I've never attended Myron Mixson's cooking school, but I've talked with him several times over the years at the Big Pig Jig, which is in his hometown. He was friendly and open to conversation. Interestingly, he kept his cooking rig completely hidden from view - the only competitor that I have ever observed to do so.
I competed in the Big Pig Jig several years ago (it was around 1999), and was the first year that Myron won (his father had won it previously, and had passed away, so it was a big emotional event for Myron).
I made the mistake of trying to compete with a new smoker design that I hadn't had enough experience with, and the result wasn't up to par (I finished about in the middle of 200 competitors).
I never went back to compete (have been back almost every year to observe and have a great time!), because I realized, for me, I wasn't really interested in cooking BBQ for a judge other than me! In other words, at this point in my life, I believe I know as much about how BBQ should taste to me, and that's what I wanted to cook to.
Someone up above mentioned this would be a good idea if you are wanting to get into the competition circuit. I totally agree with that statement.
If, however, you are just wanting to learn how to cook BBQ, then I would suggest using that money in this way:
1 - buy a good smoker (see advise on this!)
2 - buy a notebook and create a cooking log.
3 - embark on a series of tests.
4 - record all tests.
5 - don't be afraid of failure.
6 - analyze your results
7 - make only 1 adjustment on the next test, so you can evaluate the results. Too many variables gives you too many gotchas.
8 - try to control all elements the same for each test, except for the item you are changing: e.g., if you are testing ribs and wanting to determine the correct time, then use the same cut of ribs, same thickness and weight (being practical) at the same place in the smoker, at the same temperature, on similar days (not one test raining, windy, the other hot dry).
9 - note all of the above in your test logs.
10 - grade it on things that are important to you. Compare it to the best BBQ you can get locally frequently ;-)
11 - teach your family to offer constructive criticism. Frequently, they won't want to do this (well, mine didn't), so I would ask them to compare with BBQ I knew they liked, like Jim & Nicks here in N. Georgia.
12 - Make Brunswick stew with your failures!
Edited by Banjo - 6/25/12 at 11:52am