Smoking Hot Competition: The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest Every year, barbecue enthusiasts, pitmasters, and food lovers converge in Memphis, Tennessee, for an event that is regarded not only as a celebration of culinary skill

Smoking Hot Competition: The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

BenPublished: May 13, 2024
Smoking Hot Competition: The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

Every year, barbecue enthusiasts, pitmasters, and food lovers converge in Memphis, Tennessee, for an event that is regarded not only as a celebration of culinary skill but also as a vibrant festival of culture and camaraderie. It's a bonanza that will grace your nose the entire time you're there. The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (WCBCC) stands out as a highlight in the city's month-long celebration of all things Memphis.

Set against the backdrop of Liberty Park, this event promises four days of intense competition, delectable aromas, and some of the best barbecues in the world from May 15 to 18, 2024.

What makes the WCBCC so special?

Dubbed by USA Today as the Most Prestigious Barbecue Contest, we would have to agree that the WCBCC brings more to the table than just good eats.

This competition is a testament to the craft of barbecue, where over $150,000 in prize money is at stake, drawing competitors and spectators from across the globe. We're talking about the best of the best and not just your neighbor John, who is going through a midlife crisis and has started to take up the hobby of smoking meats.

The contest is not just about who can cook the most tender rib; it's about mastering a craft that's been passed down through generations, often with secrets as closely guarded as any family heirloom.

While it is the most prestigious contest in the industry, we're going to go a step further and say it's the creme de creme of barbecuing.

Pro tip: Be sure to sign up for the Kingsford Tour of Champions when you buy your pass. You can't eat the competition barbeque (it's a competition, not a food festival), but the Kingsford Tour of Champions will give you the opportunity to see what the best pitmasters are whipping up.

The categories and competitions are at the heart of the contest.

At the heart of the WCBCC are the championship pork categories — Ribs, Shoulder, and Whole Hog. These categories are traditional staples in Southern barbecue, each requiring a unique set of skills and techniques, something all of the teams competing generally excel in.

Ribs must be tender yet not fall off the bone; the shoulder, typically pulled or chopped, must balance flavor and succulence; and the whole hog, the grand spectacle of barbecue, requires attention to detail, with different parts of the pig cooking at different rates.

In addition to these primary categories, the contest features ancillary competitions that invite creativity and innovation. These include Hot Wings, Sauce, and "Anything But Pork," allowing chefs to showcase their versatility and culinary flair.

Whether it's a sauce that has been refined over decades through family generations or a wing recipe that pushes the boundaries of spicy and sweet, these categories provide a playground for culinary experimentation.

The WCBCC is centered on culture and community.

The WCBCC is more than a competition; it's a celebration of community and Southern hospitality. After all, we're talking about Memphis, a city rich in culture and known for its entertainment.

Liberty Park transforms into a lively festival with music, decorations, and aurora excitement that can only be found in Memphis during May.

Teams often set up elaborate tents with fun decorations that highlight their brand and invite guests to join in the revelry, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the cooking process. Even if you go to watch and not taste, you'll learn a lot from these pros.

Networking and camaraderie are also key components of the event. Veteran pitmasters exchange tips and stories with rookies, fostering a sense of mentorship and community.

It's this spirited exchange that helps keep the traditional methods alive while encouraging innovation in recipes and techniques.

The impact on Memphis and barbecue culture.

The WCBCC boosts local tourism and also places Memphis at the heart of the international barbecue scene. It's one of the many reasons everyone from around the country associates Memphis with the culinary creation. 

As participants and spectators leave the event, they carry with them not just full stomachs but also stories, recipes, and a deeper appreciation for barbecue culture. If you're not a backyard pitmaster when you arrive, you'll feel like one when you leave.

The event also serves as a reminder of the city's rich culinary heritage and its status as a modern food mecca.

A look at the economic and cultural contributions.

The influx of visitors during the Memphis in May festivities brings significant economic benefits to the city. Hotels, restaurants, and local businesses see a spike in patronage, which helps bolster the local economy. Moreover, the international attention helps promote Memphis not just as a hub of music and history but as a capital of culinary excellence.

Culturally, the WCBCC underscores the importance of food as a unifying force. Competition brings together people of different backgrounds and fosters a shared respect for barbecue that transcends regional and national boundaries.

The Future of the WCBCC

Looking forward, the WCBCC continues to grow, both in size and prestige. It looks like the 2024 WCBCC is shaping up to be one of the biggest yet.

Each year, the organizers strive to enhance the event, making it more inclusive, diverse, and reflective of the evolving culinary industry. With the increasing popularity of food culture in social media and television, the WCBCC is set to become an even more significant event on the global culinary calendar.

As we anticipate the 2024 competition, the excitement builds not just for the spectacle of competition but for the celebration of a tradition that is an integral part of American culture.

So mark your calendars for May 15-18, and prepare for an unforgettable experience at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

Whether you're a barbecue aficionado or a curious foodie, there's no better place to witness the mastery and passion that defines world-class barbecue.




Ben is a certified nutritionist with a special interest in sustainable cooking. He has a master’s degree in Environmental Studies, which gives him a unique understanding of the connection between food and the environment. With years of experience working in organic kitchens and writing about sustainable food practices, Ben brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. His insights guide readers on how to make their outdoor cooking experiences more eco-friendly.