World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
Southaven, MS - Events of Friday, May 17, 2013
As we said in our last post, we love the barbecue in Memphis. By happenstance, our arrival in the Memphis area coincided with the start of the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Is this our lucky day or what?
The contest is part of the month-long Memphis in May celebration which also includes a music festival on Beale Street earlier in the month and the Sunset Symphony later in the month. The barbecue contest was held this year from Thursday, May 16 through Saturday, May 18. There was free admission on Thursday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. We decided to go on Friday to take advantage of the free admission.
The barbecue contest is held in Tom Lee Park down along the banks of the Mississippi. The water was high, but it didn't flood the park so the event went off as scheduled. Parking near the park is hard to find and expensive during special events. Since we wanted to stop at the visitor center to pick up some information on other things to do in Memphis anyway, we decided to leave the car in the visitor center parking lot and take the trolley to Tom Lee Park. Trolley rides only cost $1 per person per trip, which was a whole lot better than $10 or $20 for special event parking we saw near the park. There is a trolley stop right across the street from the visitor center, and there are also stops conveniently located at both ends of the Tom Lee Park.
Tom Lee Park is about a mile long, and it was filled from end to end with competitors' booths. The photo below shows only about a third of the park.
There was a threat of rain in the forecast, so we took along our trusty Frogg Togg raincoats. We ended up not needing them this time because the rain held off; but it was nice to have them with us just in case. They are easy to carry because they are light weight, and they came with carrying bags that we can easily sling over our shoulders.
Unfortunately, there was rain for one or two days prior to the event which caused much
of Tom Lee Park to become a mud hole. The competitors setting up on
Wednesday and the crowds who attended the event on Thursday churned up
lot of mud. Fortunately, the walkways in the park are all paved, and some of the mud had dried or had been cleaned off the pavement by Friday. We had to be a little careful where we stepped, but the
mud looked a lot worse than it was.
Tom Lee, for whom the park is named, was a Memphis hero. When a steamer capsized in 1925, Tom Lee rescued 32 people from the Mississippi River in his small skiff. There is a monument in the park to Tom Lee.
Teams who enter the barbecue contest vie for cash prizes totaling over $100,000 and for bragging rights. If we had to venture a guess, we would say the bragging rights are more important than the money as evidenced by the extensive displays of trophies and banners boasting many of the teams' past wins.
The large banner to the left in the photo below indicates this team (the Red Hot Smokers) was the Grand Champion of the 2013 Memphis Barbecue Network Invitational held in March. The entire tent in the center of the photo was filled with more of the the team's trophies.
The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest has 5 main categories - pork shoulder, ribs, whole hog, anything but and patio porkers. Anything but is anything other than pork and includes a number of subcategories such as poultry, beef, wings, sauces and seafood as well non-food categories of best booth and best T-shirts. Patio porkers is a class intended for small, amateur teams.
Due to health department restrictions, the competitors are not allowed to serve food to the attendees. However, there are food vendors that sell barbecue as well as the all usual types of food one would find at a carnival or fair (we call it fair fare) like turkey legs, funnel cakes, ice cream, hot dogs and French fries.
The most popular activities at the barbecue contest, such as the announcement of winners of the day's judging and concerts, take place in the evening. That's the reason for free admission early in the day on Thursday and Friday. However, preparation of the meat and the smokers, which takes place during the day, are interesting to watch. The whole hog teams were scurrying about on Friday preparing their hogs and smokers so they could slow-cook the hogs all night in time for judging during the day on Saturday.
Some teams use charcoal to cook, some use wood and some use gas to fire their grills and smokers. The team in the next photo was using wood.
In addition to watching the preparation of the meats and smokers, it was also fun to see some of the elaborate booths. Quite a few are two-story affairs, and there were even a couple that were three stories.
Some booths were decorated with various themes like the western flair of the Best Little Boarhouse in Memphis.
Then there was the tropical theme of the Parrot Head Porkers.
Some of the team names are a hoot. There were names like Aporkalypse Now, Sweet Swine O' Mine, Boars R Us, Pig-A-Licious, Bush Hogs, Big Al and the Butt Rubbers, Butt Cassidy and the Pork Dance Kids, and The Count Bastie Porkestra.
As is often the case as we travel around the country, we found a Pittsburgh connection in Memphis. One of the teams had a Pittsburgh Penguins "Let's Go Pens" towel and a Pittsburgh Steeler Terrible Towel displayed at their booth. Memphis in May also salutes a different foreign country each year, and the country this year is Sweden. That's the reason we saw so many Swedish flags on display like the one in the next photo.
In spite of the mud and the clouds, we had a good time at the contest watching all the preparations and seeing the elaborate booths. We stopped for one more photo on the way out of the park to commemorate our visit to the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
We caught the trolley back to the visitor center where we had parked.
Smelling the aroma of barbecue all afternoon certainly made us hungry. We were tempted by the fair fare; but most of it was expensive, and there was no place to sit to eat. Therefore, we decided to stop for lupper on the way back to the motor home at the Bar-B-Q Shop, which is one of our favorite Memphis barbecue joints.
We both had a large chopped pork sandwich on Texas toast instead of a bun with fries and slaw for our sides. The pork is tender and moist, and we love their sauce. The sauce is tart (but not sour) and a little sweet. The barbecue is nicely complimented by the slaw, which is sweet and a little tart. Sandwiches range in price from about $4.25 to $6, and sandwich plates (with two sides) are about $7.50 to $10. Dinner plates cost $10 for chopped pork to around $15 for ribs.
With our bellies full, we headed back to the motor home where we spent the evening and the weekend relaxing. There is more planned for Memphis, so stay tuned.