Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest
The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, Tennessee is the largest pork barbecue competition in the world. Over 250 competitive barbecue teams come from all over the world to compete in this contest with a $110,000.00 grand prize. Teams must compete in one of three pork categories: Ribs, Shoulder, or Whole Hog. This year, the title of Grand Champion went to team Sweet Swine O' Mine from Memphis, TN for their pork shoulder. We met up with them and some of America's best pitmasters to learn their secrets for making award-winning barbecue.
Don't go above a temperature of 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Water boils at 212 degrees, so you want to keep your barbecue under that to avoid losing moisture. Most of the pit masters we spoke to cook between 200 and 210 degrees.
Practice makes perfect. No barbecue team ever came into a competition and won on their first try. Barbecue is an art form that requires a lot of trial and error to perfect.
The whole hog from The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint. Winner in the whole hog category.
Stuff body cavity with oranges. Putting oranges inside of the hog will add a citrusy, fruit flavor without adding sweetness. The oranges also help to absorb heat and help to evenly cook the inside of the hog, as well as keep it warm after cooking.
Inject hog with alcohol. Injecting the hog with alcohol will help to break up the meat. One championship team uses coconut moonshine.
Don't move the meat while cooking. The biggest tip from the grand champions was to keep your shoulder cooking simple. Go "slow and low", but also avoid flipping it, spinning it, or rotating it while cooking.
Aim for a flavor trifecta. The grand champions' shoulder stood out because it had sweetness, spice, and tang. Barbecue is almost always sweet and spicy, but that tang is what made them stand out.
Try agave nectar in your sauce. One of the top 10 teams used agave nectar in their sauce because it caramelizes beautifully and adds sweetness without adding too much additional fruit flavor.
Fruit preserves make a great glaze. The team that won second place for their ribs used a combination of apricot and fig preserves for their glaze with a little Grand Marnier. These preserves add a glossy finish, sweet taste, and caramelize very nicely.
Bone color indicates doneness. When you think your ribs are done, pull them out and pull out a bone. The bone should come out easily, but still have a little friction. If your ribs are cooked perfectly, the bone color will begin ashy-gray, but then turn white as air hits it. If the bone pulls out too easily and is already white in color, you have overcooked your ribs. If the bone is difficult to pull out, then it is not done cooking.