Many a Memphis heart would be broken if May came and went without the music, food, and fun of the Memphis In May International Festival. Since 1977, the world has been celebrating a mix of southern and international cultures at the Memphis In May International Festival. The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was added in 1978. Since then, innumerable barbecue teams have competed for the championship title and bragging rights, and they’ve thrown a heck of a huge party while the grills are going.
BBQ Fest Basics
- Location: Tom Lee Park in Downtown Memphis on Riverside Drive between Beale Street and Georgia Avenue
- When: Third weekend of May annually, starting on Thursday
- Tickets: Single day tickets in 2019 were $7 online or $8 at the gate
- The park is about a mile long, so wear comfortable shoes.
The Meat of It
While the WCBCC has an impressive party atmosphere, it is a serious contest. Therefore, local health regulations prohibit teams from serving the general public. There are food vendors with food for purchase (cash only), but you may be disappointed if you expect to get to taste the competing pork.
The fact of the matter is that the WCBCC consists of approximately 250 private parties, and if you’re not invited, you’ll just be watching the revelry, surrounded by mouthwatering aromas. There are ways, however, to enjoy the barbecue contest if you’re not part of it with the People’s Choice Contest, the Cooker’s Caravan tour, and Ms. Piggie Idol. See the Memphis In May website for more information.
The participating barbecue teams work hard on the grill and play hard at night. They go all-out with clever and creative booths, t-shirts, and themes involving the honored country. Most teams also go all-out throwing a party, complete with disco balls, custom-built liquor shot dispensers, and deejays. When night falls on BBQ Fest, the atmosphere may very well become rated-R. But on Saturday, it’s the barbecue that counts.
Full Disclosure: Writer works seasonally for Memphis in May.