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

Posted by Holly Whitfield | May 14th 2019 5279 0

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 the fun.

The Pig lady, Memphis, Tenn.

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 are 220+ teams from 23 states and six foreign countries.

Meat Drink and Be Merry

Memphis in May Barbecue Fest, Memphis, Tenn.

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, which is now in its third year. These $16 tickets are in addition to your admission ticket. They will have tickets for sale at the gate, while supplies last. Here are the sessions:

Thursday, May 16
Session 1: 2-4 pm
Session 2: 4-6 pm

Friday, May 17
Session 3: 2-4 pm
Session 4: 4-6 pm

Saturday, May 18
Session 5: 11 am-1 pm
Session 6: 1-3 pm
Session 7: 3-5 pm

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

The Hogfather, Memphis in May Barbecue Contest

Others don’t:

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 perfecting (and cooking) for the judges.

Booth, Memphis in May Barbecue Fest, Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis in May Barbecue Contest, Memphis, Tenn.

Welcome! MIM Barbecue Contest

Go there:

Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

Tom Lee Park
May 15 – May 18, 2019
Read more here.

This post was originally published on May 18, 2012 but was updated on May 14, 2019. 


Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

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  1. […] where everyone was, as the small-ish amphitheater was not even close to full. But it was Barbecue Fest weekend in Memphis, which means that many of the folks who might ordinarily be moved to purchase tickets to a show […]

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