Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Did you know that pigs are great swimmers?
Side note: I guess I'm feeling the pressure to create an over the top post about Memphis In May. Nothing else explains my delay in getting to this task. Well, if that's what you're expecting, you may be a bit disappointed.
Memphis In May is like nothing else we've experience in competition barbecue. Dating back to when we started competing, we've never cooked an event where we knew so few teams and felt so unsure of ourselves. Nicknamed Memphis In Mud because of the wet weather associated with the event, especially in recent years, it totally lived up to that billing. We arrived on Wednesday to standing water in our site and teams pushing wheelbarrows of sand up and down the road. By the time we figured out where to find the sand pile and that it was for team use, all the sand had been scooped up. As many of you may recall, I wrestled with renting or constructing a flooring system, ultimately deciding to roll the dice and do neither. We did, but wouldn't try that again.MIM requires that teams be in their spots by Wednesday at 12:00PM, even though the actual contest isn't until Saturday. As KCBS cooks, we struggled to understand the reasoning. However, once on site it was better understood. With Friends and Family night on Wednesday, corporate party night on Thursday and private party night on Friday, there is a ton of foot traffic by afternoon. MIM allows teams a little time early Thursday and Friday mornings to deliver meat and supplies to their site to replenish and restock.
Contestant sites were decorated to the nines, many with multi story structures, elaborate themes and tons of foliage and flowers. Ours was not. Seeing these sites explains why teams arrive on site the weekend before the event and have twenty or thirty members. How else are you going to tear down and pack up after three or four straight days of partying like rock stars? Sheer numbers are the only answer. Even with attrition, somebody will be left on Sunday to get it all cleaned up. On the other hand, once in Memphis Pellet Envy went shopping and picked up four foot sections of plastic accent fence just to keep from feeling like total outcasts. As it turns out, it was an important addition to site, keeping wayward spectators from wandering in . . .well, most of them.So, to roll this experience all into one, I want to summarize my feelings on several aspects on the contest, specifically how the event was run, the competition and our overall impression. From an organization and execution perspective, Memphis In May is one of the best, if not the best run event we've attended. Having competed in over 250 events, that's a serious statement. As newcomers, we didn't totally grasp all fifty-seven pages of the event rules and regulations. However, once on site, we were greeted by, worked with and were treated about as professionally as we've ever been. We had tons of question and nobody, I mean nobody, ever said they couldn't or wouldn't help us or get the answers we needed. For an event of over 250 teams with upwards of 1,000 volunteers, that is absolutely amazing. MIM is to commended.As for the competition, honestly I'm still forming my opinion. It's one of the reasons I've procrastinated in writing. We've now cooked two MIM events total. This is going to sound like a KCBS cook whining about a different sanctioning body, and maybe it is. But for all the cooks who approach me to complain about KCBS judging, it feels like MIM judging is an even faster moving target yet. The blind box is relatively straight forward, I guess. Asking some of the top MIM cooks about blind box strategy, I got blank stares and generic answers. Now, maybe that's just their way of holding their cards close to the vest, but I don't think so. Seems to be all that is required is an ungarnished 9" styrofoam clamshell brimming with meat. We saw one rib team use a toothpick to hold their box closed as they walked it to turn-in because it was so full it wouldn't close otherwise. If you get your best meat in the box, and plenty of it, you've done your best for blind box. However, the on site judging . . .man, oh man, that's where this KCBS cook starts to get a headache. Don't even get me started.We had a decent time. We got to spend some quality time with Marc and Natalie from Greased Lightning. We had one great neighbor and one bad. The bad neighbor influenced our experience at our first ever MIM. If I wanted to go back, but was told the only spot was next to Three Alarm Smokers, I'd refuse. Their music was so loud the cabinets in the trailer vibrated and conversations with our friends and sponsors were impossible. Additionally, they decided the best place to dispose of their cigarette butts was in our site and I'm not talking about just a handful. If you know anything about on site MIM judging, site cleanliness is paramount. It's obvious this is the only contest, . . . ummm party for this classless bunch of firemen wannabes. Their competition career would be short lived if they exhibited this behavior at other events. I understand the desire for MIM to be festive, but they overlook common courtesy. It's unfortunate that MIM really doesn't concern themselves with these issues or directly address it in their rules, except to say that speakers must be turned into the site rather than away. The only quiet time rules mentioned were during on site judging. Go figure..Overall Memphis In May should be experienced by everyone, whether as a cook, a judge or a spectator. It was experienced by more than 100,000 people this year as I'm told. If our sponsor again requires it, we will return. Otherwise, the event requires too much time and is hugely cost prohibitive for a small, traveling team. We tied for 13th in ribs and supposedly lost a real live coin flip to finish 14th. I'm proud of that finish considering we're neophytes to the whole MIM style of competition. All things considered, that's a pretty decent outcome.Very special thanks to Rob and Ben of Ulika BBQ fame. These two guys traveled from Nashville to become Pellet Envy team members for the weekend. They did anything and everything asked of them. Honestly, Sheri and I could not have done it without them. Also, thanks to Chris Lilly. Despite a pretty significant distance between his site and ours and considering his new book, Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book, was released that week, Chris came by our site several times to make sure we were doing okay, sometimes with his entourage in tow. Actually, too many people to name did this for us and we greatly appreciate it. You all know who you are. Also, I want to thank Anne, Traci and the National Pork Board and the Other White Meat Tour for allowing me to be a part of their presentations in the Cattleman's tent. That was a blast and my research for the talk taught me many things about pigs, including that little known fact that they could give Michael Phelps a run for his money. Finally, a special thanks to Karen Walker for loaning me some of her awesome pictures for this post. Not all of these pics are from Karen, only the good ones.