Author: Neil Wolkodoff
The World Championship BBQ Competition in Memphis brings together 220 teams from all over the U.S. and the world.
Judging at the event includes a booth competition, a Miss Piggy Idol extravaganza and of course various food categories. Team names like Boardello’s, The Hogfather, Aporkalyspe Now, Pork Fiction, Swine & Dine and Pigs in Space tell you this competition is fun.
The festival starts Wednesday for set up, while Thursday starts the cooking with corporate groups getting entertained for lunch and dinner.
Friday, competition begins for sauces, sides, exotic meats, combinations, and the best booth. Saturday is the really big deal with whole hog, ribs and shoulder as the featured items, yet each team can enter only one item. Judging uses blind taste boxes to line up the top contestants, whose booths are then visited by the judges.
Brad Orrison, of The Shed in Mississippi, was the grand champion in 2015 and Kingsford award winner in 2016. However, his whole hog in 2016 didn’t make it to the finals. Booths like The Shed have a constant buzz from the team, sponsors like Vision Grills (used to cook everything except the whole hog), and even other chefs. Yes, it’s serious competition, but they remain friends and supportive of their fellow pit masters.
The whole hog starts early on Saturday with spice rubbing and injections of the secret formula. Most of these pit masters have some nifty rig that actually a giant BBQ for the 22-23 hours where the hog gets cooked low and slow. In the case of The Shed, it is an old Willis Jeep with the innards replaced with a giant BBQ.
If you want the ultimate in a European boutique hotel with great service, look no further than the River Inn of Harbor Town. Large suites are comfortable and quiet. The premier rooms here are the Natchez and Admiral Suites, on the 4th floor, with both a spacious bedroom and parlor.
The River Inn only has 28 rooms but has three great restaurants. Tug’s is casual food with a mid-south bent, while the Terrace rooftop bar has creative cocktails and a full menu. Paulette’s, their French-inspired restaurant blends an elegant ambiance, superior service, and classic creations. Signature elevations include the Filet Paulette (cracked pepper and butter-pepper cream sauce) and the ginger-crusted salmon.
The Madison Hotel features the Memphis musical scene represented throughout the hotel with notes, record jackets, and guitars. Rooms have an artistic inspiration and feel upbeat.
Dine at 83, the musically inspired restaurant in the Madison, with a unique bar setting with hotel food way beyond expectations.
The Big Cypress Lodge inside the former NBA pyramid is another unique lodging option. Each of the rooms is like a hunting lodge with country comfort and original appointments. The Bass Pro superstore is also inside the pyramid, so you never lack for diversions. The Lookout, perched at the top of the pyramid offers a great view of the Mississippi and has a bar and restaurant.
Dining in Memphis has steadily become more creative, so this is essentially the foodie gateway to the south.
Begin your BBQ sampling with The Rendezvous, started in 1948, and the originator of dry rubbed meats, which then allow you to add the sauce of your taste. The only place in Memphis to serve Lambs' ribs, this Memphis landmark is still going strong because of adhering to Charlie Vergos’ original recipes in a fun and historical atmosphere.
A BBQ favorite of Memphians is Central BBQ, started by two of the chefs in the BBQ competition. Their winning formula is evidenced by three locations, and soon to be a fourth. The secret may be they marinade all the premium meats for 24 hours, then slow smoke with a dry rub. The ribs are the house specialty, yet be surprised with the BBQ bologna sandwich.
Felicia Suzanne’s is French-inspired cuisine with a healthy dose of southern interpretation. The gulf oysters of love and buttermilk fried chicken livers over grits are unique starters. Duck three ways and shrimp & grits with a little bit of zing are representative of her culinary originality. The restaurants’ own patio/courtyard hosts tacos and tunes two nights per week. Felecia is a tireless promoter of the restaurant scene in Memphis and her community involvement and leadership resulted in her being recently named businessperson of the year for Memphis.
If breakfast needs a Memphis beat, then a trek to Staks in Midtown is the ticket. The funky modern interior gets you to relax a bit, kind of like George Jetson does pancakes. Nitrous oxide cold-brewed coffee gets the morning buzz going. The amazing menu features shrimp and grits, a plate-sized breakfast burger and apple cinnamon pancakes.
If pasta is the break from BBQ, then Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen is the answer with three restaurants. Porcellinos Craft Butcher provides meats to purveyors and the public as well as nifty small plates. Hog & Hominy serves Italian fare with a little more casual, yet southern interpretation. At the Italian Kitchen, you get that modern taste of Italy with some zip with dishes like the ocean trout with cauliflower, turnips, Swiss chard, potatoes, brown butter, and hazelnuts.
Tucked away on Monroe Street in downtown, the quiet entrance to McEwen’s is a gateway to quality dining in an upscale atmosphere. Lunch features unique sandwiches such as the seasoned lamb wrap and some grilled entrees. Dinner escalates another culinary step with up a notch in diversity with the BBQ duck enchiladas and the sea bass with mushroom risotto.
If you want some of Memphis to take home and infuse into your dishes, Memphis Flavor has assembled an excellent array of food items, rubs, and sauces. They picked the notable and worthy, and those products are on the website, and with just a few clicks FedEx delivers to kick it up a notch for your backyard cooking.
One truly unique attraction is the Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island. You can stroll a scale model of the river from start to finish. 18 different galleries include the geological and agricultural history of the area for the past 10,000 years.
Golf in Memphis features interesting topography and natural vegetation. Mirimichi, formerly owned by Justin Timberlake, is a stunning design where each hole is its' own lesson in golf harmony with the natural flow of the land. New ownership is adding extensive tree planting and vegetation features.
Stonebridge is a former country club course that has improved so much in the last three years it just hosted a U.S. Open qualifier. The holes dart up and down hills and through woodlands, with plenty of twists and turns with each hole.
The TPC Southwind gets the big attention as the site for the FedEx/St. Jude on the PGA tour. Number 11 to the island green is a favorite for tour spectators as it's hard to hit and even harder to putt. TPC looks like straightforward golf, but like most golf in the Memphis area, there are sloping uphill fairways to tiered greens that make it all you want it to be based on tee selection.
If lugging the sticks through the airport doesn’t sound like fun, and it isn’t, get them shipped with Golf Overnight. They use FedEx to ship your clubs anywhere with your specific timing to your course or hotel. They feature packing options so you don’t need a club bag, and have high consumer satisfaction. All done with an online form for click-and-ship.