So…you are headed to the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest?
First let me start off by saying that all of Memphis in May, from the first band at the Beale Street Music Festival to the last note of the Sunset Symphony is absolutely amazing!!! While we at Too Sauced To Pork love both the Beale Street Music Festival and the Sunset Symphony, our favorite part of Memphis in May is the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest. Known as the MIM WCBCC or BBQ Fest to the locals, this festival, with over 82 TONS of pork cooked in 3 days, is certified by Guinness as the “Largest Pork BBQ in the World”.
The first Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest was held in a parking lot by the Orpheum Theater at Main and Beale on May 6, 1978. The entry fee was $12. There were 25 contestants who took part in the first Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest, Bessie Louise Cathey won the $500 first prize, Lee Waterbury won the $250 second prize, and Third place and $150 went to Mrs. Johnnie Whitaker. While they were cooking, an estimated 5,000 people wandered through the area.
Memphis In May International Festival’s second annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was held on May 5, 1979. This was the first contest held in Tom Lee Park (the small version of the park before the expansion in 1993) and all contestants cooked under one huge tent.
The expansion was a Mud Pit, trust us, a few of us were there…truly worthy of Memphis in May’s nickname of “MEMPHIS IN MUD”
Yes folks this is truly an international contest. Yes, there are many naysayers who say its only teams from Memphis, but they are wrong. Put it this way, in 2011 on Too Sauced to Pork there were members from 21 different US states and 3 foreign countries. Don’t believe us that entire teams come from afar? You want proof you say? Here you go.
TSTP has competed at Memphis in May for many years, so this article is a kind of insiders view to give readers a leg up on BBQ Fest. While it is fun to stroll up and down and look at the rows of team booths, the real fun happens inside them. For you people not in the know; spectators are only able to get into a booth if you are a member of that team or know someone who is a member…or you get really lucky and schmooze your way in.
You see, all the booths are private team parties, and contrary to popular belief, most teams are NOT sponsored by corporations. Many BBQ Teams pay for this contest out of their own pocket. This is the main reason BBQ teams do not let random people into their booths. NOT ON A TEAM – follow this link to view our Guide for people not on a BBQ Team
Rule 1: Get on a team
This is easier than you think. Ask around among all your friends if they have a team. If none of them have teams, get new friends. Or find out if any friends of friends have teams. Express interest in joining their team…the best way to experience this wonderful contest is on a team right? That’s why you join a team…yes even if you are from out of town, you can join a team. There are many teams (INCLUDING OURS) that accept members through their Facebook and Team websites. If you don’t want to join a team then get on Facebook, and make friends with some of the teams. Post on their wall, have conversations with them, ask them questions, and low and behold many of them will invite you into the booth. In fact if you need somewhere to start, say hi to my team – Too Sauced To Pork.
Rule 2: Don’t join a team
If you aren’t going to join a team or can’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Send an email to everyone you know but don’t carbon copy them. Say something like:”Hey, I’ll be at BBQ Fest this year and I want to be sure to see all my friends. If you are on a team, please let me know because I want to say hi. Blah Blah Blah.”
Don’t carbon copy (cc) everyone. Just Blind Carbon Copy (bcc) or send individual emails. The key information that you want to get is
a. Team name
b. All team members you know
c. Booth location
Each bit of information is critical. You want (a) because that’s the name of the team (if you don’t understand that concept pull the nail out of your temple so you can start thinking again). You want to know (b) because if buddy 1 leaves and someone asks you who you know, you can point to buddy 2. Also the more people you know on a team, the more fun you’ll have. And the more likely someone will know the hot girl or guy by the keg and can introduce you (Duh!). You want to know (c) because you can’t go to something if you don’t know where it is.
You can buy a V.I.P. Pass from Memphis in May. At over $350 dollars a person, you can join a team MUCH cheaper. BUT, the pass gets you access to 6 of the top teams at Memphis in May. It’s quite a price tag, but an experience that is worth its weight in gold.
If you don’t want to make any effort and just want to go to the festival and walk around, then this is the option for you -
The Kingsford Tour of Champions – Spectators are assigned team booths to visit and get to sample their award winning BBQ. Buy your tickets online before the contest to insure a place for your party. It sold out in 2012.
Tour of Champions runs Thursday and Friday
Cooker Caravan – This program is free and lets you tour team booths. Teams give you guided tours of their booths, and here’s a little secret…a few of us will invite you back for the party
Thursday and Friday 11:30 am – 3:30 pm (last tour leaves at 3:30 pm)
*Saturday 10:30 am – 2:30 pm (last tour leaves at 2:30)
Rule 3: Get enough cash
You will need to buy a ticket in ($8) and you will need cab money (see rule 4)
Rule 4: DO NOT DRIVE!!!
You are going to be downtown at BBQ fest and you can’t walk home (for distance and inebriation reasons). Get a cab. Or the hot girl or guy by the keg to drive you home. What’s that? You can’t get a hot girl to drive you home! Well then get a cab you wimp.
I recommend a cab down there and back. Why? You take a cab down there. Say it’s $20 one way (I believe that’s what it is from High Point Terrace to Beale). The cab pulls up to Beale & Front to let you out. Why is this important? Because if you (or one of your friends) drove there, you will have to park in a parking garage or at someone’s house. If you go to a parking garage, then you’ll have to pay at least $15 dollars to park. And you’ll probably have to walk a half mile just to get to Beale & Front where the cab would have let you out. Then someone will have to drive home after all that BBQ and beer. Let’s do the math here:
Taking a cab: $40 round trip
Driving: $15 parking and several thousands of dollars in DUI fees and court costs
Rule 5: Pace yourself
No one wants to deal with your drunk butt at 6:30PM, so pace yourself. Eat a big meal before you go down there. No, they don’t always have free food for you. So you want to deal with it properly. I also recommend either getting a B12 shot or start taking Super B Complex vitamins (I take them anyway. They help reduce stress supposedly and it’s just like a daily B12 shot). This is critical if you are on a team and will be there almost 24/7.
