When 7-time world barbecue champion Melissa Cookston fires up the grill in pursuit of her third grand championship at the prestigious Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, she’ll go at it whole hog. Her entry will be a custom-bred hybrid hog of her own design.
To produce these “Utopian” hogs, Cookston and farmer Ben Dennie bred a 600-pound Berkshire sow named Harriet with a boar of an undisclosed breed that is renowned for its fat content. The competition animal is one of about a dozen offspring that tips the scales at about 200 pounds.
The breeding program, believed to be unprecedented in the 40-year history of the Memphis in May competition, aims to produce hogs with optimal levels of protein, fat, texture, and flavor to complement Melissa’s preferred hog-cooking style, producing a better final product. While Cookston and Dennie keep the animals’ diet a closely held secret, giant marshmallows are said to be among the hogs’ favorite treats.
“These are some pampered pigs,” Cookston says. “You have no idea how spoiled they are. These are happy hogs, and I’m a firm believer that happy hogs taste better.”
Cookston and her barbecue team, Yazoo’s Delta Q, have taken home the Memphis in May grand championship twice in the past, emerging victorious in 2010 and 2012. They won the Whole Hog division in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014.
Author of two cookbooks, Melissa Cookston is also the 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.
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This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.