5,000 Miles Of Smoke

May 4th, 2017

They’ve won in chicken, and exotics, and brisket, and seafood, and more. They’ve placed allover the whole hog. They’ve kicked Boston butt allover the continent. Their cookbook blew away the world.

But they’ve never been Grand Champion in the place that inspired them to start competing in the first place.

And they travel 5,000 miles every year just to try again.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, May 5, 2017, and in The Memphis News, May 6-12, 2017



The man was hauling gold up the steps from Riverside Drive as I waited at the top of the bluff. He was rising like smoke from all the cookers below, holding as he was something above the rest. 

Meaty metaphor.

He was bringing me a cookbook – not just a cookbook, a BBQ cookbook – not just a BBQ cookbook, the BBQ cookbook crowned “Best BBQ Cookbook In The World,” winning gold at the 2013 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Show at the Louvre in Paris. He was a bit winded when he reached me because the thing weighs more than five pounds, printed on the heaviest coated paper I’ve ever seen in a book, those 400 pages displaying as much creativity for the subject as I’ve ever seen in a book, words and images elevating subject and reader.

Meaty stuff.

Of course, says the Memphian, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was the motivation for the book. The featured team is shown on the cover in Court Square and throughout the book on the banks of the Mississippi. The title spread features a photo of the world champion ring belonging to Melissa Cookston of Yazoo’s Delta Q, the first person to win the title of Grand Champion four times.

Being such a homey, I don’t much care for the barbecue efforts of foreign places – say Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City – or the sad imitations of  “Memphis-style” barbecue showing up in foreign places – say Nashville and Atlanta – but the authors of that book are making somewhere else feel like home.


Last year, I was a guest of the Danish National BBQ Team, formed in 2008 to compete here and authors of that cookbook, “GOLD, The Story of the Danish National BBQ Team and Its Mission to Change the Game of Grilling.” Another guest next to me pushed a bite over and said, “Trust me, try this.” It was salmon. I don’t like salmon. I would fight somebody for another bite of that salmon. The guest was Chris Lilly, pitmaster of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, three-time Grand Champion at Memphis in May, and when he’s not cooking he’s eating whatever smoked magic the Danish National Team is coming up with.

They travel 5,000 miles – bringing their own fruitwood – to cook a pig and parts thereof in pursuit of being named Grand Champion at Memphis in May. While that goal is not yet achieved, they’ve placed and won here in all sorts of categories, and along the way they’ve inspired and won barbecue cooking contests allover Europe and displayed imagination over a grill with everything that can be grilled and many things no one thought could be grilled.

And once again somebody from somewhere else is teaching us that things we do here like nowhere else – things we take for granted – are capable of inspiring the world to do those things even better.

And letting us be the judge of that.

I’m a Memphian, and it’s Memphis in May time again.


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