Spring is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons, including the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest! In my opinion, there’s no better way to celebrate the rich history of Memphis and enjoy some good ole’ fashioned BBQ fun.
I wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes look at this event, including my story, competition setup, and a little history lesson.
The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is an outstanding 4-day event in Memphis, TN. Memphis in May has been a Tennessee tradition since 1977, but at that time, the lineup only included the Beale Street Music Festival. If you want to jam out to some great artists, this is the place to be!
In 1978, Memphis in May delighted BBQ enthusiasts everywhere by opening up the first Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. The first event was held in a vacant lot by the Orpheum Theater, and just 20 teams participated. As word spread, more pitmasters wanted to try their hand at comp cooking.
By 1990, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest broke records and was named “the largest barbecue cooking contest in the world.” Many have dubbed this competition “The Superbowl of Swine.”
Today, teams worldwide come to show off their chops (pun intended!). The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest has three categories to compete in: Whole hog, shoulder, and ribs. This year, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is taking place at the newly renovated Tom Lee Park by the riverfront.
I’m no stranger to the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. I’ve been following the event since I was a kid. After years of dreaming, I started competing in 2008. I could go on for hours, but here’s why I keep coming back to the circuit.
- Friendship. I’ve met some of my best buddies through the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. During the competition, we’re all business, but before and after, we’re one big family!
- Sportsmanship. Memphis in May has some of the greatest competitors you’ll ever see. Everyone is dialed in and eager to win the gold. Any competition can teach you something, but the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest brings out the best in people.
- Community. Though Memphis is a large city, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest has a small-town feel. It’s like a local contest! I love seeing everyone come out to support this amazing city.
- New experiences. Every year, Memphis in May has something unique to offer. From Sauce Wrestling to the Miss Piggie Idol competition, there’s never a dull moment. Come prepared to make memories that will last a lifetime!
In 2022, I won 1st place in ribs, coming up just short of the Grand Championship! It’s been over 20 years since a rib won the GC, but this year, we’re swinging for the fences. Ribs are one of the most challenging categories, as they cook fast! You have just a short window of time to make everything picture-perfect.
I’ll be competing in the rib category again in 2023, and I am in it to win it! I’ve been cooking ribs like they’re going out of style. Around here, practice runs start in January. My ribs of choice are from Prairie Fresh, and I’ve been having a blast experimenting with new flavor combos. Practice is vital; sometimes, one minor tweak is all it takes to win.
Are you itching for a chance to compete? Or maybe you want to support your favorite pitmaster. Here are a few things you should know going into the 2023 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
- Attend the Kingsford Tour of Champions. If you absolutely MUST have a taste of that comp BBQ, purchase a ticket for the Kingsford Tour of Champions. This fun tour includes visits to three different BBQ teams, complete with samples. You’ll also learn from each pitmaster as they share tricks of the trade.
- Bring the whole family. The 2023 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is a family-friendly event. There’s a lot to see and do! Bonus: Children under the age of 8 don’t need a ticket.
- It’s a team effort. Many hands make light work, especially when cooking for a crowd of judges. Even if you plan on doing most of the work, include a few buddies to help wrap ribs, inject shoulders, etc.
- Become a VIP. Memphis in May’s VIPit Pass is one of the most immersive experiences available. In the past, the VIPit itinerary has included meet and greets, cooking demos, and a judging class. 2023 is bound to be just as awesome!
- Dine on a budget. If a VIPit Pass is out of your reach, snag a ticket for BBQ Alley. This event is sponsored by Big Green Egg & Friends and is a budget-friendly experience. While this event doesn’t feature BBQ team’s cooking, it does give you a taste of the best Tennessee BBQ restaurants.
- Giveaways. This year, Team Heath Riles BBQ is sponsoring the Cooker’s Caravan. I’m giving away 16 lip-smackin’ rib bundles AND Heath Riles BBQ swag to one lucky group/person PER tour!
- Let loose. The 2023 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is a superb chance to let loose and have fun! Step out of your comfort zone, meet new people, and dance until your feet are tired.
Speaking of letting loose, we’d love to get the party started! On the morning of Thursday, May 18th, Team Heath Riles BBQ is hosting a Yeti Cocktail Hour. Meet us at the tent for Bloody Marys and Mimosas, made Heath-style!
Check out the behind-the-scenes look at my 2022 1st Place Finish in the Rib Division.
For another glimpse into competition life, check out my 2021 Competition Shoulder Cook.
I hope to see you at the 2023 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest!