Thursday, June 1, 2017

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest

The Memphis In May International Festival is a month long celebration of music, food, and culture. It's a big deal featuring:
But of course, the part that I am always most excited about is the Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest.
  • Memphis In May is one of the four "majors" when it comes to the world of BBQ contests.
  • Each year there are about 250 teams and 100,000 visitors that come to Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River for the smoke showdown.
  • It's not the biggest it terms of number of teams but it certainly has the most grandeur and the most excess.  Compared to other contests, Memphis in May is just bigger, crazier, and bolder.
  • It's a World. Freaking. Championship.  
I am fortunate enough to be a cook on the Grilla Grills Pro Team.  Here is an inside look back of our crazy week at the 2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest.  


Monday and Tuesday - Load In and Set Up

The first days are what most people never see.  It is chaotic and hectic but it is a vital part of getting the job done. 


Nissan Titan XD with Cummins Diesel engine gets the job done.
It's an almost 6 hour drive plus we had a smaller site, so we didn't take our trailer. We fit our Grilla Grill, hot boxes, coolers, and gear into our truck and headed due West.


Due West on I-40 until we hit the Mississippi then we're basically there.  Battery Park and the Hernando de Soto bridge viewed from Tom Lee Park where MIM is held.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Getting through the park on these days can take a long time.  Traffic is one way but the narrow path is blocked routinely as trucks have to back in smokers, scaffolding, tents, and equipment.  Vehicles just have to sit and wait for that to clear.

Pick ups as far as the eye can see in either direction.  It's like the first day at a freshman college dorm, everyone is trying to get loaded in at the same time.

Some over achievers are fully set up by Tuesday, like Pork Illustrated.  You're making the rest of us look bad, guys.  Mix in a break or two! ;) 




2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
But most teams are more about this phase. Since Tom Lee Park is on the banks of the muddy Mississippi, you have to build a floor for your site.  This is usually pallets and plywood.
2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Then come the heavy duty event tents.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Crews are working everywhere, readying sites.  It's like building a small city in just a day or two.

Heavy duty equipment has to be brought in.
Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
We hit a stopping point so Alexis and I ate at one of the many open air restaurants along Main Street.  It was a gorgeous late Spring night and we enjoyed the view.  Everyone talks about Beale Street, world renowned for it's blues clubs, but for us, Main Street is my favorite part of Memphis.


Wednesday

Wednesday is a bit of a transition.  Most of the construction has stopped, decorating is going on, and deliveries of meat, supplies, and ice take place.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest Main Street
I wanted to be there early so I took the short walk down the middle of Main Street to Beale Street.  It was before 7am and the streets were pretty deserted.

Badger Wheels at Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
I dislike moving my Yeti 75 around because it is so heavy when loaded.  My teammate, Dylan Lipe, has Badger Wheels from sponsor, Cooler Extras.  You attach them to your Yeti and now you're mobile!  

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest Badger Wheels
They aren't cheap but I love the concept.  Now if they just have a spring loaded jack that will pop it up into the bed of my truck!! :)

Grilla Grills pellet cooker with the extended shelf - is a real BBQ brisket smoker.
Mark Graham, from Grilla Grills, showed me their new shelf extender for the Grilla which increases shelf space from 488 to 630 square inches.  Mark gave me one to keep so I'll do a full post on that shortly.

Cattlemen's BBQ Sauce graciously gives us plenty of sauces to use for the week.

Depending where you park and where your site is, it can easily be a quarter to half mile walk so these heavy duty utility carts come in handy for bringing in groceries and supplies.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest Grilla Grills
Our Grillas, Silverbacs, and Kongs all ready for us to use for ancillary categories (wings, beef, poultry, exotic, and seafood) and for sampling.  These are the same grills that you can have delivered to your door for $699 (Silverbac) and $799 (Kong and Grilla), shipping cost included.

Most everything up at our booth, now we have to decorate it.