Rule 6: Bring a Camera
Need an excuse to talk to a pretty girl? Have her take your picture with you and your buds. Or better yet take her picture. Tell her you need proof that there actually was a hot girl at BBQ Fest who wasn’t slutting around from tent to tent. Kidding that line would never work, but you get the idea. Or just be honest. Chicks dig honesty right? Not.
Ladies, do you see some hot guy you want to talk to but he’s too stupid to come say hi? Have your friends take a random pic with him. Sure it’s forward, but you’ll be the one woman that’ll stand out to him for the rest of the night. At the least, you’ll have a pic to make your friends who were too cool to come jealous.
Plus how cool would it be to have a pic with you and 25 of your newest friends screaming and cootie brown drunk. (aka “Drunker than Cooter Brown”, it’s a Southern/Redneck term that means fitshaced)
Rule 7: Be prepared for the mess
Wear comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy. Simple enough right? Look good, but for God’s sake, be ready to get covered in beer, mud, and sweat. Hmm…beer mud and sweat…that sounds like a redneck wedding right?
Rule 8: Be prepared to stretch your bladder
There are no bathrooms beside porta-potties. Be cool and don’t mess them up. Best bet is always to be at a friend’s tent when nature calls. Each team has one porta-pottie (some bigger ones have two).
Rule 9: Watch the language please
Late at night when everyone is tore up from the floor up, just about anything goes. But remember that anytime when there is daylight, on Wednesday night, and in the early evening could be family time. So while the kids are around, watch the cussing, you dick.
Rule 10: Watch the four letter words
Ok, this one is for the uppity people. Ladies and Gentlemen, at BBQ fest, there are no four letter words. Four letter words include but are not limited to the following:
Ok, I’m kidding. And I totally stole that joke. But seriously, if you are going to BBQ Fest, we are cool and are all having fun. This is BBQ Fest. We don’t have any room for your ego inside these ‘small’ tents.
Rule 11: Wear sunscreen
People bump into each other. If you are there during the day, you need to put on sunscreen. Otherwise you’re going to be in a lot of pain all day and night.
Rule 12: If you are sketchy and drunk, don’t dance on the bar.
For the love of humanity, please don’t dance on the bar!
Two years ago, I was with a group and one of the guys had a friend with a team nearby. We went in and had a few beers and jello shots. They had a bar built in a U shape. On each of the three sides, there was a stripper pole built into the top of the bar. There were these drunk girls dancing. One of the girls obviously brought the IDIOT friend. Well the idiot friend had gotten a hold of a few too many jello shots, obviously. The idiot friend wanted attention, so she had her friend and several people lift her drunk ass up on the bar. Let’s take a brief pause to memorize this formula:
Drunk girl craving attention + too many Jello shots + dancing on bar + beer and liquor spilt all over top of bar = funny arse fall
That’s right, she fell and busted her butt. I heard through the gossip telegraph in the crowd that she ripped one of the following items: her skirt, her shirt, and/or her panties. That makes for a semi-funny story. An embarrassing story for her, but a semi-funny one for us.
Rule 13: finally, HAVE FUN!!!
This should go without saying, but you need to have some fun. You’ve worked hard and have had a lot to deal with in your life. So go have some fun. If you see me, say hi, but at least remind me how we know each other. If you’re just a reader whom I’ve never met, let me know.
Rule 14 (added in 2007): remember things change from year to year.
Between BBQ Fest in 2005 and in 2006, the tent I attended with the best party/crowd changed. I won’t say who went from first to last. That won’t be fair, and I’d probably be banned. But the team that had the ridiculous crowd that was wild in ’05 was tame in ’06 (plus a few people I was trying to avoid showed up there). Turns out other teams were twice as crazy and fun, but I missed part of it because I was waiting at another tent waiting to capture the magic again from the previous year.
Some are small, some are large…some are mindblowing. When you look at the booths remind yourself that this contest is essentially a mile long tent city. It is put up the 5 days prior to the contest (Friday-Tuesday) the contest then lasts Wed-Sat and it is ALL taken down Sunday.
The following video is a tour of the “Ques Brothers” booth from 2010. It will show you what a winning booth looks like and then, at the end, show a birds eye view of the contest booths from the top deck of the booth…Enjoy
MEMPHIS IN MAY’S OFFICIAL RULES FOR SPECTATORS
Kingsford Tour of Champions -
Spectators are assigned team booths to visit and get to sample their award winning BBQ. Buy your tickets online before the contest to insure a place for your party. It sold out in 2012.
Tour of Champions runs Thursday and Friday
Want to know how barbecue is perfectly done? Sign up for the Cooker Caravan, a free guided tour of the teams, and “rub shoulders” with the best of the best in barbecue. Your guided tour will include cooking information, a chance to see a variety of specialty grills and smokers, and tips on how to improve your backyard barbecue.
If the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is so cool it’s indescribable, then the Ms. Piggie Competition is off the charts! Imagine, if it’s not too painful, grown men dressed in tutus and snouts parading around the stage and ‘singing’ (which is a generous term) familiar songs, with very unfamiliar lyrics…lyrics having to do with pork, grilling, and the whole sport of barbecue.
Ahhhh, this is a contest NOT to be missed. Teams take a song; add horrible BBQ inspired lyrics, bad costumes, and alot of beer and you get the Ms. Piggie Contest. Held on Thursday night at 6pm after the ceremonial “Lighting of the Grill” A snippet of what to expect