On the competitive barbecue circuit, few events top the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Started in 1978, the event is now the largest pork barbecue contest in the world, with over 250 teams from over 20 countries vying for glory. The competition is divided into three categories: pork ribs, pork shoulder, and whole hog, plus ancillary contests for sauces and hot wings, and an amateur league for so-called "Patio Porkers."
My father was on a few teams back in the '80s, and my last real involvement was spending some time down there helping out in 1992. Even in the early '90s, the contest looked a lot like a camping trip or tailgating party: tents, ice chests, smokers, and plenty of beer. Now, the stakes are higher, with teams receiving corporate sponsorship and building giant industrial towers to host parties with DJs and lighting rigs.
The event gets started on Thursday, friends and family night, when teams throw parties and more grilling goes on than smoking just to keep things simple. Friday is when a lot of the serious cooking starts, followed by partying in the evening. But I went down on the hazy Saturday morning of the competition proper. It's a serious time for most of the teams: you've been working and celebrating for a couple of days, spending most of your time outdoors, and now it's time to shovel away the mud, spruce up the booth, make a nice table setting, and get ready for judging.
This year, the Grand Champion was Memphis's own Sweet Swine O' Mine, but there were plenty of other winners in other categories, too. Check out the slideshow for some of the many amazing sights of the competition.