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Memphis: The World Championship of BBQ or a Pretender?

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With the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Contest kicking up May 18th, we — being the cynical folks that we are — began to question the "world championship" part of that event's name.

Can the winner rightly proclaim him- or herself the true champion of the world? After a lot of research, we can definitely state: Well, maybe.

First of all, it turns out that "World Championship" — like the World Series — really only applies to the United States, with a slight nod to Canada, where British Columbia actually holds a combination event called the Canadian Barbecue & Chili Festival. Of course, the very idea that British Columbia can claim to be the barbecue capital of the world is just ridiculous. And if there are barbecue-cooking contests held in other countries, well, they don’t seem to count.

Still, the main problem is that there are other cooking contests that call themselves "World Championship" events. One of them is even in Tennessee — the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue Contest, held each October in Lynchburg.

Then there's the granddaddy of them all, the World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest in Texas. Held in the parking lot of the Houston Astrodome every February, this annual event draws more than 350 contestants and 150,000 visitors. It's been a part of the Houston Livestock Show since 1973, which not only makes it bigger, but older, than anything Memphis in May has thrown together.

The Memphis in May event draws more than 90,000 visitors and more than 50 cooking teams. But even though it may be a bit smaller than that Texas thing, authorities such as the Travel Channel still rank Memphis in May as the world’s BEST contest, even calling it the "Superbowl of Swine."

Check out a complete ranking of the top-10 barbecue contests in the world — okay, make that North America.

Then go to Memphis in May next weekend and decide for yourself.

— Michael Finger

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