Thursday, June 12, 2014

Memphis In May 2014

A little less than a month ago, Alexis and I attended Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest.

In the world of BBQ contests, Memphis in May (MIM) is one of the four majors along with The Jack Daniels BBQ Invitational, American Royal, and Houston Rodeo.  It is a spectacle that has to be experienced in person but I'll try to share the feel of the event through some pictures.

Teams, Banners, and Booths
One of the first things I like to do at MIM is walk around and behold the amazing team "booths".  At most contests, team booths are just a pop up canopy or two but at MIM,  team spaces are more appropriately called "structures".  I also like to see what teams are there and check out the fun names and logos.

Two large "booths"...not exactly 10 x 10 Ez Up canopies, right?

US Army Corp of Engineers

Most of these multi-level structures are built with scaffolding but I hear they have to be permitted or reviewed by a city inspector.  You'll see why load ratings are important later.

The fabled "porkapotamus".

Another one of my favorites.

Many of these teams are sponsored by companies to foot the obviously expensive costs.

I loved the simplicity of this logo. 

He's lookin' angry...

The BBQ of Smaug

Moody Ques won best booth decoration again this year.

This year, Alexis and I volunteered to cook dinner for the Too Sauced To Pork BBQ team and many of the BBQ Brethren in attendance, which meant cooking for about 100 people.  We rented an apartment nearby - it was cheaper than a downtown hotel room and came with a decent sized kitchen.  We cooked Brisket Sloppy Joes, Honey Mustard Pork Tenderloin Sliders, Love Potatoes, and our Pulled Pork Queso.

We did all of the prep at the kitchen so the only thing that we had to cook onsite was 18 pork tenderloins.

Notice the appropriate hand position for safe slicing.

Again, take note of the safe hand know what's coming, right?

Alexis working on the Love Potatoes. 

She was chopping bacon, I was done and decided to help her.  This is about 2 hours before we had to serve the crowd.
So I got lazy chopping the bacon and clipped off a quarter of my finger tip and fingernail.  I mean off, gone, nada.  We didn't have bandaids nor did we have time, so I just used paper towels folded up and tied it on with kitchen twine, then gloved up over it.  I won't post THIS PICTURE (slight gore) showing the wound so click at your own risk.

At the site, we lost 3 steam pans of food due to having coolers packed too heavily but other than that, dinner went well and we got everyone fed.  I didn't get any pictures because it was just us and one other person serving everyone.  It was go go go and then it was over. 

Right before service, a strong storm rolled through but left this nice double rainbow behind.

Another great thing about MIM is seeing all of your old friends and meeting new ones.

The Porkasaurus team was very friendly and had me up on their upper deck telling me about their long history at Memphis In May.

Our good friends at Meyer Natural Angus and Laura's Lean Beef were there.  We talked them into supporting BBQ competitions last year while visiting their ranch in Montana.

Ubons - one of our favorite teams.  They treated us so well the past two years, like part of the team.

Ken Hess of Big Bob Gibsons and Alexis enjoying a Perfect Sandwich at Ubons.

Got to spend some time with Robyn Medlin Lindars at the Hog Heaven team booth.

Power Bloggers!  Big Wayner's BBQ Blog, Grill Grrrl, and Nibble Me This.  We're not allowed to travel together because the country would be lost if the three of us perished in a plane crash together :/sarcasm mode off

Wayne Brown, Barry Martin, and Eddie Medlin - three well connected BBQ dudes.

Alexis, Eddie, and me in the Patio Porkers area.

Clint Cantwell (, Smoke In Da Eye), Chris Anderson (Meyer Natural Angus), me and Chef John Enright who got a top 10 call for his first Memphis in May.

Clint Cantwell, Editor of, getting the scoop.

Big Moe Cason of Ponderosa BBQ and BBQ Pitamasters and Clint Cantwell.  Man these guys are short. ;)
I didn't get a lot of shots of cookers (smokers) this year but here are a few.

Jaybird showing off his cooker.  I thought the diamond plate was a nice touch.
Hey look, someone has a "Warthog" (my name for it, it doesn't have a brand name) cooker like mine but Chaz Sanders has added an insulated box smoker to his trailer.

Pig ready to go on the cooker.

Tuffy Stone checking his ribs in his Jambo J3, really nice offset smoker.

