Sunday, 20 March, 2016 21:41 Written by Neil
Picture this: You arrive in Memphis, Tennessee on a Thursday morning in May. In the airport you see a few quick service BBQ restaurants; Sun Cafe and Interstate. Even though you are quite famished after your 6 a.m. flight, you of course pass these stale airport outlets in favor of the fresh smoked love that Memphis has to offer.
Hailing a cab, you tell your driver to high-tail it downtown. Stepping out of the cab at your hotel, your sinuses are assaulted by the smell of roast pork, spices, and sweet smoke. You walk through the revolving door and into the Grand Lobby of the Peabody Hotel, taking notice of the ducks splashing around in the center fountain, and the tux clad jazz pianist in the bar.
Checking in at your hotel, you can’t help but notice the hazy blue fog drifting and dancing about the alleys and byways of downtown. You drop your luggage and proceed to relive your own version of “Walking in Memphis”, pretending those Nike’s are blue suede, you are walking with your feet 10 feet off of Beale. You grab a “Big Ass Beer” from a vendor on Beale Street, watch the Beale Street Flippers do 27 continuous backward handsprings down the middle of the road; then follow the crowds, and your nose, towards the Mississippi River. Walking down the long brick-clad street, Ole Man River comes into view and so does the crowd. There are about a thousand or so people here, all calmly walking to the gates of what many consider to be the Super Bowl of Swine.
As you walk through the huge gates of the contest, the sweet smell of hickory hangs thick in the air. Over 250 BBQ team booths (some 3 levels tall) line the over one mile long park. Over 100,000 people flock to this Mecca of BBQ every year to eat, drink, and worship at the altar of swine. This is the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest. Held every year on the third weekend in May, Thursday through Saturday, it is certified by Guinness as the “World’s Largest Pork BBQ Contest.” In three days, over 84 tons of pork are cooked and consumed.
Before founding our Barbecue family, Too Sauced To Pork, many of us cooked on different teams in the contest. We were guests of barbecue teams for many years before that. Some of us on Too Sauced To Pork have been a part of this amazing contest in one form or another for over 25 years
There is one huge drawback to the festival: you can’t buy the competing team’s barbecue. Due to Memphis Health Department regulations, teams are not allowed to sell or give out samples to the general public…BUT…BBQ teams can give food and beverages to “invited guests.” An “invited guest” is defined in the rules as anyone inside the fence of your team booth. There are bbq vendors and a few of them are teams, but the best way to experience this contest is on a team, or at least in a team booth, otherwise you will be on the outside looking in. You can join a team; there are many that offer everyday people a chance to experience this swinetastic soiree. You can also buy a VIP Pit pass, participate in the Kingsford Tour of Champions and judge the teams BBQ, or tour team booths in the Cooker Caravan. But the easiest thing you can do is simply talk to teams, ask us about our smokers, our meat or our process…most of us will invite you in and give you a little tour.
The days are full of contests, 16 different categories over 3 days. The nights are full of raging parties, many of which have huge buffet dinners, DJ’s, light shows, dance floors and multiple bars on multiple stories of a BBQ booth. When I say booth, I know you picture a ten foot by ten foot EZ-up with a table and some smokers. Nope. These monstrosities are larger than most people’s houses. Many are 26 feet wide by 50 feet deep, 1,300 square feet, before you start adding levels to them. Some of these scaffolding-boned portable structures are three stories tall, 3,900 square feet of pure pork party.
Thursday is the Best Booth, Best T-shirt, and the Ms. Piggie Idol contest. First two are self-explanatory, the third is, well, more complicated. Performers wear elaborate costumes, many featuring full-figured men in pig drag, singing porked-up versions of popular songs. Winners have included “Rib in a Box,” “Grills, Grills, Grills,” “Sweet Swine O’ Mine,” and the “Swine Warp.” The best time to connect with teams is on this day. Go around and ask about their cookers. No team can resist showing off. Awards are in the early evening and then a band is called in to finish out the night.
Friday is chock full of competition cooking with the ancillary division contests. Categories include Tomato, Mustard and Vinegar Sauces; meat categories which include Beef, Poultry, Exotic, and Seafood, as well as the Hot Wings contest. A band plays before the awards, and then another after.
Many cooking teams throw down the party on Thursday but are very much reserved on Friday night in anticipation for Saturday’s turn-ins. Of course that is just the cooking crew, about five people. The rest of the team, up to 200 members for some teams, live high on the hog and party till the cops shut them down for quiet time at midnight.
Saturday dawns with the reverence of a Sunday morning Baptist church. There are no loud stereos, no parties, and no sign of the Carnival-like atmosphere of the previous days. This is the Church of Cochon.