Certified Angus Beef at Memphis In May
Trimming up a Certified Angus Beef (sponsor) brisket.  I had to get it on early the next morning so I wanted it all prepped, injected, seasoned and resting on ice before I left for the night.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
The night life starts firing up on Wednesday night. 


Thursday

Thursday is the first day for judging turn ins for some of the Ancillary categories, including sauces and hot wings.

First pit fired up for our team for the 2017 Memphis In May

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest grilla grills
It sure is nice having the convenience of pellet grills at 4:30 in the morning.

Flat on the bottom, point on the upper rack.

Our neighbor a few booths down getting a late delivery on Thursday.  You couldn't even fit a utility cart through here until they were done.  Fortunately, we had a "back door" at our site that gave us access to the back service road.

Made some breakfast sandwiches on the Grilla Kong kamado grill.  My buddy Brian Polak taught me that trick when we were competing together at the Jim Beam Classic last year in Springfield, KY.  Beats a McMuffin any day of the week.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest Grilla Grills
The Grilla puts a nice smoke on briskets, which is why we started using it for our brisket cooks at BBQ competitions last year.
Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Sliced brisket ready for sampling.



Our meats and hogs showed up on Wednesday. One weighed in at 175 lbs while the other hit 195 lbs.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Trimming up the inner cavity of one of the hogs, it's a lot of hands on work.

Power tools are required to break through the rib cage.

Crowds are allowed in, starting on Thursday, but it's not too bad.  Friday night is the peak night for crowds and as a cook, you either want to be out of the park or in your team booth.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
I took advantage of the new extended grate and loaded up the Grilla pellet grill with chicken wings seasoned with Grilla All Purpose Rub.
2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Mark Graham of Grilla Grills is a marathon man.  If he wasn't working to help the team, he was on the phone with customers and suppliers making stuff happen.



Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Jason Schouweiler did some maple bourbon wings for our hot wing entry. These were cooked on a Silverbac pellet grill.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
For the team meal, we grilled a bunch of marinated flank steaks for fajitas.

Smithfield 2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Alexis and I found enough time to attend the Smithfield VIP party hosted at Melissa Cookston's team site.

Smithfield 2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
There we had a little time to hang out with some of our favorite people, including Robyn Lindars, Tuffy Stone, Eddie Medlin, Alexis (of course) and Clint Cantwell.

Tuffy Stone Smithfield 2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Tuffy "vandalizing" Myron Mixon's trailer.  Okay, he was actually just writing him a message in the dust that covers everything on the banks of the Mississippi.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
We got back to the hotel just in time for last call at the rooftop bar.  We enjoyed a band playing over at The Peabody's rooftop. It was an absolutely gorgeous evening.

Looking down on Main Street from the hotel rooftop.

Char-Broil 2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
They even had a grill on the rooftop - a Char-Broil Commercial 4 burner.  Next time I stay here I'll make sure to bring a few steaks.


Friday

Friday is the day when prep for the main categories kicks in and the rest of the ancillaries are turned in.
Grilla Grills Pro Team's jungle lair.

Memphis In May 2017 Grilla Grills Team Site
We were in a much smaller space this year, due to a paperwork snafu. I actually liked it better, the space was very functional.

Our friends from the Pensacola Eggfest, Doug and Sky, were on Moe Cason's team.  They were just a few spaces down from our site but we hardly had time to socialize this year.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Moe Cason giving Alexis and I the tour of his kick ass new smoker.  Here he is showing us the warming box/oven.  

Pitmaker vault Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
The crew from Pitmaker hard at work.

Mike Mills Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Mike "The Legend" Mills, a 3 time MIM Champion, being interviewed by Clint Cantwell for AmazingRibs.com

We stopped by Big Bob Gibson's BBQ site, a group of fantastic people.

