Pork Perfection: Pitmasters' Quest for BBQ Greatness in Memphis

In Memphis, Tennessee, hundreds of committed pitmasters are competing to be named “best in pork” at this year’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest while sweltering through the smoke.

The tournament, which began in the 1970s, is regarded as one of the best cooking competitions in the United States. But with the “culinary sports” reaching beyond the neighborhood home cooks, the rivalry is more intense than before.

The competition this year began on Wednesday and will continue until Saturday, when the grand champion will be announced.

There are 129 cooking teams from 22 states and four international nations competing in one of three primary categories: ribs, shoulder, or whole hog, with over $150,000 in prize money up for grabs. Auxiliary tournaments featuring hot wings, poultry, beef, and seafood are also held.

But pork is always the star of the show in Memphis.

Pork Perfection Pitmasters' Quest for BBQ Greatness in Memphis

The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint is the team name that the twins Brad and Brooke Lewis from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, have been competing as for the past 17 years. They have twice taken home the grand championship.

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

On Friday, Orrison, Lewis, and their group were getting ready for the competition by meticulously injecting two Duroc hogs with marinades and placing them on a bed of bacon and butter.

They return each year for the Memphis in May event, which includes the cuisine competition. They see friends from all across the nation who share a love of barbecuing, much like at a family reunion.

“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 stated. “So a judge could run into three teams that have made the most ultimate dreamy bite of barbecue.”

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