Rib Preparation at Jubon's
David Rosen and Christian Cacciotti of Manhattan's Jubon's begin prepping their ribs over twelve hours before they will be placed onto the smoke rack. After removing the membrane from each rack, Rosen trims away excess fat. Cacciotti, the most skilled knifer of the team, “de-knuckles” every rack by inspecting each rib for pieces of bone still hanging on from the initial butcher's cut.
Main Entrance to the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
Now entering barbecue country!
Overlooking the Competition
A view of Memphis in May from the north entrance, where many a pit cook will point out which house belongs to Cybill Shepherd.
The Miss Piggy Contest
The World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest kicks off every year with the Miss Piggy Contest, a series of barbecue-themed musical performances that more often than not features men dressed as female, humanoid pigs. Cross-species cross-dressing is not, however a requirment; the first place prize of this year's contest went to the Swinos, for their arousing reimagining of The Lonely Island's notorious collaboration with Justin Timberlake. “Take a look inside: It's a rib in a box!”
The Adribbers Booth
As the Adribbers from Memphis have demonstrated, two- and -three-story booths are not uncommon at Memphis in May. Some of these structure erupt into club-like parties after hours; all of them provide guests prime relaxation during the day.
Three Alarm Smokers
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Memphis in May is the multitude of clever team names and entirely overblown team booths. While Optimus Swine, Piggy Stardust and the Spiderpigs all hold special places in my heart, nothing beats the grotesquely compelling hungry hungry piggy perched atop the front porch of the Three Alarm Smokers.
The Sons of Bacchus
Pigging Out at the Sons of Bacchus booth.
The Flying Pigs Prep Pork Shoulders
Chris Mills of the Flying Pigs trims sinew off of the pork shoulders that he and his partner, Dan Wilson, will enter into competition. Sarge Davis, head of the Whole Hog Cafe and friend of the Mills family, looks on as he takes a break from his own preparations.
Mike Mills Demonstrates Shoulder Prep
Mike Mills no longer competes at Memphis in May, choosing instead to judge at the contest and offer his wisdom to the many who wish to hear it. On the second day of the competition, he explains the process of preparing a whole shoulder to the host of “Bringing It Home,” a cooking show that will air this summer in Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno and Reno.
Big Bob Gibson
Memphis in May is a mostly Southern affair, attracting local teams as well as seasoned professionals who own nationally renowned restaurants. Big Bob Gibson, from Decatur, AL, is an oft-reviewed smokehouse that makes regular appearances at the WCBCC. While any barbecue fanatic will tell you that sauce is secondary to the quality of the meat, Gibson's is known far and wide for its signature white barbecue sauce, a mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne.
Rib Preparation at Jubon's
After trimming and de-knuckling 30 racks of ribs, Jubon's will select twelve to submit for judging. In order to make the final cut, a rack of ribs must have outstanding symmetry and uniformity, showcase a meatiness that is evenly marbled (“fat is flavor, but no one wants to eat a big chunk of fat”), and possess absolutely no structural flaws, such as bones peeking out the top of the rack.
A barbecue message from four Jewish kids from New York: “At least the salt is kosher!”
The Defending Champions of Whole Hog
Whole hog is by a good measure the least popular category at Memphis in May; it is simply the most difficult and labor-intensive challenge a barbecue team can surmount. Party-Q, the defending whole hog champions at this year's WCBCC, hope to take another championship trophy back to Batesville, AR in 2010.
Party-Q Rubs Down Their Hog
Party-Q team member Mark Turner carefully applies dry rub to the innards of his whole hog.
Party-Q Rubs Down Their Hog
While many restaurant cooks compete on the barbecue circuit, many of the methods used to attain maximum flavor at Memphis in May would not be feasible in the running of a day-to-day business. Party-Q's whole hog preparation is an especially intense process, starting with an involved rubbing and basting that results in the butterflied pig's chest cavity being filled with gallon of marinade and spice. Team leader Jim Butler notes that he always removes the upper ribs in advance in order to maximize smoke penetration and volume for the blend of marinade and meat juices.
The Whole Hog Cafe's Memphis in May Trophies
Any team with a trophy, no matter how far from 1st it may be, is sure to place it on display during Memphis in May. These 2nd- and 3rd- place awards, jokingly referred to by the Whole Hog Cafe's Sarge Davis as his “hall of shame,” are still an impressive sign of skill to anyone walking past.
