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Barbecue legend Pat Burke stepping away after Memphis in May

A reader sent in a tip this week that perhaps the winningest barbecue competitor of all time has decided to hang up his mop after this last weekend's 2012 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Pat Burke of Pat's BBQ in Murphysboro, Ill., "has won more barbecue titles and championships than any living person," according to an article in the Murphysboro American, which provides a detailed list of awards.

The Murphysboro native may not have hit a home run like Ruth, nor thrown a football like Unitas or dunked a basketball like Wilt, but he has done something they never even dreamed of -- cooked barbecue like no other human being.

Burke is a barbecue legend...a prodigy that comes along just once in a lifetime. But, like the great ones in other fields, there comes a time when even a master barbecuer has to hang up his brush and step away from competing and begin enjoying the fruits of their labor. And that time has come for Pat Burke.

Pat's last competition was this month with Memphis In May. For now on, you'll see him spending time with his family and still working at Pat's BBQ, which he founded.

Almost sounds like it'd be worth the drive up to Southern Illinois ...
On The Huffington Post, Chicago newspaper columnist and "Bobblehead Dad" author Jim Higley writes about his first experience competing in the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. He and some fellow journalists got hooked up with North Carolina barbecue star Chris Lilly to cook as the Kingsford "On Asswinement" team.

My grilling skills -- on the experience thermometer -- fall somewhere between steak tartare and rare. I'm our team's grilling newbie. But that doesn't matter. Because Team Kingsford has Chris Lilly.

We've just finished day one of an intensive two day grilling boot camp Chris put together for us to master our category -- ribs. We're being schooled not only in the art and science of competitive grilling, we're also being given an crash course in competing at a world-class level. And right now, my brain is overcooked. Well done. I'm hanging out in my hotel room at the famed Peabody Hotel -- above the sounds from Beale Street below, trying to process what all I learned today.

Higley wraps up the first in his series of dispatches with a couple of nice "random thoughts":
  • Barbecue people are like country music people. The best.
  • Memphis knows how to put on a show.
The Washington Post's All We Can Eat food blog notes today that the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, set for this weekend, is returning to its rightful home after last year's move to the fairgrounds due to the flooding:

Launched in 1978, the MiM barbecue contest is widely regarded as the granddaddy of 'cue competitions. It has grown from 26 teams its first year to around 250 teams now, with an attendance upwards of 100,000.

Last year, massive flooding forced the contest from its longtime home at Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River to the higher ground of the Mid-South Fairgrounds. The festival is back at Tom Lee Park this year, along with its fabled Ms. Piggie Idol Contest, featuring men in dresses and plastic pig snouts performing barbecue-themed songs.

"It's wonderful," MiM Vice President Diane Hampton told Smoke Signals about being back at Tom Lee. "This is where it's supposed to be: on the river. People come from all over the world to eat Memphis barbecue. The river is part of the Memphis experience."

Thumbnail image for APTOPIX-Tennessee-Daily-Lif.jpg The Commercial Appeal photographer Mike Brown's extraordinary action shot of a young woman bobbing for mudbugs at this weekend's City Auto Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival made the top spot on ABC News' Pictures of the Day blog. See more of Brown's Crawfish Festival images here.

USA Today lauds Cozy Corner: a true Memphis barbecue 'joint'

ddcozy2.jpg Maybe because the peak tourist month of May is approaching, national travel writers seem to be flocking to Memphis in recent weeks. The latest is Larry Olmsted, who devotes his Great American Bites feature for USA Today to one of my two or three favorite barbecue spots in Memphis: Cozy Corner.

Like all the great Memphis barbecue places, Cozy Corner puts a few signature twists on the usual template, and Olmsted astutely points them out. First up, the Cornish hens:

I am not a huge fan of barbecue chicken, and at the end of the day a Cornish game hen is just a small chicken, but it was very good as BBQ chicken goes, and unlike the full-sized version, you get to eat the whole thing. Since the meat is never far from bone and pieces small, the interior stays juicy, with white and dark meat relatively indistinguishable. You simply dig in and devour the little bird in gloriously messy fashion.

Then, the little cup of barbecue spaghetti on the side:

At Cozy Corner it is the opposite of al dente, overcooked to the mushy consistency of Spaghetti O's, which causes the noodles to swell and coat with even more sauce. This works here because the sauce is so good - the pasta is more of a vehicle for sauce delivery than anything else.

And, finally, the choice of connoisseurs' (Get there early in the morning before they run out):

But what I loved above all else was the rib tips. Rib tips are to barbecue what hanger steak is to butchery, a chef's cut, lesser known to the public but beloved in the trade. In homes occupied by barbecue fanatics, rib tips are often a treat for the pitmaster and never reach the table. Basically if you take a whole rack of spareribs, which is trapezoidal, and cut down one side to make it more symmetrical, leaving the similarly shaped ribs known as "St. Louis" cut, the thin strip leftover is rib tips. Each bite-sized morsel has some fat, bone and cartilage in it, and they are smoked, tossed in sauce, and piled high on a plate - a plate of barbecue hog heaven.
Continuing a cross-country road trip diary for The Huffington Post, travel-guide writer and -show host Rick Steves stops through Tennessee to compare and contrast the three grand regions represented by the white stars on the state flag. His pointing out that there are differences throughout Tennessee made me consider actually posting his travelogue (I usually don't bother linking to such pieces, which usually rehash the usual Elvis/barbecue/blues/barbecue/Elvis tropes.). There was also the fact that he referred to Memphis' skyline not only as "little," but also as "smart." He actually seems to like it here.

