Where There’s Smoke, There’s Barbecue Fest
There’s a magical spot downtown during the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest where, if the wind is blowing just right, the city smells like a barbecue sandwich. It’s somewhere between Tom Lee Park and the former Wonderbread Bakery on Monroe.
Right now, more than 220 teams are in Tom Lee Park, preparing to cook like crazy to compete in the whole hog, ribs and shoulder competitions. The teams are serious – they spend all week perfecting their pork for Saturday’s judging.
At night, Barbecue Fest becomes a big, raucous event, with each team’s tent acting as a private party. This year’s tents range from the bare bones, we’re-just-here-to-win white tents with wood floors to super elaborate, two-story “tents”.
The park is divided into several neighborhoods – all off the rib teams are grouped together, shoulder teams and whole hog teams are similarly grouped. There’s a neighborhood of smaller tents for the Patio Porkers.
The Patio Porkers are sort of the JV-league at Barbecue Fest. The teams are smaller, the entry costs lower, and the tents less elaborate. The barbecue, however, is on par with that of the larger teams.
I stopped by the Huasos Asados tent yesterday, where two team members were hard at work on racks of ribs. A man named Cowboy was pouring large cans of pineapple juice on the ribs and wrapping them in foil while his teammate Ted moved them onto the grill. It’s all part of their strategy – two hours on the grill with no foil, two hours on the grill wrapped in foil.
If you weren’t at Tom Lee Park last night, you missed the Miss Piggy Contest. It’s sort of a variety show – teams don ridiculous costumes (including one male member of each team dressed as Miss Piggy) and sing swine-themed parodies of pop songs.
There’s plenty more happening at Barbecue Fest this weekend. There’s live music tonight and tomorrow night, and judging takes place tomorrow morning in the major pork categories.
Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
Tom Lee Park