Across the path from The Flying Pigs is a coin-operated pony named Sandy. The later it gets, the more entertainment Sandy provides.
The Shed's Vintage Horseless Smoker
The Shed, from Ocean Springs, MS, have encased their smoking pit in the body of a 1952 Willis Jeep. This might be more show than needed, but the rack of lamb they smoked inside this auto took 2nd place in this year's “Exotic” competition.
Under the Hood of The Shed's Smoke Pit
Harry Shedfferd, The Shed's road manager, opens up the main compartment of the team's smoker with pride.
Educating the Public at Ubon's
Garry Roark of Ubon's leads a barbecue demonstration for the public. Although the WCBCC forbids teams from serving their food directly to festival-goers, they do offer a paid tour, called the “Cooker Caravan,” that stops at the booths of many top competitors. Assisting in the demonstration is Roark's daughter Leslie, one of few female cooks at Memphis in May.
Carey Bringle Previews His Competition Shoulders
Carey Bringle, leader of the Peg-Leg Porkers, opens his horizontal smoker for just a moment to mop the pork shoulders within with a barbecue marinade. His team has built both of their smoking pits from scratch, posting videos of the construction process on Youtube to show amateurs what it takes to bring the pain to Memphis in May. You can watch them assemble their newest model, step-by-step, here.
The Peg-Leg Porkers Baste Their Shoulders
The Peg-Leg Porkers' shoulders have been injected with a saltwater-based brine and will be basted every half-hour until the last few hours of cooking, at which point the team will apply layers of dry rub to build a nice bark on the surface of the meat. Team welder and fire man Steve Dresch demonstrates.
Although Kingsford is highly vsible as a sponsor at Memphis in May, many teams pass on using their product in favor of a more serious briquette. The Peg-Leg porkers use professional chef-grade coals, pointing out that they are more uniform and reliable than a typical consumer's option.
Burning Wood Down to Live Coals
Standard barbecue convention has pit masters using charcoal for heat and wood chips for smoke. The Peg-Leg Porkers are one of few teams at Memphis May that actually burn down hunks of hickory into live wood coals, using a 50/50 split of wood and charcoal to heat and smoke their meat. Using wood coals is a laborious task that introduces a degree of uncertainty when it comes to temperature control; team leader Carey Bringle, however, believes that the risk taken will result in a high reward of genuine flavor.
Rained in with The Flying Pigs
Thunderstorm warning is no surprise at Memphis in May; not a year goes by without flash rainfall. The Flying pigs huddle beneath their tarp during this two-hour torrential downpour, making sure all of their things are dry and that the temperature in their smoker doesn't fall too far.
Party-Q Re-hydrates Its Hog
After about nine hours in the smoker, Party-Q's whole hog is ready to for re-hydration. Jim Butler and his teammates draw from the pool of juices inside the cavity, injecting the liquid into the shoulders and loin of the pig before putting it back into the smoker to continue cooking overnight.
Kenny Callaghan Checks on His Ribs
At this year's contest, Men's Health Magazine has sponsored a “Cue Crew”—composed of New York pit masters from Blue Smoke, Dinosaur BBQ, Fette Sau and The Smoke Joint. Their challenge: to cook competition-level barbecue on run-of-the-mill backyard grills. After smoking a few test runs with the new equipment, Blue Smoke's Kenny Callaghan inspects the rack and applies a final layer of basting.
Blue Smoke + Dinosaur = One Nice Rib
This collaboration between Kenny Callaghan and John Stage is nicely crusted, moist to the bone, and just tender enough to pull off cleanly with one gentle tug. A hint of smoke backs up the sweet-and-savory crust to make for one tasty backyard rib.
All You Can Eat at the Peg-Leg Porkers'
As the celebration continues, teams continue churning out amazing food to feed their guests and themsleves. At 10:00 p.m., the Peg-Leg Porkers unload a gargantuan drum of spicy, juicy, steamed crawfish for all to enjoy.
Friday Night Madness
Conventional wisdom warns against showing up at the WCBCC if you're not friends with any of the competing teams. Well, when you're in the South, it isn't very hard to make new friends. Even on the eve before judging, parties rage, music blares from every booth, and friends new and old lounge and dance long into the night. All the while, team captains keep a careful eye on the barbecue that could make them World Champions.