an unbelievable three years in a row. She teamed with her husband, Pete, and their business partner, John Wheeler, all owners of the Memphis Barbecue Company restaurant and won four of the five categories judged. That's Wheeler and Cookston trying to cook on camera. There is no question of who is in charge on this team. So much for male dominance in this "sport".

Cookston was born in Ruleville, MS, "A greasy spot in the road" in the Mississippi Delta, home of countless blues musicians and barbecue cooks. She and her Mom would make the 115 mile drive to Memphis occasionally, and she fell in love with the ribs at a joint named Gridley's.

Years later she took a job as a bartender/manager at a restaurant in Memphis where she met, and hated, her boss. It took her a year after she left the place to soften up and date him. He took her to a barbecue competition. She had always loved barbecue, but had no idea how fascinating a competition could be.

cookstons_bacon_wrapped_shrimpShe went home and fired up Betsy, her barrel grill, and married her ex-nemesis. In 1997, when she entered her first cookoff "There were no fancy expensive smokers like the teams use nowadays" she says. Everybody used barrels. She won her first championship in 2001 and eventually upgraded to fancy expensive smokers made by Backwoods (they make some very nice backyard units for much less - I have their Party model). Cookston remembers the day she sold Betsy. As she was being driven away a hubcap popped off and rolled down the driveway, smashing into a tree. She now regrets letting Betsy go and thinks the hubcap meant Betsy was unhappy too.

Cookston uses thermometers to check meat temps during the cook, but eschews them when it counts, when it is time to take the meat off. "I know by feel. My fingertips tell me when the meat is ready." She samples all her meats before turn-in but pays more attention to texture and moisture than taste. " I have my head in a pit so much that I can't smell and taste smoke much anymore."

At one time she was competing in 20 or 30 events a year, but she has scaled back to about four since she opened the restaurant in December 2011. She sold her home in order to raise money for the restaurant, but it has been a huge success although she confesses to having nightmares about opening the doors and nobody would show up, she says "I'm like Sally Field. When the place fills up I feel like shouting 'They really like me!'" She is shopping for a new home now.

Pete joins her for many of her contests. "He is shy and pushed me to the forefront and respected my ideas even though he was more skilled than I was in the beginning. We don't even have to communicate verbally when we cook." They now have a 14 year old daughter who is the five time Mississippi hamburger champion, winning her first at age 6.

I asked her what to order when I visit her restaurant, and without hesitation she said "baby back ribs, potato salad, red beans & rice, turnip greens, mac & cheese, and cornbread. We do them all right. The ribs are the best. We soak the dried beans ourselves, none of the canned stuff. The recipes are family recipes that I've fine tuned."

The biggest surprise for her in the Kingsford Invitational? "There were so many other great teams, all of whom cook chicken and brisket regularly on the KCBS circuit, I was just hoping for a good showing." I guess first place in pork, ribs, brisket, and the one bite challenge, below, four of the five categories classifies as a good showing. "I still can't believe I won brisket! That was just crazy".

By the way, Cookston teaches barbecue classes occasionally.

Ingredients
20 Gulf shrimp, 16/20 size
20 slices bacon
1 (8 ounce) brick of cream cheese
1 jar whole pickled jalapenos
Thai sweet chili sauce
Toothpicks

About the bacon. Melissa prefers peppery crusted.

About the jalapeños. These are not the sweet sour type like my recipe for Cowboy Candy, they are brined.

About the sauce. Cookston uses Maggi Taste of Asia Mild Sweet Chili Sauce.

Do this
1) Peel and devein the shrimp, but leave the tails on. Click here for instructions and photos.

2) Setup your grill for 2-zone cooking and heat the direct side medium hot. Cook the bacon strips right on the grates on the indirect side, lid on, until they are about halfway done. Don't overcook them, they must remain flexible.

3) Slice the cream cheese into 1/4" x 1/4" x 1/2" slices. Cut the stems of the peppers, slice them in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds.

4) Place a strip of cream cheese on the shrimp's back where the vein was. Place a strip of jalapeño on top of the cream cheese, wrap with a strip of bacon, and hold it in place with a toothpick or two.

5) Cook the bacon wrapped shrimp on the indirect side of the grill with the lid on until the shrimp is ping throughout. Remove and brush generously with the Thai sweet chili sauce and serve.

This page was revised 11/19/2012


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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

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