The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest returns to Tom Lee Park this year after flooding forced it to move to higher ground in 2011. (John Joplin)

Launched in 1978, the MiM barbecue contest is widely regarded as the granddaddy of ’cue competitions. It has grown from 26 teams its first year to around 250 teams now, with an attendance upwards of 100,000.

Last year, massive flooding forced the contest from its longtime home at Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River to the higher ground of the Mid-South Fairgrounds. The festival is back at Tom Lee Park this year, along with its fabled Ms. Piggie Idol Contest, featuring men in dresses and plastic pig snouts performing barbecue-themed songs.

“It’s wonderful,” MiM Vice President Diane Hampton told Smoke Signals about being back at Tom Lee. “This is where it’s supposed to be: on the river. People come from all over the world to eat Memphis barbecue. The river is part of the Memphis experience.”

New this year is the Kingsford Tour of Champions Judging, which, for $10, allows novices to arbitrate the quality of meats prepared by 16 teams, including three-time grand champion Willingham’s River City Rooters, the 2009 champion Red Hot Smokers and (for a dash of international flavor) the Danish National Barbecue Team.

As is customary at Memphis in May, the individual critiques will be done onsite, allowing judges to visit the teams and ask questions about the cooking methods. Judges must register online; they will receive a tutorial at the event. The Kingsford judging is in addition to the official Memphis in May decision-making in the contest’s three categories: ribs, pork shoulder and whole hog.

Dems Elect 3 Sauces. The group, Charlotte in 2012, which raises funds to help pay for the Democratic National Committee’s convention this summer, recently announced the winners of a blind tasting of three styles of commercial barbecue sauce. They are:

● Tomato-based: 12 Bones Smokehouse, Asheville, N.C.

● Mustard-based: Carolina Pig Pucker BBQ, Charlotte, N.C.

● Vinegar-based: Q2U BBQ Pit and Catering, Lake Wylie, S.C.

“Being in North Carolina, it’s hard not to notice how passionate they are about barbecue,” the group’s press secretary, Suzi Emmerling, (from California) told Smoke Signals.

The six judges included Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis, Charlotte Mimosa Grill executive chef Jon Fortes and two South Carolina Barbeque Association judges. Yes, South Carolina. There was no judge from the North Carolina Barbecue Society. That may explain the inclusion of mustard-based sauce, which is more popular in South Carolina than North Carolina.

What it doesn’t explain is why the two classic North Carolina styles were conflated into one. The state has two vinegary sauces. The eastern part of the state typically uses a vinegar-pepper sauce. The western part uses a generally sweeter Lexington- or Piedmont-style sauce that contains ketchup or tomatoes, but is not as thick as Kansas City-style.

That also explains why there were only two 28* tomato-based entries. There were 12 mustard-based and 15 vinegar-based.

Asked about the inclusion of South Carolina input when the convention is in North Carolina, Emmerling said: “Charlotte is about a 20-minute drive from South Carolina, so it’s really part of South Carolina, too.”

On the Charlotte in 2012 Web site, it says, “In the Carolinas, BBQ is all in the sauce.” Actually, it’s not. It’s also in the meat. How it is cooked (generally over hickory embers). And what is cooked (eastern, whole hog; western, pork shoulder).

Warren Rojas, Heard on the Hill columnist for Roll Call, contacted esteemed barbecue sauce authority Ardie Davis , who lambasted the judging for not tasting the sauces on smoked meat. (For the record, this columnist’s Smoke Signals BBQ Sauce Recipe Contest tastes its sauces without meat; there are a whole lot of reasons for that, which will be explained another time.)

Hey, Dems, take solace in the wise words of that great Republican, Abraham Lincoln. To paraphrase the Great Emancipator, when it comes to barbecue, you can’t please all of the people any of the time.

Read more about the judging here.

* The Charlotte in 2012 committee inaccurately reported on its Web site the number of tomato-based sauces entered into its barbecue sauce contest. There were 28, not two.

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