Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memphis in May

A typical competitor booth at Memphis in May. 

By 6:03 am last Friday our group was airborne for the forty minute jaunt north. Within minutes of touching down, we were in a taxi heading towards Memphis' Tom Lee Park to witness the greatest spectator sport in the world. Along the banks of the Mississippi, teams from all over the globe arrive to build elaborate set-ups, smoke copious amounts of meat, and drink all of the alcohol. Eventually a team would be crowned, but by that point few cared.

 The Beeve was waiting for us with specific instructions on where to find his team, "Head down the hill, take a left by the really can't miss us."

The cast of characters on the Ubon's BBQ team is a Canterbury Tales of the Mississippi. Mr. Garry Roark is the Godfather of BBQ having been on the circuit for years. He is joined by his daughter Leslie, "The BBQ Princess", Beeve, One Legged Reggie, Double F, Beeve's daughters, and a host of others. Occasionally, they are joined by a BBQ group out of New York City named Jubon's, that the Ubon's crew has mentored for years. The Jubon's t-shirts sport a pig wearing a yarmulke with the expression "At least the salt is Kosher." Perhaps the most important member of the Ubon's team is the above Bloody Mary. Vodka, Zing Zang, the Ubon's rub and barbecue sauce, pickle juice, and a pickle spear. You can't find a better Bloody Mary. Go ahead and try.

Ubon's has other specialties for which they are known. The other drink they are known for is The Ubon's Special which is a strange sounding, but dangerously delicious blend of pineapple juice, Jim Beam, and Sprite. Someone had another name for it, "A whole bunch of fuckedupedness in a glass." Apt.

Garry Roark, left, trims picnic shoulder with the percision of a stone mason, while Beeve, far right, is tasked with removing fat.

Having sampled two or three of both Ubon's beverages these before 10 am, it was time to eat something lest things get out of hand. Enter the Perfect Sandwich: smoked rib eye, horseradish mayo, creole mustard, and onion. I only managed to eat five of them, but there is always next year.

Soon Beeve took us on a walkabout introducing us to more legends of the Memphis Barbecue Network. At each stop, Beeve engaged in some good old fashioned mental warfare, which usually just involved taking their beer. Teams begin arriving in Memphis on the Sunday before the competition. They load in double decker skyscrapers of scaffolding, oak bars, swimming pools, televisions, and even an EKG machine. A city is born within a city and it is a city of dreams.

At one point a plywood box, Gatorade jug, and PVC piping delivered the first acceptable frozen margarita in history. Explain to me this margarita machine, I asked one guy, "Well we use a disposal to grind the ice. But the ice in Memphis is real hard, and it tore up our first disposal. So Steve had to go to Home Depot yesterday and get a new one."

Fatback Collective team members prepare to carve an open fire roasted whole lamb.

Soon we made our way to The Fatback Collective and their merry band of meatfits. Fatback Collective is an amalgamation of chefs from across the South who enjoy nothing more than eating, cooking, and drinking, rinsing, and repeating. When we first walked upon them, Ryan Prewitt stood on a table over a half-splayed mangalitsa with an ax and hammer in his hand. He may as well have been Thor. The snow white fat on the mangalitsas melted upon contact with the heat of your hand. Soon two of these pigs, were buried in a blanket of 200 degree smoke for 24 hours, while a third was rigged up on block and tackle and angled over a smoldering fire.

Thompson described the Kentucky Derby as "decadent and depraved." One can only imagine the prose which he could have developed for Memphis in May. Later shots of Buffalo Trace made the rounds. Then crawfish the size of baby lobsters trucked up from Southwest Louisiana by a Link or two. Their fatty, glistening tales surrounding in powerful seasoning. Eventually jello shots arrived via a moving van. And the party went into the night.


Brian C said...

We were glad to have you. Maybe next year, y'all won't be a puss and only come up for a day or two. You really haven't experienced the deal unless you get there on Wednesday.


Justin (BC*BC) said...

Wednesday is for amateurs! Show up on Monday, so you are exhausted by the time the contest starts. It's the BBQ version of the Iron Man Triathlon.

Brian C said...

No way we are amateurs. Only pros bring shopping carts

Neil Gallagher said...

Hahaha! Monday is for the weak. Show up on the Saturday before and start building the booth...Iron Man it for a week and a day, then you are pro! Great article by the way...See ya'll next year

Neil Gallagher
Too Sauced To Pork Championship BBQ Team