This year marked the 39th anniversary of Memphis' World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. 235 barbecue teams from 22 states and five countries came to compete for $115K in prize money and global recognition as the world's best barbecue. It took 900 volunteers, including 200 barbecue judges, to pull the event off. But the numbers only tell part of the story. This year, the DNA recaps barbecue fest through the stories of a barbecue finalist, a booth champion, and two volunteers.
This Q&A is with Marcy Siebert and Jim Walker (both DNA-ers!) who served as volunteer Ambassadors for the Whole Hog contest at the WCBCC this year.
How many years have you been part of the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and in what capacity?
Marcy: I have volunteered for Memphis in May for 23 years and 20 of those have been heavily involved in the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. I have been the momma pork forker, Chairman of load in and load out, Tour Guide for Cooker’s Caravan, a certified judge and an ambassador for the past 11 years.
Jim: This is my first time volunteering for the contest. As a recent transplant to Memphis, I had the “good fortune” to get to know fellow DNA Communications Committee member Marcy Siebert...who has been volunteering for the event for more than 20 years. As captain of the Whole Hog Ambassadors this year, she told me it would be great fun to be involved – and so, like a hooked trout, I was jerked from my comfort zone and landed in the volunteer creel as an Ambassador for the Whole Hog contest. I had seven Whole Hog teams assigned to me, and my job was to answer questions and solve problems for them. Thank God they knew more than I did and hardly needed anything.
What level of investment was involved from you and your fellow volunteers?
Marcy: Needless to say my investment is huge. I usually go to Tom Lee Park for 7 days (not this year because of a severe ankle sprain) and average at least 8 hours a day. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are usually at least 12 hour days. This year I was Whole Hog Captain and had 5 ambassadors working with me in the Whole Hog Division. Dollars spent are on silly things like pig earrings. The best buy though is Hammer Stahl Knives. Of course I bought one this year!
Jim: I spent $18 on a contest hat, and missed a few hours of paid employment, but otherwise the investment was only time and energy. Because of scheduling conflicts, I attended only one pre-contest meeting, but I spent the greater part of four days (Thursday through Sunday) actually in service at the contest site. This involved a ton of walking and standing outdoors in various weather conditions.
Did you have a favorite moment of the competition this year?
Marcy: There are always special moments. This year PLP Smokers finaled in Whole Hog (Top 3) and that was after losing their assigned space which in turn someone moved their smoker. It took us 3 days to find it. Then the truck with the hog itself coming from North Carolina broke down and arrived really late and frozen. NO ONE gave them a chance and they finaled! The amount of volunteer work that went into solving all this was amazing. It keeps me coming back.
Jim: Meeting, helping and socializing with barbecue teams was the continual highlight, but seeing one of my teams on stage for two awards was great.
Were there any mishaps or disasters along the way? Any particular challenges you had to overcome?
Marcy: See PLP Smoker story above. The obvious is MUD! Not to mention my sprained ankle. I put 7 miles on it on Thursday.
Jim: Other than mud, inexperience was my biggest challenge. But that was mostly in my head, as my barbecue teams needed very little assistance. Beyond that, there was plenty of guidance and support from experienced volunteers such as Marcy Siebert and Amy Bartley.
I did have one experience that unnerved me, though. I was sent to give a certificate to one of my teams, letting them know that they would be “walking the stage” during the awards ceremony Saturday night. I knew this team was not in the top three, but did not know what it meant beyond that. They put the screws to me until they decided it meant they were in the top 10. When they began cheering, shaking my hand and clapping me on the back, I scurried away, hoping against hope that their assumption was correct. I feared I’d be hunted down if it wasn’t. Turned out they were right. Whew!
If you could describe your fellow ambassador volunteers in 3 words, what would they be?
Marcy: Dedicated, amazing and willing.
Jim: Every one of them that I interacted with was focused on doing a good job, getting things right, and having fun. And the atmosphere was really one of camaraderie.
In your experience, what seems to differentiate great teams? What are some winning strategies you observed?
Marcy: Their total dedication to smoking pig. It is possibly the best meat on the planet.
Jim: The winning teams definitely take things seriously...but then so do the non-winners. As I didn’t get to taste and compare what the judges evaluated teams on, I can only speculate that there are just a million small ways for things to go wrong, and staying away from “mistakes,” large or small, is paramount. Attractive presentation is also very important, especially when the judges do their onsite evaluation.
Will you be back again next year?
Marcy: Yes, this stuff gets in your blood and it very additive!
Jim: I figure I walked about 40-plus miles and was on my feet some 40 hours over the four days. It was physically exhausting, but well worth it. I will definitely be back next year!
Anything else you'd like to share?
Marcy: After 20 years I know a lot of teams and they are some of the nicest people ever. Most learned of my sprained ankle and would force me sit and put ice on it. It is a family. Not only do they help the volunteers they help each other.
Jim: You can visit the MIM barbecue park and be impressed. But if you get involved it will be a much more memorable experience. It’s really about the people, and the people are great!