Memphis, with its smart, little skyline, overlooks the Mississippi River. It was one of the first cities to fall in the Civil War, so it wasn't destroyed but occupied. After the war, freed slaves came and helped power the local factories, mills, and cotton shipping. Its industrial wealth shows itself in fine, old neighborhoods filled with grand, "Four Square" houses--two-story homes of equal width and depth, many with a breezeway right through the middle that vents the four, equal quarters.

As this has long been an African American center and an industrial powerhouse, it's where black and white culture come together musically, too. Rock 'n' roll has its roots in African American and blues music. And Memphis is therefore logically the city for blues and rock 'n' roll--and the home of the man who helped black rhythm and blues enter white culture, Elvis Presley.

Moving on to Graceland, Steves repeats what seems to be becoming a common reaction to Elvis' old Whitehaven estate: In the post-"MTV Cribs" age, it seems quaint and unpretentious.

The mansion itself was nowhere near as gaudy as I expected. Elvis bought it when he was 22 for $102,000. It's a stately mansion with big white pillars out front. Like so many nice homes in this part of the country, it overlooks a sprawling and fun-loving estate. The interior is a trip back to the 1970s--shag carpets, mirrored ceilings, all the finest low-tech accessories of the age with Elvis' flair for fancy. While my house in the 1970s was tiny and humble compared to Graceland, the decor, furnishings, kitchen, and so on were remarkably similar.

From Memphis, Steves moved on to Atlanta. Read all about that here.

Huffington Post blogger praises vegan, vegetarian dining in Memphis

Over at the HuffPo, green-lifestyles blogger Carolyn Scott runs down some of what she saw and ate on her trip to Memphis. Scott, who is a vegan, says she was "beyond delighted" with the quality of vegetarian and vegan options among Memphis restaurants. Among her findings:

Imagine Vegan Cafe:

Located in the hip Cooper Young district, this fun diner has got everything a vegan comfort food joint should have. And I mean everything! Their menu is giant and everything on it rocks. Being in the south, I had to have their "pulled pork" BBQ sandwich with hush puppies. Oh, and I split the spinach artichoke dip with some buddies!

The Majestic Grille:

Playing old films and vintage cartoons, the menu is just as cool as the location. And cooler yet are their plentiful vegan dishes! Try their homemade veggie burger or their delicious veggie flatbread with caramelized onion base. And their bloody Marys and mimosas are not to be missed either at brunch or dinner.


Chef Gary is not only one of the most fun people you will ever meet but he will treat you right in his place. Always packed to gills, customers are more then happy to squeeze in with perfect strangers to enjoy a meal at DejaVu. Chef whipped me up a fabulous creole pasta full of veggies along with plantains, veggie rolls, carrot cake and banana nut bread.

R.P. Tracks:

College kids are so progressive, so you are sure to find health conscious dishes nearby. RP Tracks is exactly that kind of place. ... Famous for their BBQ tofu, they can sub it for basically anything. I shared the BBQ tofu nachos and the BBQ tofu burrito loved every bite!

FWillie-Brown.jpg lamboyant former San Francisco mayor and longtime California Democratic political giant Willie Brown had the right idea for his family's NFC Championship party last Sunday: barbecue ribs shipped from Corky's in Memphis.

People go online to get windows, doors and all kinds of exotic things; I go online at Corky's to ship barbecued ribs and barbecued pork. Corky's sends you slabs of ribs on dry ice and they send along sauce, the salt and the pepper, and if you want, they send other things. You're better off just sticking to the meat. All you need to do is heat them.

This batch of ribs was a gift from a guy from Tennessee expressly for the Browns to enjoy them during a 49ers playoff run. Even though the Niners fell short of winning a berth in the Super Bowl, they did at least get far enough for the Brown party to enjoy the ribs, which didn't disappoint:

I assume the ribs would have had to have been frozen to wait for next year if we had not made the playoffs. There were 15 or so people and we ate everything.

PICTURED: Then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown holds up his World Series tickets during a press conference on Oct. 22, 2002. Behind him is then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. (By Paul Sakuma/Associated Press files)
The promo spot came out today for a new Cooking Channel show called "Cheap Bites," starring chef and food writer Eddie Huang. The show premieres at 7 p.m. CST on Sunday, Jan. 1. Among locales Huang will visit on his quest is Memphis, according to a spiel that came from the network a few months ago:

NYC Chef and outspoken food writer Eddie Huang takes viewers on a road trip to find America's best food deals. From free pizza in NY, to donuts that only cost a quarter in Memphis, Tennessee, Eddie will show us where the best cheap bites are found.

Note that the promo clip doesn't use Cooking Channel's usual tagline construction, which in this case would be: "He's Eddie Huang, and he's always looking for new ways to stay cheap." Probably a good idea to try something new.

Some are pegging Huang as the new Anthony Bourdain, or Rachael Ray's "$40 a Day" with "more urban flair."

Dyer's of Memphis named top spot for fried burgers on Serious Eats


In a rundown of hamburger and cheeseburger styles, the "A Hamburger Today" department of the online foodie community Serious Eats mentions one variant whose top exponent resides right here in Memphis -- deep-fried, of course:

Just what it sounds like, folks. Forget the griddle, throw water on the
grill. The patties of these burgers take a dunk in hot, hot oil. Dyer's Burgers in Memphis is perhaps the most famous deep-fried burger emporium, thanks largely to George Motz's Hamburger America spot on them ... (video below).

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