Chris Lilly Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Chris took a moment out of his hectic MIM schedule for a quick hug and picture.  If you don't have his books, Big Bob Gibson's Barbecue Book and Fire and Smoke, I highly recommend you order them.  Two of the best grilling and BBQ books out there.  He would go on to win this year's MIM for a record 5th time!  No one has won more at MIM than Chris Lilly.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Smoking up ribs on the banks of the Mississippi. 

Carey Bringle Peg Leg Porker Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
When we go to Nashville for work, we always try to stop at Peg Leg Porker's for some of the best food in town.

Our friends, Eddie Medlin and Robyn Lindars won the best shirt contest.

Me kissing a pig.

3 taxi guys Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
A car that's a smoker?!?!? Yep, that is Rick Hewiett's cooker for Three Taxi Guys.

Victory Lane Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Wait, ANOTHER car that is a smoker?  What are the odds?  This one belongs to Victory Lane.

Apparently the odds are pretty good because here is a 3rd car outfitted as a smoker.  This one belong's to The Shed Barbecue and Blues Joint from Ocean Springs, MS.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
You can fit a rib or two in a cooker this size.

You see a lot of nice (and expensive) cookers at MIM.

WWII pinup style graphics on this cooker at Porkasaurus.

Grilla Grills Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
The Grilla line of equipment got a lot of attention during the week.  People see all of these expensive rigs in the park that are way out of their price ranges and then they see us using these Grilla grills and want to know more.

Deep South Smokers Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Victory Lane has a Deep South Smokers very similar to ours, except in pink.

The Big Green Egg company had an interactive fan experience branded as BBQ Alley.  I never had the time to check it out, but it was $15 a ticket and it seemed to stay pretty busy.  

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

It's always fun to check out the other teams' logos and signage.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017


Stretch Grinders Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017


Home Depot Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Home Depot always has a meticulous site in the Rib team section.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Swine and Dine Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Porkosaurus Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
In addition to their big 4-5 foot hog head that blows "smoke", Porkosaurus always has the best posters too.


Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017

The Cattlemen's main stage, where awards are announced.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Friday is when things get serious.  The hog teams finish prepping their hogs.  From L to R, Shane, Mike, Ben, and Dylan.

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Shane and Mike are injecting an apple juice solution into the shoulders, hams, loins, and just about anywhere you can inject.  I stood still for just a minute and Mike tried to inject ME! 

Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2017
Dylan and Shane working on the presentation hog, which is in the "racer" or upright position instead of butterflied belly up.

That afternoon was the turn in times for the ancillary categories of beef, poultry, seafood, and exotic.  First up was beef.  I decided to do our reverse seared tenderloin on garlic butter crostini with arugula, capers, lemon zest, and our gorgonzola cream sauce.

Certified Angus Beef #bestbeef 2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Unfortunately, I couldn't buy Certified Angus Beef tenderloins in Memphis so I had to settle for regular choice beef tenderloins that Sam's Club had.  I trimmed them into center-cut roasts, saving the "scraps" for later.

2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest Grilla Pellet Grill
I seasoned the beef tenderloin with our modified beef rub and then slow roasted it at 250°f on my Grilla.  I used Grilla Competition Blend pellets (Oak/Hickory/Cherry).  It took just under 1 hour 10 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 127°f.  Then I pulled it to let it rest until the carry over cooking finished.  

2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest Grilla Kong
Meanwhile, we roasted several heads of garlic on a Grilla Kong kamado grill. We used that to make garlic butter and then grilled these crostini on a griddle on the Kong.

Thermoworks ChefAlarm 2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Slow roasted beef tenderloin resting. You can see on the Thermoworks ChefAlarm that the carryover cooking peaked at 133°f.  That is one reason I like using the ChefAlarm.  With the max and min temps, it's easy to tell when the carryover cooking has finished and the starts falling - that's an important part of the reverse sear.

2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest Grilla Kong
Then I seared the roast over red hot coals for less than a minute per side in a Grilla Kong. I was glad the Kong that we were using had a Kick Ash Basket because we used it for several days and had to reload it a few times.

