Low And Slow

May 7, 1978

It’s hard to imagine now, but the city’s massive barbecue contest got its start with 25 contestants set up in a parking lot near the Orpheum.

Bessie Louise Cathey went into the record books as the inaugural winner. Whether she actually collected the $500 prize is not known.

Before the winners can collect their prize money they have to reveal their recipes and cooking techniques to Memphis in May officials by Monday.

Mrs. Cathey said she’d have to think about that.

Bessie Louise Cathey was one of the 25 contestants who took part in the first Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest, which was held in a parking lot by the Orpheum Theater at Main and Beale on May 6, 1978. Mrs. Cathey won the $500 first prize and Lee Waterbury won the $250 second prize. Third place and $150 went to Mrs. Johnnie Whitaker. While they were cooking, an estimated 5,000 people wandered through the area. (The Commercial Appeal)


Fast-forward to 2016, this parking lot competition has grown to be the largest pork barbecue competition in the world. More than 250 teams from over 20 states and several countries now compete with an estimated 100,000 people attending.

As for that $500 prize, 2016 will mark the largest prize purse in the history of the competition, totaling $115,000.

Don't miss a single minute of the fun-filled pig mania...you'll be squealing all the way home.