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Grand champion crowned the best in pork at barbecue world championship in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — (AP) — The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest crowned a grand prize winner Saturday after hundreds of dedicated pitmasters sweated through smoke to be named the best in pork.

The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, won the whole hog division and was named the grand champion in Memphis, Tennessee.

Considered one of the premiere cooking competitions in the U.S., the contest dates back to the 1970s. But as the so-called culinary sports expanded beyond local home cooks, the competition has become fiercer than ever.

More than $150,000 in prize money was awarded in numerous categories for the 129 cooking teams from 22 states and four foreign countries that competed in one of three main categories of ribs, shoulder and whole hog. There also were ancillary competitions like hot wings, poultry, beef and seafood.

But in Memphis, pork is always the main event.

Winners Brad Orrison and Brooke Lewis, siblings from Ocean Springs, have been competing for 17 years with The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint team, named for their restaurant. They now have won the grand championship three times.

“It’s the Super Bowl of swine. This is the trophy that everybody wants," Orrison said.

Orrison, Lewis and their team on Friday prepared two Duroc hogs, each one carefully injected with marinades and laid over a bed of butter and bacon.

They return every year to the cooking contest, which is part of the annual Memphis in May festival. It's like a family reunion where they see friends from all over the country with a shared passion for barbecue.

“It’s like fierce friends and more fierce on the competitive side. Right? So we all support each other, but it stops on Saturday," Lewis said. "Saturday you can hear a pin prick in the park.”

“What makes Memphis in May so difficult to judge is that everybody cooks the best food in the world, and they’re all here," Orrison said. "So a judge could run into three teams that have made the most ultimate dreamy bite of barbecue."

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