Category / On The Road


Memphis in May: The Most Valuable Prize

Memphis in May

Aliene and Pat Burke are our Apple City Barbecue family.
Mike and Don McLemore, Big Bob Gibson, sharing secrets.

The real prizes we take home from a barbecue competition are the lifelong friendships we form. Lots of bonding takes place before cooking and  during late nights gathered around the fire.


Top left: Linus Kim, OnCue alum, brought me a delicious bottle of Hooker’s House bourbon.
Top right: Allen Smith, Boar’s Night Out, with his Praise the Lard Grand Champion trophy.
Bottom: Luke Ray, Ken Hess, and Phillip Heern hang out from Madison Avenue to Tom Lee Park.

Linus Kim, born in Birmingham and currently living in South Korea, came to our OnCue class in April and spent the spring traveling the country and sampling more barbecue. He showed up at Memphis in May with the Party Q team from Batesville, Arkansas. Allen Smith just makes me smile. His team, Boar’s Night Out, won MBN Grand Champion at our contest in Murphysboro and he travels everywhere with the pig trophy. He even buckles it into the passenger seat of his truck and drives it around. Our 17th Street pitmaster, Phillip Heern, and Ken Hess from Big Bob Gibson bonded on the streets of New York City during the Block Party and they enjoying spending time together every chance they get.


Woody Tunnicliffe, Phillip Heern, Justin Spencer, Shane McBride, Mike Mills, Lauren Hirschberg, Johnny Keenan, and Adam Evans at the famous Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis.

Late night at Gus’s with the Ribdiculous BBQ boys is one of my favorite memories. I was in their booth sampling pickles, competition sauce, and hamburgers when Mike called to say he’d secured a table at Gus’s.  What you don’t see  are the 40 pieces of chicken that arrived right after we took this photo!

Mike and his nephew, Chris Mills of the Flying Pigs BBQ team, share a moment during the awards ceremony.

Mike and his nephew, Chris Mills of the Flying Pigs BBQ team,
share a moment during the awards ceremony.

As the first chapter of our book, Peace, Love, and Barbecue, proclaims: Barbecue = Friends + Family + Love. It doesn’t get any better than this. 

Read more about our Memphis in May adventures: filming The ChewLessons learned from Rocky III,The Judging,
and Danish National Team shirt exchange


Memphis in May: The Judging

Memphis in May, Apple City BBQ

Early Saturday morning prior to turn-in. Pat and Mike discuss timing. Every team is quiet and focused at this point.


Stoking the fire.


Consulting the watch again. Is it time to change clothes yet?


Building the blind box. Air is thick with tension. Too many people in the room — a camera crew, three photographers, and five team members. THAT will not happen again. People who don’t really understand Memphis-style judging love to talk about the “dog and pony show” aspect, but the blind box is where you win or lose this contest. We aced the outside … the blind box scores were our downfall.


Here’s Patty Burke Welten giving an update and a pep talk to our peanut gallery. We had the best crowd of supporters. We are so very grateful to all of you who came to cheer us on. Thank you.

MIM_Judging_6Here come the judges. The on-site presentation is the fun part. Three judges visit for 15 minutes each and we have our routine timed down to the second. We show each judge our pit and talk about the pit itself, wood, seasoning, and cooking process. Then we bring him over to the table and feed him ribs, talking all the while about the meat and the quality Compart Duroc pork they were tasting. We had three very good on-site judges and we were grateful that two came back to give us feedback. So helpful.

If you’re into barbecue, a visit to experience Memphis in May should be on your bucket list. Elaborate booths, late-night revelry, the chance to meet teams, and the delicious smell of smoke that permeates the air … it’s called the “Super Bowl of Swine” for good reason!

Read more about our Memphis in May adventures: filming The Chew, Lessons learned from Rocky III, and Danish National Team shirt exchange