Jumpsturdy News From Memphis 6/8/99

Barbecue: The Memphis Way

The pilgrims who descended upon the city for this year’s Memphis in May extravaganza fell roughly into two types:  those who comprised the ultimate barbecue list of two hundred and forty cooking teams, serving up portions of everything from seared tuna to basted elk and “beefalo,” and those who came to hear or participate in the musical celebrations surrounding the W.C. Handy Awards.  Let’s eat first, shall we, before we go to the show?

Several weeks ago, when someone said that I was “the best thing since barbecued bologna,” I got hopping mad.  (That’s hopping john without the cornbread.)  Little did I realize that such a statement was meant to flatter, the comestible in question being not only a treasured and traditional delicacy down South, but sounding a heap better than the ubiquitous “best thing since sliced bread.”  Now that I know, I will be sure to rank this compliment right up there with once being told that I had the brown eyes of a cow, by a chap who swore that was a good thing too.  The whole point being that Memphis folks actually barbecue, and eat, bologna.  I saw them do it with my own eyes at the Annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, where row upon row of imaginatively designed tents and huts housed the teams who stirred the sauce and tended the fires for several nights running.

To barbecue the Memphis way takes time, and with so many competitors, sleep best be on your back burner because most likely you need to babysit that suckling pig up front.  The one national contest that has historically focused on pork, it is divided into the Whole Hog Division, Patio Porkers, Shoulder, Ribs, and Anything but (Pork).  The devoted folks who came to Memphis from all parts of the country with nothing but hope and a secret recipe sported team names such as Hoggaritaville, Pork, Sweat and Tears, and The Good, the Bad and the Swine, proving that, yes, rednecks do listen to the radio every now and then.  All this good cooking happened in Tom Lee Park down on Ole Muddy, and some city residents could smell the scent of hot pig for miles upriver.

Inside the Park, I jumped over and into puddles of a particularly unappealing glaze resembling  a combo of mud and Coca-Cola (the beverage of the South), basting my feet well as I scouted scents worth checking out.  One hometown team braved their first year of competition with a local disco’s sponsorship, and so featured the only lighted dance floor around.  While the Ohio Players sang, “I like to choke from the smoke,” I coughed and poked my nose as far into the smoker as it would go, examining its hydraulic lift and the thermometer that must register between 200 and 225 degrees throughout the smoking process.  When I came up for another breath of smoke, the boys whipped out a jeroboam of the team’s secret BBQ sauce for my admiration.  I must admit that there was plenty to admire after we added some o’ that liquid copper to a plate of pulled pork shoulder and peppery coleslaw.  Hooey, Benjy, they are not shy about spice around here!  Delicious and bodacious, not to mention mo’scosious.  And the challenges that a fledgling team faces are unique in themselves.

Where else but Memphis would a team spend 72 hours preparing a perfect platter of ribs for the judges, present them with fine linen napery and the coldest, clearest spring water, but taste just a bit too much of their own food before the judges could?  “Well, we didn’t know that the first judge would eat a whole rack of ribs!” they said in their defense.  One presumes that veteran bbquizzlers don’t run out of pork right before showtime.  Next year, I want to be a BBQ judge myself, so bring s’more, boys.  Yanks simply don’t know what they’re missing – ain’t nothing tastes this good back in my ‘hood.

Time won’t give me Time and love, everybody—
Jumpsturdy Klieger

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