Memphis-style ribs - Creation Studios

Guide to the two biggest barbecue competitions in the world

The biggest barbecue weekend in the world will be in Memphis from May 15 - 18, 2024.
The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest dubbed the "Most Prestigious Barbecue Contest" by USAToday returns for its 46th year.
SmokeSlam: The World's Ultimate BBQ Showdown is in its inaugural year on the banks of the Mississippi River.
More than 150 teams will compete across the two contests with $350,000 in prizes on the line.

About Memphis' Two Barbecue Contests

There’s no bigger barbecue weekend anywhere in the world than in Memphis this May. The competition is so stiff that Memphis will play host to two contests in one weekend: the legacy World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest on May 15 - 18, 2024, and SmokeSlam on May 16 - 18, 2024.

Part of the month-long Memphis In May International Festival, the 46th annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (WCBCC) is often called the “super bowl of swine.” In local lingo, we just call it "barbecue fest." Every year, it brings together thousands of smoke masters, amateur and professional, looking to be crowned kings and queens of barbecue.

Organized into cooking teams (more than 125 teams, in fact, representing dozens of states and foreign countries), these competitors enter into a wide variety of categories, including whole hog, ribs, shoulder, hot wings, beef, poultry, seafood, sauce and "exotic." They can cook with either charcoal or wood, but absolutely no propane, liquid, gas or electricity may be used in preparing the meat: the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is strictly about the subtle science (and art) of smoke. Oh, and $100,000 in prizes, not to mention bragging rights, are at stake. Each year, additional entertainment can be found with musical guests, a Ms. Piggie Idol competition, and sauce wrestling. Live music entertainment includes Marcy Playground on Thursday and Ingram Hill on Friday with DJ MicTee keeping the party going on Saturday. Pull back the curtains on the competition during a free escorted tour Cooker Caravan with Heath Riles BBQ on Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

SmokeSlam: The World's Ultimate BBQ Showdown, in its inaugural year,  is brought to you by MemphoPresents, the organizers behind Mempho Music Festival and RiverBeat Music Festival. SmokeSlam offers three-days of barbecue competition with concerts each day headlined by St. Paul and The Broken Bones on Saturday followed by fireworks. Additional performances include War, The Bar-Kays and Hope Clayburn's Soul Scrimmage on Friday. Mixtape features Tone Loc, Rob Base, Young MC, DJ M. Walk, and Mustache the Band, followed by Noisy Cats are We on Thursday.

They’re putting up a pretty purse of $250,000--the largest prize money in BBQ history. The Memphis BBQ Network will serve as judges for competition categories of whole hog, ribs, and pulled pork. Additional competition categories include dessert, bacon, duck poultry, beef, seafood, and wings. Winners of those categories will earn a golden ticket to the World Food Championships. The awards ceremony will be hosted by Michelle Buteau, comedian, actress, and host of BBQ Showdown on Netflix.

Both competitions will get you up close to some of the most legendary pitmaster names.

bbq tent at WCBCC
Alex Shansky
bbq on the cooker at WCBCC
Raphael Tenschert
Three people pose on top of bbq tent with river in background
Alex Shansky
swine dine memphis tigers and grizzlies themed bbq tent at WCBCC
Alex Shansky

Photos of previous World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contests at Tom Lee Park. In 2024, the competition moves to iconic Tiger Lane at Liberty Park.

How to Experience Memphis' Barbecue Contests

The most critical piece of info you need before heading down to the fest is that the World Championship of Barbecue is not a food festival. It's a competitive cooking event so alternately quirky and interesting to watch, it's worth paying general admission to soak up the smoky aroma and the sights: This year's contest takes place at Liberty Park, home to Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium and the heart of the city in Midtown near the Cooper-Young neighborhood. Liberty Park will transform into a small "city" of tents of all shapes and sizes, decorated to the extreme. Yes, the focus is on the pig, but over the years, the contest has spread informally to include the tent systems, from the intricate to the outlandish, teams construct as their headquarters for the event. (Some will even go so far as to hire professionals to design and build their set-ups.)

For the general public, that means that just walking through the event is an experience. Almost all of the tents include fun-loving (sometimes irreverent) themes. (Think: "Tunisian Nights," a Muppets-inspired "Pigs In Space," the perennial-favorite "Redneck Barbecue Express.")

With all the downtime of watching meat slowly smoke, it’s no surprise that additional entertaining competitions have become fixtures on the schedule, including the Miss Piggy Idol Contest: a variety competition featuring teams wearing elaborate, if not completely ridiculous, costumes belting out reimagined pop songs. Think American Idol but in drag, and at least one team member dressed like Miss Piggy herself.

