365 Things to Do in Memphis #139: World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

365 Things to Do in Memphis #139: World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

Update: THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BARBECUE COOKING CONTEST IS ON! It's May 12-15, 2021 in Tom Lee Park.
Capacity is limited and tickets must be purchased here in advance. Read more about the 2021 event's safety protocols here.

Every year on the third weekend of May, brave men and women take to Tom Lee Park and fire up their smokers 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 the fun.

Booth at World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
Alex Shansky
Barbecue Sauce Wrestling at World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
Alex Shansky

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. For 2019, there were 220+ teams from 23 states and six foreign countries.

WCBCC Tent Views
Alex Shansky
Grizzlies Elvis Hog serves as tent decor at WCBCC
Alex Shansky
BBQ Alley, the public eating lounge option, at WCBCC
Alex Shansky
Barbecue and Greens dish at WCBCC
Raphael Tenschert

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.

One way to get around the “there’s no BBQ” is to buy tickets to the BBQ Alley. Sadly, BBQ Alley is on hold for the 2021 festival so it won't be happening this year.

Memphis In May Barbecue Team Names

A lot of the teams have clever pork-related names:

The Hogfather, Memphis in May Barbecue Contest

Others don't (and that's OK):

BBQ Team, Memphis in May Barbecue Contest, Memphis, Tenn.

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 smokers and perfecting their cooking for the certified judges.  

Go there:

Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
Tom Lee Park
May 12 - May 15, 2021

Read more here

Tent at WCBCC
Alex Shansky

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