Havin’ a Swine Time on the Mississippi
June 5, 2012
Following a temporary relocation due to extreme flooding last year, Memphis In May was back in full swing on the banks of the Mississippi May 17-19.
While I’ve made the trek to the “Super Bowl of Swine” countless times over the years, this one proved to be one of the most pleasurable. I arrived mid-afternoon on Wednesday and after getting settled at the famed Peabody Hotel I made the short walk to Tom Lee Park for Friends and Family night.
Tame in comparison to the massive crowds that attend the hundreds of on-site parties held Thursday and Friday nights, Wednesday’s festivities allow teams and their select guests to catch up while enjoying some top notch food. After making a quick lap of the park and exchanging a couple dozen “how ya been” greetings, I met up with cookbook author Jennifer Chandler and her husband Paul for an extraordinary meal prepared by the culinary team from Majestic Grill. After that it was off to Beale Street for a Big A$$ Beer and to catch a band from back home that was performing in one of the outdoor gardens.
Now Thursday is when the real event starts. I met up with the Kingsford folks as well as a group of reporters whom they had invited to compete as the novice team “On Asswinement.” After a good ol’ fashion Southern breakfast at the Arcade, we were off to the park for an introductory lesson in the ways of Memphis in May from Chris Lilly and a lead contest rep. Next up was a lesson in pork ribs but I had many miles to cover and countless people to meet so I left the media team and set out on a weekend of walking and talking.
Having attended this contest so many times in the past and having met so many people through Grilling.com and my own competition schedule, it is hard for me to walk more than two sites without running in to someone I know. My friend David Marks was there from Pennsylvania cooking with “Famous” Dave Anderson; team Bastey Boys made the trek from Massachusetts; Tuffy Stone was back with help from Aaron Franklin, Johnny Trigg and Jamie Geer; Shane Draper of Draper’s BBQ; judge extraordinaire Ardie Davis; Mike and Chris Peters from the KCBS BBQ tour; Jesse Black from Thermoworks; Matt and Wendy McCrory of Gus’s Fried Chicken; and so on and so on and so on.
But it’s also the unplanned moments that are so special, like escaping the crowds and shooting the breeze with BBQ legends like Mike Mills, Pat Burke or John Willingham. Or making a new friend like David Knight of Ole Hickory Pits and walking the park as he showcases some of his finest work. Or catching Ubon’s Gary Roark give a lesson in swine to Warren Sapp. Or grabbing a late night libation and laugh with Brad Orrison and the crew from The Shed. This is what competition BBQ is all about – the friends you meet along the smoke filled trail that are by your side and covering your back for a lifetime.
Soon it was Saturday, the party mess was swept away and the teams were in full contest mode as blind turn-in boxes were prepared and the first of three on-site judges started to arrive. Team On Asswinement had their sales pitch down pat, as did countless other teams I checked in on that morning.
I unfortunately had to race back to the airport due to a family commitment I wouldn’t miss for anything, missing as my friends Melissa and Pete Cookston of Yazoo’s Delta Q took home their 3rd straight victory in whole hog and second Grand Championship in those same three years.
Now I’m back home, left only with 500 or so photos, countless hours of video and an infinite amount of memories as the countdown to MIM 2013 begins…
Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Editor