Fastest cooker around!

We stayed at the historic Exchange Building, completed in 1910.  It was less than half the price of downtown hotels and came with the aforementioned kitchen. Nina was the bomb. We will definitely stay here again in the future.

It's an older building but there's a lot of renovation going on.

The lobby has a lot of marble and ornate decoration.  I can imagine it as a business center in its heyday.

More shots of the lobby.

Alexis on the stairway.

"Paint me like one of your French women!"
Sunrise over downtown Memphis.

The walk along Main Street to where the competition is held at Tom Lee Park is relaxing with sites you don't see in Knoxville.

Loved the trolley lines and lack of cars on this stretch.

Lots of shops and cafes along the way.  Of course not many open at 7am.

As you can see, the booths get very crowded on Friday night, hence the need for the building inspectors to sign off on these structures.

This guy driving golf balls into the Mississippi reminded me of the "Is that a Titleist" episode of Seinfeld.

Bands play on the main stage.  During awards this entire area is a sea of people.

Big wheel keep on turnin.....proud Mary keep on burnin'.

My favorite shirt.

It's not called Memphis in Mud for no reason.
The judging for Memphis in May is different than KCBS events. You still turn in "blind boxes" where panels of judges rate turn ins without knowing who's is what.  But then a series of three judges visits each team to do onsite judging in person. 

Sanders Smoke N Que hurrying to get their rib turn in box finished.  If you don't make the deadline, you are disqualified.

Remember that whole hog pictured earlier?  This is him...or parts thereof.

BBQ teams are worse than food bloggers taking pictures in a restaurant, ha ha.

When teams send a runner with the box, they often send a few people as "blockers" to help get through the crowd without someone bumping into the box. 

Clint Cantwell running Cool Smokes ribs that will go on to place second.  I was the blocker here but with the rain, crowds weren't too bad on Saturday this year.

Clint shows why his previous career of pole dancing didn't take off :)

When onsite judging draws nigh, teams get busy finalizing everything.  There is a lot of work to be done.

Small details make the difference - Clint and Tuffy prepping the site for the judge's arrival.

Then all of the commotion settles down and it gets eerily quite.  You're supposed to be silent when judging is ongoing so people can hear.

And then the judges arrive.  The teams welcome them....

And following the rules of presentation...tell them what they are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what they told them.  Got that?

Like golf, there are monitors to remind you to shut the hell up kindly use your inside voices.

Some teams enlist their own marshals (he posed like this on request, they are really nice about asking you to be quiet)
The presentations usually involve regaling the judge with information about your cooker, meat, rubs, sauces, your Aunt Irma's gout, and anything else they can schmooze them with before delivering the food for sampling.  Then it's all about the appearance, taste, and tenderness.

Whole hog judging is the most dramatic.  They show the whole hog and then pull samples from several areas to demonstrate to the judge how the hog is cooking perfectly from rooter to the tooter.

Ray "Dr BBQ" Lampe sampling 3 Taxi Guys whole hog.

The Cookston family greats their first judge.

Chris Lilly carries what will be the 2014 Grand Champion pork shoulder to the table for judging.

Chris Lilly and Don McLemore giving their presentation.  They've done this "once or twice".

Chris pulling samples for the judge.

Hope they saved room on the trailer for some more of those big World Champion trophies.

Finally it was time to head back to Knoxville.  But that's a 5 hour trip and we needed some great food for the road so we stopped by Melissa Cookston's Memphis Barbecue Company in Horn Lake, MS.  I've been wanting to try this restaurant, co-owned by not one but TWO World Champion Pitmasters, since it opened.

Deep Fried Cheese Fritters with Honey Mustard Sauce.  Fan-freaking-tastic.

Pork and brisket sandwich for the indecisive.

Smoked meatloaf, okra, and mac and cheese - Southern health food!
If you ever get the chance, stop by Memphis Barbecue Company and give it a shot.  The cheese balls are worth the trip alone.  

Congratulations to the Big Bob Gibson Team for another World Championship - it is well deserved.  Also congrats to Too Sauced To Pork, they took 6th in ribs, 1st in Vinegar sauce and 2nd place in the Kingsford Tour of Champions.

So it was another great trip to Memphis.  We plan to hit The Jack this October and then next year, get the Houston Rodeo and American Royal scratched off our list.