The 2015 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest began with approximately 250 teams testing their barbecue skills in what is arguably the world’s largest all-pork competition.
In the end, however, only one can be deemed World Champion and take his or her place among the 37 previous overall winners.
While the festivities technically began on Wednesday, May 13, when some teams invited friends and family for small private parties, the real show heated up the following day during the always lively Miss Piggy Idol contests, in which teams of men and women try their best to shock and/or entertain the crowds. Soon after the teams left the stage, the crowds swelled and the parties began to rage all across Memphis’ Tom Lee Park. While a large number of visitors were forced to limit their partying to the outskirts of team sites, those with connections were able to access invite-only events that featured live DJs, open bars, and more free barbecue than any one man or woman could ever consume.
On Friday, the socializing continued, though many teams opted to take part in the contest’s ancillary contests, including such winners as Natural Born Grillers (Anything But: Exotic), Meat Mitch (Anything But: Beef), Sugarfire Smokehouse (Anything But: Poultry), Salty Rinse BBQ (Anything But: Seafood), P-Funk & The Fatback All-Stars (Cattleman’s Best Sauce: Tomato), P-Funk & The Fatback All-Stars (Cattleman’s Best Sauce: Vinegar), The Bastey Boys (Cattleman’s Best Sauce: Mustard), and Party Q (Frank’s Red Hot Hot Wings).
While the partying continued into the evening, it was somewhat quelled by the rain that always seems to fall during Memphis in May weekend. In fact, some attendees appropriately term the contest “Memphis in Mud.” As the night’s festivities died down, the more serious competitors switched into true contest mode, including those competing in the whole hog category. These specialties can take upwards of 20 hours to reach pure smoked perfection.
By Saturday morning, teams were in full swing, putting the finishing touches on either a whole hog, pork shoulders, or ribs, while spit-shining their sites for visits from an esteemed panel of MIM judges. First up were the shoulder competitors, who turned in their unadorned Styrofoam boxes filled with the very best eat they could produce, followed by whole hog turn-ins, rib entries from the Patio Porker (a collection of much smaller cuts from backyard cooks), and the primary rib category.
Once boxes were turned in, teams welcomed individual visits from three judges for which they presented their meats along with their best sales pitches.
Soon the results were tallied for blind box turn-ins and onsite judging. Teams began to wait anxiously for a single golf cart that would alert the top three finishers in each round that they were moving on to finals judging. In the shoulder category, it was Sweet Swine ‘O Mine, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, and Red Hot Smokers; whole hog finalists were Salty Rinse BBQ, Cotton Patch Cooking, and The Shed BBQ; and rib finalists were Auto Be Grillin’, Serial Grillers, and Cackle & Oink BBQ.
The rain returned at full force as these nine teams readied themselves for a group of four finals judges to visit their sites, letting up just in time to allow them to put on their very best show in this ultimate BBQ battle of champions.
And then it was all over, and the only thing left to do was wait for the awards announcement. Some teams began taking down their elaborate sites while others returned to partying. For me, it was a chance to sample some of the goods these top teams put out — and yes, they all deserved their shot at the grand prize.
When the time arrived for awards, thousands of individuals packed in around the main stage, some in costume, others waving flags, and more than a few towing full kegs of beer. A single drone hovered above as one member of the media captured the action from above. I took my place at the front of the stage and soon the night’s MC began to read off the winners in each category from 10th place down. For pork shoulder, the results placed Red Hot Smokers in third place, Sweet Swine O’ Mine in second, and returning Grand Champions Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in first. In whole hog it was Cotton Patch Cooking Team in third, Salty Rinse BBQ in second, and The Shed BBQ in first. Finally, in ribs, Cackle & Oink BBQ took third place, Auto Be Grillin’ second, and Serial Grillers was first.
But the action and anticipation was far from over as the first-place winners in each category made their way to the stage one last time to see whose overall score would secure their place in Memphis in May World Grand Champion history.
And the winner was… The Shed BBQ from Ocean Springs, Mississippi! As the entire Orrison family cheered in unison, I couldn’t help but be proud of these fine folks. You see, although there might be an element in luck involved in winning such a prestigious BBQ contest, it also takes a whole lot of skill, passion, and determination to do it right consistently. When you look at the list of past champions, it’s more often than not the names of individuals who live, breathe, and truly love live-fire cooking. It’s Melissa Cookston; it’s Chris Lilly; it’s Pat Burke and Mike Mills; it’s Myron Mixon; and so on and so on. And now it is the Orrisons.
In the words of Head ShedHed Brad Orrison: “There is no better feeling than knowing that all of the hard work finally paid off. I’ve never seen our entire team in tears, but it happened. We compete in Memphis in May to win the whole damn thing and we accomplished our goal… it only took 10 years!”