How to Get Your Hands on Some Barbecue at Memphis in May


Crispy Critters preps its whole hog entry at last year's Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest enjoys the saucy subtitle, "Superbowl of Swine." Like the football game that sorta shares that handle, it can be almost impossible for spectators to get up close to the sizzling hot action at Memphis in May, which starts Thursday and wraps up Saturday. It’s like going to a party and being told to stay away from the buffet.

After watching the mouthwatering competition on the Food Network, hundreds of ‘cue fans make the pilgrimage to the annual event only to be bummed when they learn it’s not cool to walk up to one of the 200-plus teams set up along a two-mile stretch of the mighty Mississippi and ask: “Can I get a bite?”

But fans of meats cooked low-and-slow shouldn’t despair. You can get in on the feast if you follow my cues, after the jump.

Become a Judge

It’s too late this year, but if you want a seat at the table, take the Memphis in May–sanctioned training to become a judge. I passed this two-day course a couple of years ago and discovered there’s no better place to be than in the judges’ tent.

Still, you don’t need any certificate to be a judge in the People’s Choice competition. For $4, tasters snack on five samples of smoky pulled pork and then vote for their favorite. Since this was introduced five years ago, it’s become the must-chew venue at the three-day epic event. Go early and often.

The Cooker's Caravan

mr.%20piggy2.jpgSign up for the Cooker’s Caravan. This free “behind-the-grill” tour is a great way to understand the Herculean efforts teams make to participate in the world’s largest pork barbecue competition. Most of the cookers will issue an informal invite to come back around for the party on Friday night. If so, go! You won’t believe the raucous scene on the eve of the competition. It’s a smoky Mardi Gras, complete with men dressed up like lady pigs. The costumes alone are worth the price of admission.

Silky Sullivan

If you can’t sweet talk your way into a party, head over to Silky Sullivan's booth and tell him Leslie Kelly sent you. He’s the colorful character sitting on a makeshift throne. He’ll feed you.

Any other MIM teams want to throw down a VIP invite to Serious Eats readers?

Hunt for Leftovers

Come competition Saturday, shortly after noon, be on the lookout for official carts transporting judges to the on-site finals presentations. These saucy spiels are definitely worth witnessing, and, often, the team will share leftovers with the crowd that typically gathers.

Last year, I got a piece of the team that would later be named Grand Champ. Did their generosity add good karma to the absolute deliciousness of the entry? I’m going to say yes, and nudge other teams toward being as giving.

If you’re still hungry for barbecue after spending the day at this contest, there’s no better place to be than Memphis. My long list of favorites includes Payne’s on Lamar, Cozy Corner, Central, Charlie Vergos's Rendezvous, even Tops, where you can order barbecue for breakfast. It opens at 9 a.m.

I sure do wish I was going to be there for some “smoke on the water," but I'm already dreaming about next year.