I’m super-excited this year to be invited to be a part of the Tucker Cooker team for the 2012 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest! This will be my first time attending in Memphis in May in any sort of capacity. I know that this is a massive event, so I asked Ron Worby, pitmaster of Susquehanna Blue Smoke and member of the Tucker Cooker team, if he would come up with a guide to what fans need to know for Memphis in May. He was gracious enough to do so. So without further delay, here is Ron’s guide to what fan’s need to know for Memphis in May!
Before I became a competition BBQ competitor I was a fan / spectator of BBQ events and eating barbecue. A really big fan… Even as a competitor I still love to go to events when I’m not competing… It didn’t matter to me which one I would go to as long as I got to go to and get my fill of the aroma of wood burn & charcoal burning in the pit if and my fill of “que”. To me that’s a combination that can’t be beat! Next to chicken and ribs!
Almost every state has a BBQ event in it, and many have their own organizations with their own set of rules and regulations. Events range from the small backyarder events put on by church / clubs to the events that are put on by the KCBS sanctioned events (Kansas City Barbecue Society), MBN (Memphis Barbecue Network), LSBS (Lone Star Barbecue Society) MIM (Memphis in May Organization) etc., that are official sanctioned events with cash prizes and trophies. Some of the most sought after competitions to compete in by teams are the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue, The American Royal Open, and Memphis in May . Win one of these events and you’ve got braggin’ rights! Oh one thing about teams… Most don’t run restaurants, are not corporate sponsored and pay for the comps out of pocket (which could be quite expensive).
Enough about that… Let’s talk about visiting barbecue events. Let’s take Memphis in May Barbecue Contest (also known as the WCBCC or World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest). Looking back on things, I have learned that the most important is to be prepared. Do the research on the event(s) – it will pay off in the long run.
Before the Event
- Make travel, transportation, and lodging arrangements if coming in from afar. Don’t wait until last minute, or you might miss out or pay top dollar.
- Contact the local visitor center (Memphis Visitor Center) for free maps and other information on events that coincide with Memphis in May.
- Contact the event organizer or go to their website (http://www.memphisinmay.org) for scheduled events and maybe some insider info. There are other events scheduled in May besides the BBQ contest. There are the Beale Street Music Festival and the Sunset Symphony, for example.
- Hit the barbeque forums. There are tons of information in them, and you might make some friends that might be going to MIM and competing. Hint: you might get a invite to stop by and say “hi”.
- V.I.Pit Passes — Ever wanted to know all of the behind-the-scenes details of the Memphis in May BBQ Contest? This is your opportunity to get the royal treatment that most visitors don’t get. Information on these passes can be found here.
- Pack your bags accordingly! Don’t forget medication, toiletries, weather-appropriate clothing, and (of course) a camera and cell phone.
- Plan your day(s) of events from visiting the contest to seeing the sights. Have your map in hand as well as the transit schedule. Most of these are free at your hotel when you arrive.
As a note, with the exception of a Family Day, this event is really not geared towards children.
(Tom Lee Park, the site of Memphis in May)
Day of the Event
- Dress for the day – be sure to check the weather before heading out. Also, wear comfortable shoes. Boots are a good choice if the weather calls for rain – it does get muddy here!
- Plan your day.
- Check the schedule for park open/close times as well as for other events.
- If one of your goals is to meet and greet with various teams and team members, Saturday is not a good day at all. On that day, teams are focused and concerned with turn-ins. Friday is a better day, with only auxiliary categories being turned in that day.
- Don’t forget the essentials – sunscreen, sunglasses, medicines, extra socks, hat, poncho.
- Also pack an extra memory card for your camera.
- Book authors will sign autographs, so don’t forget to bring a Sharpie and any books you want autographed.
- If you happen to forget anything, there is a service station / convenience store at the top of the road.
At the Event
Upon your arrival you’ll be greeted by a huge banner strung across the road and other banners of all sort attached to the fence. In the far distance you will see “The Pyramid” and if you don’t know about it you will say “What the */@#!!!” and “Wow!!!”