With the banks of the Mississippi River as its backdrop, SmokeSlam will take over Tom Lee Park in downtown as a celebration of barbecue in Memphis and the city’s musical heritage. Complementing the competition will be a carnival with a ferris wheel, a carousel, and games. After the thrills, hit the central marketplace to shop local businesses with an interactive area for fans to sample food and participate in food-related events.


To answer your burning question, if you aren't a competitor or invited by a team, health department regulations prohibit you from sampling barbecue from participating teams. But we got you. When you can't go another minute without sampling the goods, keep these tips in mind: At the WCBCC, a number of official vendors will have food for sale on-site, and add-on experiences including BBQ Alley and the Kingsford Tour of Champions buy you tasting rights. With advanced planning, you can even earn a judge's certification and become a contest judge. SmokeSlam will also offer an interactive area to fuel those ‘cue cravings allowing you to sample food and there will be on-site vendors to buy from. 

Keep in mind that you’re in the barbecue capital of the world. You'll find over 100+ barbecue restaurants, shacks and joints in the Memphis area, some within walking distance of SmokeSlam at Tom Lee Park and plenty in the vicinity of the WCBCC at Liberty Park. In this neighborhood guide to Memphis barbecue, SmokeSlam attendees can find close options in the Downtown section while WCBCC attendees will find options in the Midtown and South Memphis sections. 

Barbecue Cooking Contests FAQS

Is this a food festival? Remember, The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is just that, a contest. Same with SmokeSlam. This is NOT a food festival. While tickets admit you into the event, you have to be invited to individual team tents, and per health regulations, teams are not allowed to serve the public.

Can I try any of the barbecue? Or will food be available on contest grounds? Add on an experience for WCBCC like the Kingsford Tour of Champions or BBQ Alley to your general admission for a tasting. On-site vendors will also be cooking up barbecue and other Memphis favorites within the fairgrounds. SmokeSlam will offer that too plus an interactive area to try food not being served in the competition. Plus, you’ll find even more variety among the restaurants around Downtown Memphis, Midtown, South Memphis, and East Memphis.

What are all of my ticket options? 4-day passes, single-day tickets, and VIP passes are available for purchase online for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. ATMs will be available on-site, but credit is acceptable for most purchases. SmokeSlam tickets include 3-day passes, single-day tickets, and VIP passes for purchase online now.

Can I bring my kid? My dog? All ages are allowed at both fests, but not pets. 

What’s the contest schedule? This weekend is jam-packed with contests and competitions, so keep the World Championship Barbecue Cooking schedule handy and you won’t miss a minute of the fun. The SmokeSlam schedule will arrive soon but you can see the music lineup here.

What should I wear? Be prepared for rain. The contest will go on rain or shine, so prep before you go. Wear comfortable shoes that can get wet, bring a poncho and don’t forget your sunscreen.

Where should I book a hotel or other lodging? Check out all of Memphis' hotel and lodging options. Midtown and East Memphis accommodations are your best bet if you want to stay near the SmokeSlam contest grounds, but iconic Downtown Memphis hotels are less than 15 minutes away from the fairgrounds and are located near the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

How do I get to the competitions? If you plan to drive, parking garages, street parking, and lots can be found all across downtown within walking distance of Tom Lee Park. The new downtown Mobility Center is also conveniently located nearby. If you're staying outside of Downtown Memphis, take a cab, Uber, or Lyft. Limited paid-parking lots will be available at and around Liberty Park. Ride-sharing is highly recommended!

For more information on the 2024 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, click here. For more information on the 2024 SmokeSlam: The World's Ultimate BBQ Showdown, click here.


About the Author

Hello! I'm Jalyn Souchek, the Director of Content for I Love Memphis Blog! I love calling the 901 home. When I'm not running the blog you can find me cheering on the Grizzlies, at a concert, exploring a new restaurant or kicking back at one of our breweries. I hope you'll love experiencing Memphis with me.

Build your perfect Memphis meal:

I love to eat so if I were to have only one meal left.. I’m going all out. I’d start with an app of Gumbo Fries from Blue City Cafe or Bayou Fries from Chef Tam, wings from Good Fortune or Central’s (honey gold and Jamaican Jerk), potato salad from Fat Larry’s, side of bbq spaghetti from Bar-B-Q Shop, and fried okra from Soul Fish. All paired with a Beale Street Brewing Space Age Sippin’.

Your most memorable Memphis moment:

College GameDay on Beale Street. That was an electric and perfect morning. I was still working in news then and was able to take it in up close and on the stage at some points. The fun and joy of everyone down there that morning is unbeatable.