2024 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest Recap

2024 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest Recap


Did you hear? Heath Riles BBQ won first place in Ribs at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. This is the second time I’ve won first place in three years, but I’ve been competing in Memphis in May since 2008. If you want to dip your toes into the world of BBQ competitions, Memphis in May is where it’s at! Whether behind the grill or just watching, it's always a great time. 

This competition holds a special place in my heart, partially due to the people who make the event great. Each year is entirely different, but the community continues to feel like home. I hope you enjoy this short recap of my road to victory, and most of all, I hope to see you at next year’s Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. 

About the Festival

Memphis in May originated in the 1970s, starting with the Beale Street Music Festival. In 1978, Memphis in May added their first barbecue cooking contest, held in a vacated parking lot. As you can guess, they quickly outgrew that venue!

Within a decade, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was an annual classic, attracting pitmasters worldwide. I’ve followed the competition since childhood and always dreamed of bringing home the gold. Now, I’m blessed to live out my dreams and be in the middle of all the action. 

Like last year, the cooking contest was held at Liberty Park near scenic Midtown Memphis. The venue was perfect, giving the competition so much visibility. An outdoor venue is always a joy to compete in because it feels spacious and picturesque. 

This year’s festival had so many fun events..there truly is something for everyone! Aside from the barbecue portion, Memphis in May hosts Ms. Piggie Idol and the Beale Music Festival, returning better than ever in 2025. 

About Heath’s Entry

Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest caters to everyone. Its three main categories are Ribs, Shoulder, and Whole Hog, but it also has ancillary competitions for Hot Wings, Sauce, and “Anything But Pork.” 

In 2022, I won 1st place in ribs, just coming short of the Grand Championship. I competed in ribs again in 2023, placing 9th overall. Last year, I was more determined than ever to come back strong and swing for the fences. So, I put in plenty of practice and time in the kitchen, experimenting with various flavors. 

I couldn’t tell you how many racks of Prairie Fresh ribs I smoked! After much deliberation, it was unanimous - I had found the perfect combination of seasonings, butter bath, sauce, and glaze. I used a combination of Heath Riles BBQ Garlic Jalapeño Rub, Heath Riles BBQ Competition BBQ Rub, Heath Riles BBQ Butter Bath & Wrap, Heath Riles BBQ Sweet BBQ Sauce, Heath Riles BBQ Competition BBQ Sauce, and Heath Riles BBQ Apple Habanero BBQ Glaze. I wanted to give my new products (Competition BBQ Sauce and Apple Habanero BBQ Glaze) a chance to shine, no pun intended. 

I don’t gatekeep, so you can find the full recipe for my Competition Ribs here. Watch my recap video for a full rib tutorial and behind-the-scenes tips. I cooked my award-winning ribs on the Outlaw BFO Smoker, which is ideal for cooking many ribs simultaneously. I stoked the pit with Royal Oak Charcoal, giving the meat a rich flavor. 

Sample Memphis in May Schedule

The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest lasts three days but goes by fast! Here’s a taste of what I experienced. 

Thursday: Ancillaries

Thursday is for ancillaries and the day the gates open to the crowd! My good buddy BBQ Bob Trudnak entered Beef and Hot Wings (1st Place Beef with a perfect score of 483), Jake Fullington entered Seafood, Damn Yankee Texas BBQ entered Exotic, and Kevlar BBQ entered Turkey Smoke and Poultry (4th Place Turkey Smoke with a score 482.97). 

I started prepping and trimming my ribs on Thursday, so they were in tiptop shape for Friday. We trimmed over 70 racks of ribs to find the perfect 24! 

Friday: Practice Run

Practice makes perfect, and I practice until the last minute. On practice day, I get up early and complete the entire cooking process from start to finish. This ensures no hiccups on the big day and allows me to make any last-minute tweaks to my recipe. 

I participated in Royal Oak Charcoal’s Rib Tasting, and seeing so many people enjoying good BBQ was awesome. I also got to answer questions at Big Green Egg’s Q+A panel. It felt good to give back and interact with the barbecue community. 

Saturday: Competition Day

Competition Day starts at 4:30 a.m., and we woke up to rain this year. Many people wouldn’t guess, but rain can affect your ribs, so we gave the meat a little extra TLC. Memphis in May uses several factors to judge, and your food, presentation, and even the cleanliness of your area come into play. Team Heath Riles BBQ pro tip: Use plenty of color in your presentation. Fresh veggies, fruit, and herbs create a gorgeous plate that impresses any judge. 

The Results

There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than waiting for the judges score. This year, Memphis in May had so many judges they had new judges shadowing old ones!

Here’s where Team Heath Riles BBQ placed at the 2024 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Click here for a complete list of winners. 

Ancillaries: Team Heath Riles BBQ won 4th place in the Turkey Smoke category and 1st place in Beef. 

Pork Division - Ribs: This year, Team Heath Riles BBQ placed first in ribs with a score of 571.03! During the awards ceremony, I was recognized for always supporting my fellow competitors - a sentiment that meant almost as much as the trophy itself. 

Grand Championship: While Team Heath Riles BBQ didn’t win the Grand Championship, we are still on top of the world with our big win in ribs! I want to say a huge congratulations to the GC winners, The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint.

It Takes a Team!

From prepping ribs to tearing down, one man can’t do it alone, nor would he want to! I’m proud to have the best team behind me, starting with my wonderful wife, Candace, who is my biggest supporter. Big thank you to the Heath Riles BBQ Team for capturing this journey and helping wherever needed. I also want to thank the many friends, family, and fellow pitmasters who came from all over the country to give me a hand. 

I also want to give a shoutout to all my fans. I received many encouraging messages and notes from fellow BBQ enthusiasts saying they were rooting for me. Some fans even flew in to say hello! It blows my mind that I have so many people in my corner - you motivate me to shoot for the stars. 

Everyone knows that in BBQ, ingredients matter; shoutout to R-C Ranch for the Wagyu Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Mister Brisket, Inc.. for the Chicken Thighs, and The Butcher Shoppe for the Turkey Breasts, Chicken Wings, and Salmon.

A big thank you to our incredible partners: YETI, ThermoWorks, Royal Oak Charcoal, Outlaw BBQ Smokers, and Prairie Fresh!

Last, but not  least, much appreciation to Ramon's Meat Market for cutting my ribs down before the contest. 

Heath’s 2024 Highlights

As always, this year brought many memories that will stay with me forever. While sharing them all is impossible, here’s a little of my highlight reel. 

  • My products were used by other competitors, including those who placed in their divisions. I always feel blessed to know the rest of the world loves these ingredients as much as I do. 
  • My team pulled together and worked like a well-oiled machine. They kept morale up during stressful moments and were there to celebrate the victory. I honestly couldn’t have done it without them. Safe to say, I have a dream team!   
  • Like any competition, the barbecue circuit can get heated. But at the end of the day, everyone goes home with a winning attitude. I love how willing other competitors are to teach the tools of their trade. You’ll never meet a finer group of competitors! 
  • I cooked ribs for Royal Oak Charcoal’s event and saw people from all over the world try my signature recipe. It’s always an honor to connect with this company that produces amazing briquets! 

We’re ready to do it again at the 2025 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

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