2016 Memphis in May Trilogy: Attack of the Bones
This is a 3 part series covering the goings on at the 2016 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (MIM). I contacted the good folks in charge issuing media credentials and was fortunate enough to be granted a press pass for this year’s contest. However, family obligations arose which required me to be absent from Memphis in May this year. (See all parts of this Memphis in May Trilogy here.)
Fortunately, my long time good friend Shane Draper of Draper’s BBQ stepped up and offered to cover the event for The BBQ Beat this year. Shane attended this year’s Memphis in May event as part of the Grilla Grills competition team, along with his good friend and MIM newbie Jason Schouweiler and veteran kamado griller, blogger, and author Chris Grove of NibbleMeThis.com.
Each of these three gentlemen authored posts for The BBQ Beat reflecting upon their experience at the 2016 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue event.
What you see here is Jason Schouweiler’s contribution. As a newbie to this level of competition BBQ, you’ll soon see that he wasn’t quite ready for the magnitude of what MIM is all about. I mean, who is really. Even if you’ve been there. It’s an impressive outpouring of BBQ Pitmaster talent, celebratory atmosphere, and architectural achievement – where the various team set-ups are concerned.
About the Star Wars Reference in the title…
We’ve decided on a Star Wars theme for these articles – in name only really – but the titles used for each of the posts in this series were chosen to reflect each contributor’s theme and message. This first one is “Attack of the Bones,” because in no way was Jason ready for what he encountered at Memphis in May. It was an onslaught for the senses, but one he enjoyed immensely – as you’ll see below.
So… without any further hullaballoo – let’s dive right into it.
Attack of the Bones – Jason Schouweiler’s account of Memphis in May 2016.
How was my experience at the 2016 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest?
In a word? Epic. No… Awesome?
Ah, yes. Indescribable, that seems to fit.
However, I’ll do my best.
What exactly am I talking about? My first time in competition barbecue.
I was invited by my good friend Shane Draper to participate on a team of titans at the 2016 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, in Memphis. Otherwise known as Memphis in May. Although, I suppose to get to the end, we should start at the beginning.
A good friend of mine and I occasionally banter back and forth via chat, text, etc. We haven’t been as close as we were 8 or so years ago, but the great thing about friends like this, is that you can always pick up where you left off. At any rate, I’ll spare you close to 20 years of back story, and get to the more recent stuff.
I was sitting in a hotel room on in Jacksonville, FL, fuming about why my video game console wouldn’t connect to the hotel WiFi. So, to pass the time, I hopped on a certain social media platform and started looking at who was up to what, while watching a certain television network that dabbles in the subject of food.
It inspired me to reach out to the aforementioned friend, Shane Draper, and catch up a bit.
Fast forward over a few days of chatting, and the question was posed to me “Can you come to Memphis in mid-May?” “I will have to look at the schedule at work, but I can’t think of anything preventing me from making it.” was my reply.
His response was where it all started to snowball. “Then do whatever you gotta do to be there from about the 12th through the weekend” Those words stuck with me. My request for leave (vacation for you non-military folks) went in the Monday I got back to work, two weeks later.
I was in. All in. I ordered new knives to replace the old and busted ones I had been surviving with for my day-to-day cooking.
See, I’ve always been a good cook. Better than average, some would even say great. However, as life plays out, things fall to the wayside. I did my best to keep my skills up, but, they were lacking. However, a coal of the old fire was found, and it was starting to smolder. I was excited. Nervous, but excited.
Doubt came into play. Am I good enough? I had to remind myself, I was there to learn. Lend a hand where you can, and take in everything else. Observe.
Memphis in May: The Arrival
So, as things go, the time comes, and I’m off to Memphis early on a Wednesday morning. Pulling up to Tom Lee Park, it was a mess.
Teams were deep into setting up their sites. You could tell, just from walking around, that everything had to be perfect. Perfectly, perfect.
Tempers flared on sites where communication was lacking. Trucks with trailers were trying to go the wrong way through the park, blocking forward movement for others who came in the right way. Some of the pits were already lit, making food for the teams that were taking a well deserved break.
Members of Team Grilla (the team I was going to be part of with Shane, Chris Grove, and Fred Grosse or Mojobricks.com) had been there since Sunday, and I was starting to feel like the late guy. I hate being the late guy.