As you’re walking to the ticket booths, you will notice all the tents and structures set up with a light blue haze lofting above them and the faint smell of wood burning. At the booth you will be greeted by an attendant and asked to open your back pack so they can do a quick search so that no alcohol, drugs or foods are smuggled in. Once you pass the search and get your band, you are free to roam within reason. For team sites, you must be invited into team sites, be a member, or a friend of a member to be there. There a port-a-potties for use, no restrooms. If you happen to see a “Johnny on the spot” in a team’s area, it is for the team to use and not for the public. They are rented by the team.
You will be in awe by all the teams and the structures they have erected. You will see setups ranging from a tent to 3 story structures!!! Yes, 3 stories…
At this point you will want to get your bearing on your map and search out friend or teams you know and restrooms. The park is a mile in length so the steps should be chosen wisely – it can tire you out quickly!!! There are 3 divisions: Ribs, Shoulder, and Whole Hog. They are broken up into sections of the park which will be marked on your map for the park.
First, thing is to go to the t-shirt tent and purchase your t-shirt and pin. They sell out quickly. Now you have your shirt for autographs from teams and famous people like “Dr. BBQ” Ray Lampe, Chris Lilly, Dave Klose, and Myron Mixon. Now, it’s time to go mingle and take pictures. You will see some unique things in the park from structures to people. Most teams like to have their pictures taken, especially with their rigs and awards. If you get the opportunity to hang out with a team, pick their brains. They love to pass on information of their sport (but don’t expect to get all the secrets). If you get in good with a team, they might give you something to eat and drink if they have it, but that’s not a guarantee. If you really get in good, they might invite you back for a party! One thing to note: teams are not allowed to sell or give food or drink to the public due to rules of the event and health department.
Make sure you at least get through the park once. Eat plenty and stay hydrated (and not with just beer). Support the vendors. Take a break and check out the schedule of events that are going on throughout the day and the next couple of days. There is some really good stuff that goes on.
People’s Choice Judging
If you love BBQ and want to get a taste of some of the best the world has to offer, then People’s Choice Judging is for you. Sample kits are available for purchase for $4.00 (pricing may be subject to change). Each kit consists of samples from five different BBQ teams, and you vote simply by picking your favorite entry. You’re not limited to just one sample kit – you can purchase as many as you wish. The winner of the People’s Choice Judging is announced at the award ceremony Saturday evening.
The Cooker Caravan is a free guided tour for fans that goes right through the heart of the grounds of the contest. This tour includes stops at selected cooking teams, where the pros will divulge information on tips and tricks for improving your own BBQ. These tours leave every 30 minutes from the Memphis Barbecue Association tent (located next to the People’s Choice Judging tent).
Ms. Piggie Idol
This event is a must-see event! This pageant features grown men wearing dresses and snouts dancing and singing barbecue-themed songs on stage. It is by far one of the most popular events at the contest, offering fun and light-hearted entertainment for everyone!
If you are still up for more excitement after the event, you need to trek on down to Beale Street. During the day it’s a quiet downtown street with its shops and “hole in the wall bars” This is where the party is at for the adventurous and there are place to shop, eat and drink. There are tours and other activities for one to do. Here is a list of recommended places to check out on Beale Street for you:
- Alfreds on Beale
- B.B. Kings Restaurant & Blues Club
- Backbeat Tours
- Beale Street Gifts
- Beale Street Tap Room
- Black Diamond
- Blues City Cafe
- Blues City General Store
- Club 152 on Beale
- Coyote Ugly Saloon
- Dyers Burgers on Beale Street (Author’s Note: Awesome Burgers!!!)
- Eel Etc. Fashions
- Handy Bar
- Hard Rock Cafe Memphis
- Historic Daisy Theater
- Itta Bena
- Kings Palace Cafe’
- Memphis Music
- Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe
- Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall
- New Daisy
- People’s Billiard Club
- Pig on Beale
- Rum Boogie
- Silky O’ Sullivans
- Strange Cargo
- Superior Bar of Memphis
- Tater Reds
- Wet Willies (Author’s Note: Great Frozen Drinks!!!)
Also remember to venture out to take in the sights and different tours to get a feel of Memphis. If you happen to stay past the contest dates, a lot of places are closed on Mondays. Check their schedules before heading out. Use your best judgment, go with another person or two; stay on well populated & lit streets, and don’t act like a tourist!!! But have a great time!!!
A big thanks again to Ron Worby for this write-up on the fan’s guide to Memphis in May! If you have anything that should be added, let me know in the comments below!