Countdown to the Kingsford Invitational: Sweet Swine O’ Mine
October 28, 2013
This May I was honored to interview Mark Lambert of Sweet Swine O’ Mine, overall winners of Memphis In May 2013 at what was one of the toughest competitions yet!
Clint: First of all, congratulations Sweet Swine O’ Mine on the huge overall win at the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest this past weekend. I was fortunate enough to be on stage during awards and this year didn’t fail to provide some stiff competition across the board. Was this year extra special, not only because of that but given the fact that we lost two tremendous names in barbecue as the contest began?
SSOM: This may have been one of the toughest finals fields ever. Shoulders alone were three former Grand Champions at MIM and in Hog a two time Grand Champion in Yazoo’s. So, yes, that was special. And the loss of two BBQ legends does add something extra to the win. Also finding out after the competition that Diane Hampton, executive vice president at Memphis in May, was retiring added a nice little bookend to the weekend. She had always been good to us and we’ll miss her greatly.
Clint: Now I’ve been watching you all for quite awhile but perhaps you could provide a little history of Sweet Swine O’ Mine for our readers?
SSOM: The team started from the aftermath of a corporate team disbanding after the company decided they didn’t want to do MIM anymore. The core people that ran the team in the mid 90s decided to start an independent team so they put invites out to close friends around 96-97.
C: How many years have you all competed at the MIM cooking contest?
SSOM: This was #16.
C: Are there particular victories on the banks of the Mississippi or elsewhere that really stand out in your mind?
SSOM: The obvious answers (of course) are ’09 and ’13, our two Grands at MIM. ’05 was our first win in Shoulder at MIM and that was very special because I think before that the best we’d done was around 10th or so. But probably the most emotional win outside of the Memphis in May was Caruthersville, Missouri in August 2001. A very special team member, Jody Bryant, had passed away that year and that was his hometown cook and the first time we’d been back since his funeral. We went back to honor him and we won ribs and took our first Grand Championship as a team. Lots of tears that day. Very, very special.
C: Now unlike other Memphis Barbecue Network (MBN) contests, teams only compete in one pork category. Why do you all prefer to do shoulder?
SSOM: It’s just what we’ve always done at MIM. We have three great world class products, and the subject of switching has come up over the years, but we just feel comfortable with the other shoulder teams and that part of the pork. It feels like home to us. Plus, once you’re on a roll it’s hard to move away from what’s working.
C: Tell us a bit about how your team prepared for the contest this year and what the process is once the blind and onsite judging begins.
SSOM: We always joke that no matter how chaotic or crazy things may seem once it comes time to perform this group of people just rises to the occasion and gets things done. This year more than we remember things felt “weird” first thing Saturday morning. It’s hard to articulate it, but there was an awkwardness when we all started getting to the park. But once it got really close to blind box turn in and first judge, this palpable calm came over everyone. We gathered, people had things to say (directions, reminders, etc.) and everything at that moment just came super easy.
C: Then you saw the golf cart pull up to let you know that you are one of nine teams moving on to the finals with three in each primary category (pork ribs, whole hog and shoulder). Can I assume there wasn’t much time for celebrating?
SSOM: Nope. We had less than an hour and a half. We obviously celebrated, hugged, texted, tweeted, all those things you do when you get great news, but just like in prelims, everyone just snapped to their jobs or found something to do. It really showed our great teamwork.
C: Going back a bit, did you grow up around bbq and grilling?
SSOM: It’s pretty hard to live in the Memphis area or this part of the country without being touched by BBQ in some way. Some of us come at it from a cultural aspect: hunting, outdoors-man activities. Some had families that competed in the early years of competition BBQ. Some came at it from a foodies perspective: just a love of cooking. Some have family ties to a famous Memphis BBQ family. And others just came at it from a social/party aspect. BBQ teams in Memphis are very similar to Mardi Gras crews in New Orleans; a yearly social event.
C: Any other items I didn’t cover or any upcoming products/projects you’d like to share with Grilling.com?
SSOM: It just looks like this is going to be an exciting and fun time for SSOM.
C: Finally, because of the World Championship win, Sweet Swine O’ Mine is heading to the winner-take-all 2nd Annual Kingsford Invitational. You’ll be competing against some of the best teams of 2013 including the winners of the Houston Livestock & Rodeo, the American Royal, the Jack and others. Any overall thoughts or expectations on the show?
SSOM: Simply put, it’s an honor to be mentioned among that group of winners. The only expectations we have is to have fun, to make some new friends and to cook our best so we can represent MIM the way it deserves.
–Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Editor