At Memphis BBQ contest, pitmasters sweat through the smoke to be best in pork

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — Hundreds of dedicated pitmasters are sweating through the smoke as they compete to see who will be crowned “best in pork” at this year's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, Tennessee.

Considered one of the premiere cooking competitions in the U.S., the contest dates back to the 1970s. But as the so-called culinary sports expanded beyond local home cooks, the competition is fiercer than ever.

This year's competition started on Wednesday and runs through Saturday, when an overall grand champion will be named. With over $150,000 in prize money to be awarded, 129 cooking teams from 22 states and four foreign countries are competing in one of three main categories of ribs, shoulder and whole hog. There also are ancillary competitions like hot wings, poultry, beef and seafood.

But in Memphis, pork is always the main event.

Brad Orrison and Brooke Lewis, siblings from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, have been competing for 17 years as a team named after their restaurant: The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint. They have won the grand championship twice.

“It’s the Super Bowl of swine. This is the trophy that everybody wants," Orrison said.

Orrison, Lewis and their team on Friday were preparing two Duroc hogs for the competition, each one carefully injected with marinades and laid over a bed of butter and bacon.

They come back every year to the cooking contest, which is part of the annual Memphis in May festival. It's like a family reunion where they see friends from all over the country with a shared passion for barbecue.

“It’s like fierce friends and more fierce on the competitive side. Right? So we all support each other, but it stops on Saturday," Lewis said. "Saturday you can hear a pin prick in the park.”

“What makes Memphis in May so difficult to judge is that everybody cooks the best food in the world, and they’re all here," Orrison said. "So a judge could run into three teams that have made the most ultimate dreamy bite of barbecue."

05/18/2024 22:35 -0400

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