A challenge has been issued

I have to hand it to our friends at Squeal Street. They made a good move this week.

As a poker player, I can tell you that a good strategy is to make bets when you think you have an advantage. Especially when you think you can give your opponent(s) a compelling reason to accept the bet, even knowing they’re at a disadvantage.

Earlier this week several of us were discussing BBQ Fest plans on my Facebook wall. One of the Squeal Street members suggested, “One of the afternoons when it’s slow, how about a friendly Ques Brothers vs. Squeal Street cornhole tournament, for a keg of PBR?”

Now, this is a problem because most of the members of Squeal Street hang out at Max’s Sports Bar. When the weather is nice, they get out the cornhole boards and spend hours and hours playing down there. Most of the Ques, on the other hand, play only occasionally if at all.

Yet we can’t very well back down from the challenge without looking like wussies. And besides, we’d really like to get our hands on that keg of PBR!

Ques Brothers: Who’s good at cornhole?

(By the way, if anyone is looking to buy cornhole boards, my Amazon store Mid-South Alcoholic Supply sells them.)

BBQ Fest moved to Tiger Lane at the Fairgrounds

Due to the threat of a 48′ river crest that will flood Tom Lee Park, the Memphis in May board voted last night to move BBQ Fest. The new site will be Tiger Lane, the new tailgating area at the fairgrounds. The event will go on May 12-14 as scheduled.

More details to come… so far I know that load-in will be delayed until Sunday, May 8, and that MiM is trying to work with MATA to arrange a low-cost shuttle for team members and guests from Downtown. New site maps will be emailed to the teams tomorrow.

While I’m sad that the event won’t be Downtown, and it will be a little inconvenient for people who live or stay down here, we’ll make the best of it. Kudos to the MiM board for making what had to be one of the toughest decisions in their 30+ year existence.

I’ll post more details as I get them.

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.

Reader question: Which is the best night to go to BBQ Fest?

After yesterday’s post about BBQ Fest, I had a reader ask an excellent question: I plan to go to BBQ Fest, but only one night. Which is the best night to go?

Here’s my take on it.

Wednesday is Friends & Family Night, not open to the public. It’s extremely hard to get a ticket. On a large team like ours, it’s difficult to get tickets even for spouses.

Thursday is my favorite night. In my team’s booth – we have a large team with about 50 members – it tends to be a big party with our friends. It gets very busy, but the mood is generally fun and festive.

Friday is when the masses arrive. It’s still fun, but the mood gets a little more tense, particularly at the booth entrance where freeloaders who obviously don’t know anyone on the team try to get in. Also, the cooks begin to prepare the championship meat on Friday night, and we want them to be able to concentrate and do their best.

Saturday, in my opinion, is the worst day to go for a couple of reasons. For one, the judges come by in the afternoon, and everyone has to be out of the booth for the presentation. Then a few hours later, everyone’s out of the booth again attending the awards ceremony. After the awards, many teams start tearing down the booths (not us – we party until they kick us out). Many teams are visibly tired out by Saturday – it’s a lot of work to be on a team. Also, you don’t get as much time to party on Saturday. The park closes at 10, as opposed to midnight Thursday and Friday.

So, if you only go one night, Thursday sounds like the best… BUT…

It’s expensive to organize a BBQ team. As I mentioned in a previous post, a budget of 20 grand is reasonable for a large team. To help cover expenses, many teams get corporate sponsors. Some sponsors, as part of the deal, ask for a “sponsor night” where they can bring in clients. The teams wait on the sponsors during sponsor night and tend to limit outside guests. Not all teams with sponsors have sponsor night; for example, my team’s sponsors, WordPress.com and Bar None, are cool sponsors who want to party with us, not order us around, and we have full run of the booth every night.

So, my answer would be, check with the teams that invited you, and all things being equal, go Thursday. If a lot of the teams are doing sponsor night on Thursday, go Friday.

Hope that helps. Hard to believe that two weeks from today, we’ll be building the team booth. Or, I should say, two weeks from today I’ll be sitting at the Saucer drinking beer while teammates with a stronger work ethic than mine build the booth.

Early warning: BBQ Fest

It’s the start of a nice, relaxing Easter weekend, but I want to give everyone an early warning: Memphis in May BBQ Fest starts in less than 3 weeks. At BBQ Fest, about 250 teams compete in ribs, shoulder, whole hog, and Patio Porkers. The thing is, due to health regulations, you can’t go in the team booths and eat unless you’re on a team, or are an invited guest. So, now is the time to start gathering invitations.

(Note: As an invited guest, you still have to pay to get in the festival.)

A few tips:

  • Ask around among your friends; find out who you know who is on a BBQ team. Memphis is one of those towns where everyone knows someone. You probably know more team members than you think.
  • Look for people who are wearing BBQ team T-shirts and polos. That’s a sure indication they’re either on a team, or are very close to someone who is.
  • If you’re new to Memphis and have never been to BBQ Fest, use this to your advantage. Team members realize it kind of sucks to be at BBQ Fest when you don’t know anyone on a team; being on the outside looking in is no fun. As a result, many teams tend to be sympathetic to newcomers.
  • When you get invitations, be sure to get the team name. Most of the teams have similar names, some variation of pig, hog, swine, etc. It’s easy to get down to the park and have no idea whose booth you’re invited to. Write the name down or put it in your phone.
  • If possible, get their booth number as well. If you have an iPhone or Droid, the Memphis in May app will let you look up the team, find the booth number and get an approximate location in Tom Lee Park.
  • Let them know that you understand it’s expensive to run a team (budgets in excess of $20,000 are normal for the large teams), and if they have a tip jar you’d be happy to stick a few dollars in.
  • Be appreciative. Ask nicely, and be grateful if an invitation is extended. Don’t act like it’s your God-given right to come in. Being a douchebag is not a good strategy to get in booths.
  • Don’t ask if you can bring 8 other people with you. That’s unreasonable. One person, sure. Two, maybe. But don’t expect to ride up with your entire posse and be welcome.
  • Ask if they use any kind of system to denote invited guests – wristbands, cards, etc. – and arrange to get one.
  • If you go to Music Fest, that’s a good opportunity to network for BBQ Fest, because of the sheer number of people you’ll see there.
  • If you ask and are told no, be understanding. As a member of a team, I hate telling potential guests no, but sometimes I have to. We can’t allow more people in than the capacity set by the fire marshal, and it’s not fair for me to let 75 invited guests in when my teammates only have a few guests each.
  • Find out what dates and times are best for you to stop by. Many teams have a “sponsor night” when they have to limit guest access.

(Edit: A frequent guest of my team’s booth just reminded me that wearing a tube top is an excellent strategy for gathering booth invites.)

The early bird gets the worm. Start early, and you won’t get caught in a mad scramble to get in booths when BBQ Fest opens to the public.

If you want more info about BBQ Fest, you can get details here.