Sure Bet: Memphis in May’s World Champion Barbeque Festival

If it is the springtime in the South you usually can find an outdoor festival every weekend, if not everyday — Tunica’s Crawfish Boil, Memphis’ Beale Street Music Fest and New Orleans Jazz Fest, just to name a few. BUT, no festival this time of year can compare to Memphis’ World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest.

For a town famous for the “other white meat,” it definitely pulls out all the stops on this special weekend when chefs, cooking crews and barbeque fans come from all over the world in search of the “Best Barbeque.” This year the festival takes place this upcoming weekend (May 13-15), only minutes north of Tunica along the Mississippi River. As a regular attendee, I want to share a few tips and strategies for braving the crowd and the weather, but more importantly, conquering the endless tables of the best meat you will ever put in your mouth.

1. Where to Get the Food?

Now, Memphis’ Barbeque fest is set up slightly different than you probably would imagine. Picture tents scattered everywhere with people cooking, partying, eating and drinking. You think you can just walk in any tent and make yourself at home — not a good idea. Unfortunately, the cooking contest is a very private affair. It is a competition, and local health regulations prohibit teams from serving barbecue to the general public. However, don’t let that turn you away. There are barbecue vendors, as well as other food vendors that can sell to the public. And more importantly, there is a special program for fest attendees that allow them to experience the World Championship as a team or judge would — People’s Choice Contest. It allows John “Que” Public to taste and judge championship barbecue. In this tent, you will receive five samples of barbecue each visit and you judge your favorite of those five samples. You may judge as often as you like and the judging fee is $4 per visit. Three words — Worth Every Penny.

Side note: All food must be purchased with cash. ATM’s are available within the Festival but often have mile-long lines.

2. Clothing and Weather?

Chances are good — it WILL rain. Each year it never fails that at least one day of the festival is plagued with a torrential downpour. You will want to have a poncho or other rain protection handy, as well as a pair of comfortable (sturdy) waterproof shoes. Not only will you be walking and standing for long periods of time, but you also don’t want to lose your flimsy flip-flop in the mud. Also, there is the potential for temperature extremes. Carrying a light sweater to combat the wind that flips of the River or carrying a tube of sunscreen and a small fan are not bad ideas either. Comfort is key if you want to be able to enjoy your heaping plate of pork.

3. Where is the Entertainment?

There are two stages set up at either end of the Festival, and both usually have their line-ups start after the sun goes down. Every night, it is a mix of blues, soul and a little rock peppered with a variety of local acts. If you are lucky and get into one of the private cooking tents, entertainment is not hard to find. Most tents have individual soundtracks — even some with DJ’s and small bands. However, the food is definitely not considered the highlight of this weekend gathering, so you may have to venture outside the Festival to get true entertainment — places like Beale Street or various Casino venues and concerts down in Tunica.

You will no doubt have a great time and a GREAT meal(s). But when you have had your fill of Memphis fun, you can always head south to Tunica where more fun, and yes, even more barbeque await you! For more information on Tunica events happening around the Barbeque fest weekend, please visit Tunica Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s website by clicking here.

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Tunica is safely open for you. Read important COVID-19 travel information here. #TunicaCleanGetaway #VisitMSResponsibly
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Tunica is safely open for you. Read important COVID-19 travel information here. #TunicaCleanGetaway #VisitMSResponsibly