MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The smell of barbecue will soon blow through the streets of downtown Memphis Wednesday as the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest returns to Tom Lee Park for the first time since 2019.

“Having it downtown in the nexus in the center of our city is such an important part of what our city is about,” said Randy Blevins, Vice President of Marketing and Programming.

Teams started setting up over the weekend. They said due to the decrease in park space they lost ten feet of cooking and tent space each.

“This is our whole hog cooker here, so we need space to work with the hog on the ground and then get him onto the pit, and we still have to give space to the guys beside us and on each side. So yes, we do need room, and that is one of the things we are trying to deal with right now is where do we get that room,” said Jeffery Romero with team Dirty Old Basters.

Some of the teams said despite the smaller space and rule changes to this year’s competition, they would much rather be at Tom Lee Park.

“I couldn’t be happier that you turn around and you got the view of the mighty Mississippi and the Hernando Desoto Bridge in the background, especially when they light that thing up at night,” said Will Hair with team Smoke Masters.

“Being here at Tom Lee Park, there is nothing like it. The atmosphere surrounding this is what Memphis is all about. It’s having the competition here at Tom Lee Park is the best,” said Romero.

Romero also said being close to the hotels downtown and the Beale Street nightlife makes Tom Lee Park the perfect location for the barbecue cooking contest.

Last year, the competition was at the Memphis Fairgrounds due to construction in Tom Lee Park. So this year, there’s plenty of parking available and no need for a shuttle service which is great for teams like the British Bulldogs. 

With the number of teams allowed to compete reduced from 230 to 150, they were still able to get a spot. Toby Shea said with all the changes to the park and competition, he hopes the competition will stay on the river for years to come.

“It’s such a fun experience,” said Shea. “From a local perspective, I can understand why they want to look after it. I think once everything is gone, it is a very nice space. From a competition perspective, if we can stay here, I think that is important. I don’t think Memphis in May would be the same if it wasn’t at Tom Lee Park.”

You can purchase tickets online and in person, but this is a contest, not a food festival. Barbecue that’s part of the competition is not available to the general public.

Buy tickets and learn more about the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest here