Every year on the third weekend of May, brave men and women take to Tom Lee Park and fire up their grills for three days of intense barbecuing during the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
Assignment #139 in the 365 Things to Do in Memphis is to join them.
Imagine a backyard cook out writ large, with teams cooking, drinking and partying in elaborately decorated shelters out of tents and scaffolding. There are pigs everywhere – statues of pigs, cut outs of pigs, paintings of pigs – and the whole park is enveloped in a very distinct, smoky meat smell.
Some teams are new, and others, like Redneck Barbecue Express, have been competing since the festival's very first year.
And while only team members and their invited guests are allowed to eat in the cooking team booths, there are plenty of food and drink vendors for those not on the guest list.
A lot of the teams have clever pork-related names:
From the outside, Barbecue Fest can seem like an elaborate cover for a big party, but the judging is serious. Competing teams spend a lot of time (and a ton of money) building their grills and perfecting (and cooking) for the judges.
This year's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is happening this weekend in Tom Lee Park. Tonight, the park will be open until midnight, and tomorrow, the park will be open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Admission is $9, cash only.
Tom Lee Park
May 17 – 19