2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Medium rare from edge to edge - that is what I love about the reverse sear.
2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Plated box.  We had more planned for the garnish but some of our product got ruined accidentally in the storage area, so we made do. The beef was delicious, tender, and well seasoned.



Turn ins are a little different than the KCBS events that I do.  Before you even get to the tables, there is a long walkway divided into chutes by alphabet.  Here I am turning in the beef ancillary.

On the way back from turn ins, ominous darkness rolled across the Mississippi.

2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Brian trying to get his poultry turn in ready and hoping we could get it turned in before it started raining.  Aren't those lollipops huge?  They are duck leg quarters, not just legs.  He and Dylan deboned the thighs and pulled it all together so you had these huge duck lollipops.

Brian's final turn in box. 

So this is where things went a little South.  Brian and I got to the turn in area 3 minutes early and as we approached there was a small crowd of maybe 10 teams waiting, holding their boxes.  As we walk up, a representative is talking and we hear her say that we can either turn in boxes now, or an hour from now.  Well, our box was ready so we turned it in to a representative (instead of walking it down the chutes) who carried stacks of turn ins from the teams.  

THEN we found out the whole story.  They were evacuating the park, had dismissed the judges, and were asking teams to leave the park.  We went back to the team site and waited there but then police came by and strongly encouraged teams to leave as the approaching storm system had tornadoes earlier in the day. 

2017 Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
It was odd seeing the park so desolate on a Friday afternoon.


Brian being interviewed as we left the park.  I didn't realize until now that it all went down so quickly, that he never even got his apron off.

So here's the kicker.  Once they finally resumed judging a few hours later, they discarded all of the boxes that had been turned in because they had been sitting.  We had neither 9 extra duck leg quarters nor the time needed to re-do the category before the new turn in times.  So the 10 or so teams that got there on time and turned in their poultry before the evacuation??????

Yeah....we were all given a score of 240 and tied for Dead Ass Last.  

That is about as fair as declaring the ones that were turned in prior to the evacuation as the winners.  In my opinion, they should have just scratched that whole category or refused to accept any turn ins at all.  I think the way it was handled was an incredibly poor decision.  This wasn't an issue of safety, I get the need for the evacuation.  But it could have been handled in a more equitable manner.

Mike's Tequila Tuna with bacon crusted Brussels sprouts. Forgive the pictures, it was dark, stormy, and chaotic. This tasted WAY better than this picture looks.

More bigfoot photography due to the conditions.  This was Ronald's Fudd Nachos featuring rabbit for the exotic category.  Rabbit is actually pretty good, I had never had it before.

Once the park opened back up I started cooking samples.  Here I am cooking pan seared beef filet with a roasted garlic bourbon sauce on a Grilla Kong.
Our friend, Josh Cooper of Swinos, accepting First Place for the Exotic Category!  We have competed together on a team before and have a few joint projects together, so it was exciting to see him win.  

Despite the earlier evacuation, the Friday night crowds still came out.  Friday nights are crazy and the sidewalks become almost impassable.  If you are on a team, it is best to plan to be already gone for the night or staying in the team site until 11pm.

Friday night is "amateur hour" and every year you see the same thing - authorities responding to alcohol related medical emergencies or disorderly conduct. This year, a drunk passed out on top of someone's car trunk and they drove like that for 14 miles before realizing he was there.  In my opinion, these are visitors, not team members, and this is not reflective of the BBQ community.
Mike of Brother's BBQ in Danville, KY finally gets a moment to sit after a busy day.


2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
The last hog team meeting, late Friday night.  I love this snap shot because it is a pivotal moment.  Everyone is tired but critical  "point of no return" decisions are being made and tasks lists created for the final 18 hour push.  I am so proud to be a part of this amazing team and I spent the week in awe of my teammates and sponsors.

