Later this week, hundreds of competition barbecue teams will converge on Memphis, TN's Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi for the 38th annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the largest all pork BBQ contest in the world.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with the Memphis in May BBQ cooking contest, Grillocracy is turning to Neil Gallagher of team Too Sauced To Pork for an insider's look at the contest.
Let me state that the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest is an amazing sight to behold. The sweet smell of hickory hangs thick in the air. Booths (some 3 levels tall) line the mile long park. Over 100,000 people flock to this Mecca of BBQ every year to eat, drink, and worship at the altar of swine.
First let me start off by saying that all of Memphis in May, from the first band at the Beale Street Music Festival to the last note of the Sunset Symphony (now in it's final year unfortunately) is absolutely amazing!!! While we at Too Sauced To Pork love both the Beale Street Music Festival and the Sunset Symphony, our favorite part of Memphis in May is the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest. Known as the MIM WCBCC or BBQ Fest to the locals, this festival, with over 82 TONS of pork cooked in 3 days, is certified by Guinness as the “Largest Pork BBQ in the World”.
The first Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest was held in a parking lot by the Orpheum Theater at Main and Beale on May 6, 1978. The entry fee was $12. There were 25 contestants who took part in the first Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest, Bessie Louise Cathey won the $500 first prize, Lee Waterbury won the $250 second prize, and Third place and $150 went to Mrs. Johnnie Whitaker. While they were cooking, an estimated 5,000 people wandered through the area.
Memphis In May International Festival’s second annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was held on May 5, 1979. This was the first contest held in Tom Lee Park (the small version of the park before the expansion in 1993) and all contestants cooked under one huge tent.
The expansion was a Mud Pit, trust us, a few of us were there…truly worthy of Memphis in May’s nickname of “MEMPHIS IN MUD”
Yes folks this is truly an international contest. Yes, there are many naysayers who say its only teams from Memphis, but they are wrong. Put it this way, in 2011 on Too Sauced to Pork there were members from 21 different US states and 3 foreign countries.
TSTP has competed at Memphis in May for many years, so this article is a kind of insider's view to give readers a leg up on BBQ Fest. While it is fun to stroll up and down and look at the rows of team booths, the real fun happens inside them. For you people not in the know; spectators are only able to get into a booth if you are a member of that team or know someone who is a member…or participating in Cooker Caravans, VIP Pit Passes, Kingsford Tour of Champions, and of course you can schmooze your way in.
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
You see, all the booths are private team parties, and contrary to popular belief, most teams are NOT sponsored by corporations. Many BBQ Teams pay for this contest out of their own pocket. This and Health Codes are the main reasons BBQ teams do not let random people into their booths.
MEMPHIS IN MAY’S OFFICIAL RULES FOR SPECTATORS
- This is a competition. Local health regulations prohibit teams from serving barbecue to the general public. There are barbecue vendors, as well as other food vendors that can sell to the public.
- There are two programs for our patrons that allow them to experience the World Championship as a team or judge would: Kingsford Tour of Champions Contest allows patrons to the try and judge championship barbecue. The Cooker’s Caravan takes you on a guided tour of the teams and lets you hear first-hand about the team’s passion for pork. The team’s will tell you about their secrets for grilling championship barbecue, show you their rigs and explain the process of cooking at Memphis in May. There is no charge for the tours and you may tour as often as you like. The tours are available Thursday and Friday every thirty minutes from 11:30am – 3:30pm.
- The park is about a mile from end to end. Wear comfortable shoes!
- WHAT NOT TO BRING: No beverages, bicycles, cans, containers, coolers, food, glass bottles, laser pointers, lawn chairs, oversized umbrellas, pets, roller blades, roller skates, water guns, no thrown objects such as baseballs, footballs, frisbees-etc., or weapons. Food and beverages, including beer, are available from the concessionaires.
- All packages and purses are subject to inspection.
- Picture I.D.’s will be required from everyone purchasing alcohol.
- All food must be purchased with cash. ATM’s are available within the Festival site for your convenience.
- We welcome many out-of-town visitors. Please let our guest services volunteers know you are our visitor and they will explain all of the rib-tickling entertainment offered.
Intro to Memphis in May courtesy of Too Sauced to Pork competition BBQ Team