Today we celebrate and piously reflect upon the main pork categories of Ribs, Shoulder, and Whole Hog. Every team has a blind box to turn in, and three onsite judges to schmooze. Booths are dolled up prettier than a 5th Avenue fine dining restaurant. Silver platters hold racks of ribs, exotic lettuces and fruits ornately decorate grilles and smokers, and you could even spot a team or two wearing tuxes, and greeting judges with a maitre d’.
After all is said and done the long wait begins. Only three teams from each category make the finals. We all wait for a smiling guy in a golf cart to attach a sign to your fence, signaling you are a finalist. When this happens, a hueg cheer erupts, then you go into panic mode. That sign means four judges are coming to your booth to judge your pork.
Fast forward to 6:30 p.m. Everyone gathers at the main stage for the awards. The MC comes on and announces 10th through 1st place. If you didn’t final, you pray for 4th-10th, each prize a huge honor in a field of 250.
I love this contest, one of the highlights of my year, because of the excitement, pure and simple. Where else can you find a BBQ contest two football fields wide and a full mile long with the majestic Mississippi as a backdrop? Where else can you meet BBQ enthusiasts from across the globe, like the Danish national BBQ team, Norwegian national BBQ team, or the Black Pig team from Canada? Where else can you rub hoofs with some of the best in BBQ, people like Myron Mixon, Melissa Cookston, Johnny Trigg, Tuffy Stone, Moe Cason, the Orrisons, and Chris Lilly, just to name a few.
Every year, as that warm orange sun sinks into the Big Muddy, casting its amber hues over 100,000 swine worshippers, competitors reflect upon its beauty with true reverence. Dreams are realized and shattered here, blood and tears are spilt, deep friendships are cemented, and lifelong dreams are granted. There is no place on earth like Memphis in May.
Monday, 14 March, 2016 22:43 Written by Neil
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 it is definitely not a place for anyone under 18 AFTER 8PM, it is absolutely family friendly for all sized kids before 5pm 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 1990 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 1990, 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
Below are the things Memphis in May wants you to know before coming.
Below are things to know before you visit the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest:
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 Championsallows you to taste and judge world-class barbecue.
Wednesday, 02 March, 2016 22:55 Written by Neil
We received our acceptance letter from Memphis in May today. We are very happy to be returning for our 11th MIM. If you are interested in joining us, click “Join us” on the main menu to the right…we will be in contact with you.
Wednesday, 13 January, 2016 12:30 Written by Neil
It is that season again, time for the Superbowl of Swine!!!
MAY 11-14 2016
If you are interested in joining Too Sauced to Pork for the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, please click the Join Us button on the menu to the right.
Our 2015 Team Booth
If you are a spectator planning to attend the festival in 2016 and don’t want to join a team, click here for our Tips for Visitors Not on a BBQ Team
If you are a Barbecue Team looking for a breakdown of what it takes gear and money wise to do this amazing contest click here for our Step by Step Guide to BBQ Fest for Teams
If you are planning on attending Memphis in May an want a great description of what it is like, go to this link from Extraordinary BBQ about the contest.
If you are attending MIM and need a Sample Itinerary on how to do the festival right…here it is
Sunday, 01 March, 2015 20:50 Written by Neil
One of the reasons we started Too Sauced To Pork was a way to combat the way many attendees and non-team members were treated at BBQ competitions. As you probably know, at Barbecue competitions many teams retreat into their booths only letting a few lucky people into their world. Our team is different. We based our BBQ team on inclusion vs exclusion and treat each other like a family. We have no secrets on our team and we share all of our knowledge openly. We give tours of our booth and cookers to interested passers by, in fact every year at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest we open 20 TSTP team membership spots up for BBQ enthusiasts to join us and be a part of our family for this amazing contest.
Our Unofficial MIM BBQ Fest Guide is listed at the right of this post in the main menu. For anyone interested in attending the contest, this is a good read. It includes sample itineraries, contest best practices, and lots of other info for spectators and teams alike. If you attend the WCBCC drop by our booth and say hello…if we are not in the middle of turn ins or judging, we will be happy to give you a tour of our booth.
We currently have 8 new member spots available on the 2015 TSTP MIM WCBCC Team. We have filled up our 20 new spots faster than in previous years so if you are considering joining up with us please drop us a line by y clicking the JOIN US link on the main menu to the right —>
If you have not booked your hotel yet for Memphis in May BBQ Fest, I suggest doing it immediately before the team list is confirmed next week. Once this happens hotels fill up VERY fast. The link below is a map of hotels within walking distance of the contest.