Saturday

It's game day.  Everything that we have done since the day after the 2016 Memphis In May boils down to this day.  Today is the day all teams turn in their blind boxes that will be judged anonymously by a table of judges.  Today is the day that each team will be visited by a series of 3 judges, 15 minutes apart, for on site, face to face judging.  Today is the day that each team hopes to make the finals.  Today is the day.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
The rain kicked in early on Saturday morning, making sure everything was nice and wet.  It's not nicknamed "Memphis in Mud" for nothing :) 

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
The on-site judges also judge the team site so everything has to be spotless.  Ronald sweeping grass off of the carpeted area - which that day was kind of like trying to hold back the tides with a solo cup.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Mark and I building the walkway that the judges will use to get to our site.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Dylan carving the Grilla Grills logo into the side of a watermelon for garnish.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Mike, Mike, and Dylan prepping garnish for the whole hog display.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Alexis sweeping.  I think everybody swept at least once or twice on Saturday.

Some of our signage in the tent.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Dylan had these cool cutting boards made to serve as the plates for the onsite judges.


2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Alexis and Matt.  Need to talk with Matt about his body hair situation.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Our 2nd place trophy for tomato based sauce from 2016.  And yes....we put the lime in the coconut.
2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
We served our judges with 3 custom made sauces on the side. At least one judge came back and told us the mustard sauce was a deciding factor for them.



2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Ben and Jim working on the hog for the blind box.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Mark still working

Our final set up for judging. When the judges arrive, anyone not on the presentation team will be lined up, at ease, behind the wall of Grilla Grills.  Notice the walk way that we built.  Things like that make a difference.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest
Jim and Ben building the "blind box" which will be turned in for double blind judging.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog
Dylan doing final preparations on the presentation hog for on-site judging.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
Shane filling out the garnish for the presentation hog.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
More pig shots...

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
Our team nailed it, if you ask me.


2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
The judges arrive 1 by 1 and it's a formal presentation.  A team member meets the judge at the site entrance and walks them into the site. The team members are introduced and a full presentation is made, covering everything from hog selection, preparation, seasoning, cooking, and serving.


2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
Ben explains our cooking process to the first judge.
2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
After all of that talking, it's time to taste! Shane explains our flavor approaches.



2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
As soon as the first judge leaves, teams have about 3 minutes to reset the entire scene for the next judge.  
2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
Ben starting the presentation with our second judge.

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
Ronald talking with our 3rd judge.



2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
Now it is just a matter of waiting to find out if we join the list of previous winners.

The crowds at the awards ceremony are huge, bigger than any other contest that I do.

The Grilla Pro Team waiting to hear how we finished.  

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
We were thrilled to crack the Top 10 in a World Championship for just our second year together as a team.
2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills
The smile on Dylan's face says it all!

There is a reason why I am posting so many team photos - because we are apparently incapable of getting everyone in a single photo.  There was always someone missing for some odd reason and it kind of became a running joke.  

2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills


2017 Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest whole hog Grilla Grills



Alexis and I couldn't be prouder to be on a team than with this group.  There was a river of talent and ambition without tripping over egos.  Everybody contributed ideas and pulled their weight.  Just when you thought, "I need help" someone was right there on the spot.  Our directors provided the lean leadership that was perfect for this team - only guiding where needed. I can't say enough about Grilla Grills as a sponsor - they aren't the "we'll just cut a check" type sponsor.  They were side by side with us every step of the way providing financial, logistical, and hands on support.

Thanks to all of our sponsors, leaders, and teammates for an amazing Memphis In May 2017.

For more information about Grilla Grillas excellent line of pellet and kamado grills, seasonings, sauces, apparel, accessories, and pellets, check out their website.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent write-up. It totally gave me flashbacks from when I competed there a few years back. The ancillary categories are insane if you do all of them. Congrats on the finish.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome round-up of events and great pics Chris!
    Those Grilla Grills look amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another fabulous time doing what you love! Awesome.

    Velva

    ReplyDelete