The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest…BBQ FEST…The Superbowl of Swine…
Many people say this festival is adult only, but that is far from the truth. While most folks agree it is not a place for anyone under 18 AFTER 8PM, it is absolutely family friendly for all sized kids before 6pm when most of the drinking starts. Adding to the family fun is the 11am-1pm Free Admission (normally $9 for anyone over 6 years old). Free Admission is available Thursday and Friday of the Contest.
When most people think of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (WCBCC or MIM) they think of succulent pork, booze and the hedonistic team parties that go on after dark. The family aspect of the festival never crosses their mind…and it really should. I attended my first Memphis in May in 1991 with my parents. My father, Mike, and I walked through the rows of magnificent team booths, and as an 11 year old kid, I was astonished at the scenes that played out before me. Smokers and grills of every imaginable shape and size, hogs splayed out being prepped for the cooker, skits being performed outside of booths, friendly loving people smiling willing to chat with; but the thing I remember most is looking up at my Dad and asking “Can we do this?”; his answer “Absolutely we will, I promise”.
This Contest transformed my feelings about food, it cemented my love of Barbecue, my love for the WCBCC…my deep love of Memphis. We finished our visit with a team that let us into their booth, sat down and talked to us. They gave us food, they treated us like family…This one act shaped my later life and my team Too Sauced To Pork, but that is a story for another time.
We had always been a family of outdoor cookers, I remember being 5 years old, living in New Orleans and helping my mom cook blackened redfish on the grill. We also attended Mardi Gras, which also gets a bad rap even though it is really a family holiday. The truth is 99% of stupid things at Mardi Gras go down on Bourbon Street, the rest of the Carnival festivities in the city are celebrated in a family friendly atmosphere. This is just as true with the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest. 99.9% of the things parents don’t want children to see happens after 7pm. This leaves 11am-6pm, 7 full hours, to have a great time as a family.
I did not know what to expect on that day in 1991, and neither did my parents; but I can tell you as a kid what I didn’t find. I found no nudity or debauchery, as an 11 year old boy I would have definitely remembered that. I found no rowdy behavior, drunken idiots or fighting of any kind. What I did find at 2pm on a Thursday was a multitude of food vendors with no lines ready to serve my family. I found that as a kid interested in BBQ I could go up to any booth and talk to the guys cooking…and they were happy to see me. They would take me back and show me their cookers, a few even tore off a chuck of meat directly from the smoker and had me taste it. We found that during the day this festival is a treasure trove of fun for the meat centric family.
I am now the father of two beautiful girls one 3 years and one 5 months. My oldest will tear into bacon like a bag of jellybeans, her favorite foods include nitrate free hotdogs, ribs and pulled chicken. The oldest has been to the contest twice, and will be headed back this year. She loves cooking with Daddy, and I can’t wait for her to have a blast at the contest. Of course, there are certain parts of MIM that are not appropriate for my daughter, and she will be leaving the contest about 5pm every night as the crowds increase and things turn more adult. Teenagers, when not professing how everything in the world sucks, will have fun at the Ms Piggie Idol contest on Thursday, as well as looking at the booths. They can also have fun alongside their parents at the Cooker Caravan, a free tour of team booths led by Memphis in May volunteers (see our guide here for a description). You can also buy tickets to the Kingsford Tour of Champions ($12 for a two hour session. Click here to learn more), where 4 teams wine and dine you for two hours, with artfully prepared pork shoulder and you get to vote who is best.
Sample Itinerary for a family with Babies or Toddlers. Tweens and Teens would be in school during Free Admission time, but our itinerary here (Sample Itinerary) can be adapted.
Thursday and Friday
- 10:55am arrive at the Beale Street gates, enter the park when the gates open for free at 11am, and find the “Cooker Caravan” Kiosk in the middle of the walkway near the first break in rib tents. Sign up for the 1pm Caravan.
- 11:20-12:50 make a loop around “Rib Row” by walking back towards the Beale Street Entrance to the north and making your last left and walking back towards the South along the riverside booths. Grab a little something to eat from a Vendor and talk to teams to make friends. Use your kids, As to take pictures in front of their smokers with your child, we all have a soft spot for kids. Meet back at Cooker Caravan kiosk at 12:50
- 100 -1:50 Tour team booths, make friends, take notes of teams that invite you back. Some booths sit well above the ground…if you have a stroller be prepared to hold your toddler as booths are not all that large and some have 2 stories with steep stairs.
- 1:50-3pm walk around the “Shoulder and Whole Hog” sections, or go back and visit teams who invited you back to chat…hopefully the kid will fall asleep in the stroller, if not then they will probably be cranky and this might be your last sweep of the contest before retreating for a nap.
- 10:55am arrive at the Beale Street gates, having already bought your ticket online for $9 (NOT FREE ON SATURDAY) enter the park, and proceed to the “Whole Hog” area, they are the first to be judged. Situate yourself where you can duck between 3 team presentations…careful not to make a noise. Observe and be amazed.
2. 11:50 proceed to the “Shoulder” area, they are the second to be judged. Situate yourself where you can duck between 3 team presentations…careful not to make a noise. Again observe and be amazed.
3. 12:40 proceed to the “Rib” area, they are the third to be judged. Situate yourself where you can duck between 3 team presentations…careful not to make a noise. Again observe and be amazed.
4. 1:30-3:30 walk around the sections checking in and chatting to the teams that you visited the day before, if you have done as we said and made friends, they will invite you in for lunch.
Below are the things Memphis in May wants you to know before coming.
WCBCC Visitor FAQs
Below are things to know before you visit the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest:
- This is a competition. Local health regulations prohibit teams from serving barbecue to the general public. There are barbecue vendors, as well as other food vendors that sell food to the public.
- Food and beverages, including beer, are available from the concessionaires.
- All food must be purchased with cash. ATMs are available at Tom Lee Park for your convenience.
- Picture I.D.’s will be required from everyone purchasing alcohol.
- The Kingsford Tour of Champions and Cooker’s Caravan allow for a team-like WCBCC experience.
- Wear comfortable shoes! The park is roughly one mile from end to end.
- All packages and purses are subject to inspection.
WHAT NOT TO BRING: No beverages, bicycles, cans, containers, coolers, food, glass bottles, laser pointers, lawn chairs, over-sized umbrellas, pets, roller blades, roller skates, water guns, weapons or thrown objects (baseballs, footballs, frisbees, etc.).
We love visitors! Each year, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest entertains visitors from around the world. In 2015, visitors came from all 50 states and several foreign countries. Please let our guest services volunteers know you are our visitor, and they will explain all of the rib-tickling entertainment offerings.
If you’re planning on visiting the event, please take advantage of the following programs and events for visitors.
While local codes prohibit teams from selling barbecue to the general public, the Kingsford Tour of Champions allows you to taste and judge world-class barbecue.