Sunday, May 15, 2011

Big Bob Gibson's team wins grand champion at Memphis barbecue contest

It was, despite the floods and upheaval, a good year for the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

And another good year for Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q of Decatur, Ala., a frequent trophy winner who won Grand Champion for 2011 in addition to first place in the shoulder category.

"We had a heck of a run here starting in 1999 and winning for six years in a row," said pit master Chris Lilly. "We got to take it for granted, but it's tough to get on stage at Memphis in May. And this is an amazing feeling."

It was, by all accounts, a successful end to an event that was chased from the banks of the Mississippi by flooding. This year's move to Tiger Lane was, according to MIM organizers and teams, not only smooth, but pleasant.

Teams enjoyed easy load-ins and the asphalt underneath. Meanwhile, the site of the Mid-South Fairgrounds was ideal to accommodate the small city of cookers and partygoers for the annual barbecue bacchanal.

There were still mixed feelings, however, with many of the opinion that the contest sorely needed that singular presence of the river rolling by. Bryan Barringer with the Barbeque Republic team said, "We're starting to miss the river. We love having the space here and the fountain and the layout, but ..."

"We view it as a success," said Diane Hampton, executive vice president of Memphis in May. "Visitors came from all over -- California, Texas, Vermont and Canada. And at the end of the day, Memphis is the city that can."

It does come with a cost.

"It was very expensive for Memphis in May to pull up and move here," Hampton said. She said MIM wouldn't know how much of a hit the organization would take until they can take a look at the bills.

But when it became clear after the Beale Street Music Fest that Tom Lee Park would be unusable, MIM president Jim Holt said the barbecue contest had to move forward.

"The decision to move came so fast, it was just a matter of getting it done," Hampton said. "But cancellation wasn't an option -- it would have devastated the city and Memphis in May."

But virtually all the teams and vendors showed up and Hampton said attendance was good during the three-day festival. In fact, she said, the new location, "seemed to bring a lot of Memphians back to the barbecue, making new friendships and renewing old ones."

The contest drew attention from such diverse media as Spike TV and Also, some of the cast of the Nickelodeon sitcom "iCarly" were on the grounds, lending a bit of star buzz.

The weather cooperated, with barely noticeable sprinkling Friday and Saturday's overcast skies and temperatures in the upper 50s keeping everything cool.

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