BBQ Fest reader question: If you don’t know anyone on a team, is there any point in going?

I had a reader email me and ask a good question about Memphis in May BBQ Fest.

“You said it’s best to try and get invitations to BBQ team booths, because the booths are for team members and guests only. If I don’t get any invitations, will I still have fun? Is there any point in going?”

Yes, there’s still plenty you can do. Here’s a list:

– If you want to taste the teams’ cooking without knowing anyone on a team, sign up for the People’s Choice Award judging. For $4 you’ll be given 5 samples of BBQ, and you can vote on which you like best. You can judge as many times as you like.

– If you want to learn more about what it’s like to be on a team, sign up for the Cooker Caravan. This is a guided tour of selected team booths. Members will explain what being on a team is all about, answer any questions you have, and if you’re lucky, feed you. More info on People’s Choice and Cooker Caravan can be found here.

– You can walk around and look at the team booths. There’s an award for Best Booth, so some teams choose to do very elaborate decorations, usually based around the honored country (which this year is Belgium). We even had a professional booth designer the past couple of years.

– You can buy BBQ and other foods from licensed vendors who sell to the public. Sometimes there will be a BBQ vendor or two who is a former winner of the contest.

– There will be companies who market BBQ-related products (sauce, dry rub, grills, etc.) around the park, and some of them offer free samples to the public.

– Thursday night at 6 is the Ms. Piggie contest. Some of the teams get up on stage and sing pig-related songs for the chance to win prizes. We entered a couple of years ago and morphed “Ol’ Man River” into “Ol’ Miss Piggie.” Ol’ Miss Piggie… that Ol’ Miss Piggie… She just keeps smokin’… She don’t say nothin’… She just keeps smokin’ along. I think the video is still on YouTube (search for Ques Brothers).

– There are bands every night on the main stage. Full schedule is here. Bands are much more laid-back than the Music Fest bands. In particular, I recommend my friends Pam & Terry, who take the stage at 8:30 Thursday.

– Entrance to the park is free during lunch hours Thursday and Friday (11 to 1 I think). This is a good time to go because the park isn’t busy. Oftentimes if you see team members hanging out near the front of their booth in the lunchtime hours, you can strike up a conversation and end up getting invited in and fed. It’s a lot easier for teams to invite people into booths when there are 7 people inside, than in the evening hours when there are 150 people inside.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s as much fun as being on a team, but there’s still plenty of ways to have a good time at BBQ Fest. If you’ve never been, come on down. I promise you’ll never see anything like it.