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Monday, November 25, 2013

Memphis: World Championship Barbecue Competition

What a riotous event!  Sheer gluttony!  A weekend dedicated entirely to … BARBECUE!
After work on Friday, I quickly headed to the Mississippi River in search of myoglobin-outlined perfection.  After a 10-minute weaving search for free parking, I stepped out of my car… into what seemed like a meat smoker of goodness.  ALL of Downtown Memphis: Smelled. Like. Barbecue.  WOW!!  I am not kidding. 

You should know that I only eat meat a few times a week for health and ethical reasons– but when I do eat meat, it is often barbecue driven.  I love barbecue.  (I also love pattied sausage, but that is for another post.)  This new downtown aroma smelled like heaven! 

When it comes to barbecue, I have always been a lover, but I have my preferences.  I have never been a huge fan of ribs; they just haven’t had the right taste and texture for me; I am more of a pulled pork kind of girl.  Well all of this changed on Friday & Saturday... 

Welcome to Memphis in May  2013 World Championship Barbecue Competition!
Creative BBQ team names!
Thousands of competitors are on ‘teams’ that complete for various BBQ categories from ribs to whole hog to best tent (see categories and winners here ).  Each team has a ‘tent’ for cooking and, most importantly, for partying.  Team sizes range from 5 to 50, and tent sizes are up to 2 stories tall!

This is a "tent"
Teams hire managers that hire other companies to set-up and design tents, craft a theme, and source out all of the meat, booze, and equipment.  Smaller teams may own all of this personally.   The key to this festival: Gain access to tent(s).  To enter a private tent (which you want to do), you must have a wristband from that tent, i.e. know someone that is a part of that tent.  Wristbands are a bit like status symbols at this 3-day long event: the more you have, the more popular you are.  If you don’t have a wristband, then you are stuck eating vendor carnie food, paying for beverages, and generally being bored.  Wrapped up in a wristband is your home (err, tent ) away from home.  Walk up to the bar and ask for anything they are carrying, frequently a full bar.  I had a beer, and it was handed to be WITH a coozie and a smile.  No payment, no tip, no nothing.  Just told to drink it down and come back for more.  The beer was accompanied by a small plastic container of ultra-fun and yummy vodka-soaked gummy bears!  Food is coming hot off the grill.  Music, a small band, or DJ is playing. People are socializing.  Your wristband(s) is an All Access Pass to F-U-N.

Team member Chris
All of these events were thanks to the invitation extended by a friend whom I hadn’t seen after a many year hiatus.  Chris flies to Memphis every year as a BBQ team member.  Happy to see my friend, plus SCORE!, tent access!  The food and beverages flowed for as long as we could take it!  In one Friday night tent, Bobby McFerrin strolled through.  Bobby who?  No idea who he was, but he wanted to talk and talk to me about spoken word poetry in Memphis.  As a non-smartphone owner (and non-music aficionado), I was left making up a history about this man… I later when home and youtubed!  Click here for his most popular video on youtube: Don’t Worry, Be Happy.  Yes, he really is a happy man!

After a very filling meal of ‘dipped’ fried chicken at Uncle Lou’s, of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives fame (Watch this fun snip-it video of the show), we were off to BBQ Fest again!  For me, Saturday was The Day Of The Rib.  For the competitors, this was the last day of the festival and the most important for glory and bragging rights: Judging Day.  Ribs are the most popular entry, but there are many others, e.g. shoulder, ribs, and whole hog. 

BAMF team smoker
In general, food from the teams is only available as a wristband holder.  This day was a bit different.  Not only did I eat at least a half rack of ribs inside tents, but another half rack and more was offered merely passing by!  This is when gluttony set in…  The tantalizing smells, the slow-smoked bragging, the hired chefs, I had difficulty turning down the offers!  I declined the first ribs offer due to lunchtime dining –  friends informed me I didn’t miss much.  At the second offer, however, I was persuaded to suck the meat off a few rib bones…  When posed the question, “When will be the next time you can sample competition ribs… Ribs from a team that has viable winning possibilities…”  Yes, I acquiesced, and I was so glad I did!  Then I accepted again, and again, from several other prized teams.  I was not disappointed once, and quickly began developing a discerning rib palate.  I lost count how many ribs I ate… and ate… and ate.  Finally, I walked away with a VERY full belly and MANY delicious tastes! 

I came home that night and after 4-5 hours of sluggish digesting, I sunk my teeth into a juicy, mouth-watering… APPLE!  After so much meat consumption over 2 days, pure, raw, unadulterated produce was all that I craved.  And soymilk.  What a divine experience!  

Put a fork in me, I'm done!

A sea of tents.
Picture taken from the second story of a "tent."
Another "tent"
Very amusing team names!
Another "tent"

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