By the time I had navigated the mess that was the beginnings of MIM, the team was just about ready for our first meeting. I sat and listened. Reminded myself that I’m there to learn, and the learning had just begun. After that, we went to Beale St. for a team dinner, and all got to know each other better. Rather, I think it was mostly me who got to know everyone better. Amazing people. We had a ball. My nerves were settled.
This. This was going to be an amazing experience.
Memphis in May – The Pits…
The pits. Yes, the pits. As I had mentioned, some of the pits were already lit…churning out that thin blue smoke that you look for in good barbecue.
Different sizes, shapes and designs. It was staggering to see them all, up close and personal. I didn’t get a chance to “grip and grin” with as many pit masters as I would’ve liked to, but… wow. Our site alone had well over $30,000 in cookers.Other sites had considerably more.
Some of the pit set-ups consisted of trailer mounted rigs that were obviously for hard core catering and concessions. Others were designed and built strictly for cooking 175+lb hogs.
In addition to the “hog cookers” there were those that could turn out an epic amount of ribs, chicken, and even some of the most delicious burgers you would ever be so fortunate as to put in your mouth. Easily a few million dollars worth of cookers and crews converged on that park, and that was just the beginning.
Coals Lit, Blue Smoke Rolling, It Was Time to Put in Some Work…
The next few days were a whirlwind, and I honestly can’t begin to fathom how to get it all written down. It will take days, weeks, probably even months to process all of it.
Years, decades, no… over a century of experience in barbecue and culinary technique was there on our site, and they were working…hard. I lent a hand where I could, from frying bacon for a turn in, to helping move and trim the hogs for the cookers. Trying samples from the test cooks from the heavy hitters who were making sure they had their recipes dialed in. “Running block” for the turn in containers, and even turning in a couple myself.
Haha, yeah… that kind of needs to happen. See, while there are teams there working themselves to death, others are just there for the party, music and food. Sometimes, they get a little carried away, and, well, my job was to ensure that the entries made it to the judge’s tent the same way they left the site. No issues there, so, I’ll count that as a personal win.
Speaking of personal wins…
While, as I mentioned before, I didn’t get to grip and grin with as many pit masters as I would’ve liked to, the folks I did get to meet were nothing less than amazing. These pitmasters were down to earth, humble, genuinely nice people.
If you needed something, you could turn to the folks to the left or right of your site and ask. If they had it, it was yours. Keep in mind, these were people that we were in a competition with; yet, they acted like you were their next door neighbor asking for a cup of sugar. To a team, they were all eager to help, were happy when they could, and were sincerely apologetic when they couldn’t.
I could talk for a few hours about everyone there, I really could… There just isn’t enough time in the day, and well… at some point someone will say “TL;DR” (Too long, didn’t read.)
Working with Team Grilla Was Awesome
Just being a part of a cook team at Memphis in May was a personal win. Another personal win? I was gifted with a Silverbac pellet smoker from Grilla Grills as well as a few boxes of MojoBricks Bar-B-Qubes to add that smoky flavor everyone looks for in their barbecue. For that, I am eternally grateful. I mean, the gifts are amazing, but…being able to learn from professionals, make new friends and ultimately, become part of a barbecue family, was an experience I’ll not soon forget.
Alas, all good things must come to and end.
As quickly as it began, Memphis in May was over. We did well as a team – placing 2nd in tomato the based BBQ sauce category.
Not a bad run for a rookie team, of which I was the greenest of rookies. Aside from me, the team comprised of complete professionals who worked together fantastically. Next year, we will be better. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, there will be a next year.
Team Grilla will be back, and we will be a force to be reckoned with. We worked out the kinks on this run at Memphis in May, and it’s going to be all business next year.
Guaranteed – I will be as deep in it as anyone else.
So, back to the beginning…How was my first experience at Memphis in May?
Though difficult to describe. I hope that I was able to do it some justice.
About Jason Schouweiler
Jason is an Active Duty Navy service member who spends his free time trying to perfect his barbecue and culinary techniques. To date, there have been more successes than failures with his most harsh critics; his seven children and wife… who try to take it all in stride.