Downtown Memphis was hazy Saturday afternoon, with a combination of smoke and overcast skies. Just off Beale Street, people walked in and out of Handy Park and popped over to the various tents where contestants in this year’s Patio Porkers competition were cooking.
The Patio Porkers division of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was dropped this year due to space constraints in the redesigned Tom Lee Park, but that did not stop teams from 15 different tents from competing on the same street where the barbecue competition first began in 1978.
The 2023 edition of Patio Porkers, a sanctioned Kansas City Barbecue Society competition, saw teams face off in a one-day event Saturday to determine the best of the backyard barbecuers, with each team cooking ribs for the judges.
The event — a joint collaboration between the Downtown Memphis Commission and Beale Street management — featured some first-timers including Brian Calhoun, the one-man team for Weez’s Groovin’ BBQ, and the GRILLdroids trio, from Costa Rica.
“This is our first time competing here, but we’ve done competitions in Dallas and Nashville,” said Eduardo Violet, one of the members of the GRILLdroids. “I’m looking through the city and there’s a lot of history around here, I really like it. Yesterday we went to the Memphis in May competition, and that was great. We ate alligator for the first time, so that was awesome.”
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Violet said traveling to different competitions gives the trio different experiences, and forces them to adapt their barbecue style.
“We usually have to adapt to where we are going and participating,” he said. “We try to figure out the flavor profile because we have to convince the judges, so it’s better to know what they expect than what we give them.”
The winners of the Patio Porkers competition will be announced at 6 p.m. Saturday and will take home a custom trophy from the Metal Museum along with the $1,000 prize.
And the Rib King is …
Patio Porkers wasn’t the only barbecue competition underway Saturday in Handy Park.
Beale Street restaurants were invited to submit a box of ribs to be judged by a panel of celebrity judges — including barbecue aficionados, figureheads of the Memphis community and a member of the Memphis news media — who picked their favorite ribs from a batch of anonymous boxes, naming the first-ever Rib King — identifying the “best restaurant ribs on Beale.”
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This year’s Rib King was Alfred’s On Beale, located at B.B. King and Beale, with cook Kevin Holbrook and Ian Crosno accepting the crown and certificate, respectively.
“Tender love and care,” Holbrook said of what makes Alfred’s ribs special. “It feels great, it’s such a great honor [to get this recognition].”
Lucas Finton is a criminal justice reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.