The threat of thunderstorms which loomed all day didn’t keep away the thousands of burger enthusiasts and aficionados who came to Tiger Lane to test their talents and taste buds. The little rain that actually fell did nothing to dampen the spirits of those of us who attended for two good reasons: support the teams who worked so hard to create Memphis’ best burgers and champion the efforts of non-profit Memphis Paws, recipient of all proceeds from the Best Memphis Burger Festival. As an organization, Memphis Paws has donated over $26,000 (not including final figures from 2017) to various Mid-South charities “dedicated to rescuing and improving the quality of life of dogs and cats” including Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services, DeSoto Animal Rescue Society, Utopia Animal Hospital (owner vetting assistance) and at least a dozen others. The day was all about charity and charbroiling, with a few veggie burgers and familial joy scattered in between.
While the judges were sequestered inside the Pipkin Building and given the unfortunate task of determining category winners from burger-filled platters (how do you vote on a single “best” from amongst the best of the best?!) team fans and foodies walked the grounds of Tiger Lane indulging in samples and, at times, gathering around in large, dense clusters to cheer for those brave enough to participate in events such as the Slider Eating Competition and the Charity Bobbing for Burgers.
Star & Micey played on stage at one end of the lawn; children played on the opposite end in one of the most impressive Kids Zones I’ve ever seen. These youngest attendees made custom t-shirts and competed for prizes at various games, with every item having been paid for and donated by Jack Pirtle’s Chicken. I learned this famous, family-owned restaurant chain isn’t just known for their chicken but their philanthropy, too.
Later in the afternoon Teddy Gorman, official member of the Burger Squad and avid promoter of the burger fest and countless other charities around Memphis, gave me and my young son a ride on his utility cart to our friends’ tent after my 7 year old expressed how tired he was. I’d like to state here, for the record, that this “tiredness” was most likely caused by the vast amount of sliders he’d eaten (based on beef to body size ratio) as opposed to any amount of physical exertion he endured; and we’ve all been privy at some point in our lives to these aftereffects, I’m sure! During that short ride I couldn’t help but mention the Kids Zone and share that “Mrs. Pirtle” herself (in a full burger costume, nonetheless!) congratulated my son after he won a toy pig at the soccer booth. Teddy explained that the Pirtle Family has always been very involved with giving back in Memphis, particularly with this annual event, adding later after everything had wrapped up: “Tawanda Pirtle and husband Cordell are huge advocates. Lori Hudson (Tawanda’s sister) was the other burger-clad Pirtles sponsor.”
“Because Memphis is more than BBQ.”
The festival’s tagline is absolutely right: we are more than BBQ. We are about coming together for good causes and enjoying each other’s company, even in the midst of nail-biting patty-biting competition. Notable Memphians such as Chief Meteorologist Ron Childers, Chef Kelly English, columnist Michael Donahue and business owner Paula Raiford mingled with fellow burger lovers and festival supporters (some having flown in from cities such as New York and Tampa) while waiting to find out what this year’s “best” would look and taste like. When the team Who’s Your Patty won the title of Grand Champ- awarded the team that, according to festival founder Seth Agranov, “cooked the most consistently all day and when all the category points were tallied, had the highest total”- we saw a multigenerational group of deserving cooks take the stage. They hugged and high-fived one another in a celebration, I believe, of both food and family.
Yes, we are a city proud of our award-winning BBQ but we are also a city where family pride and philanthropy often converge in the biggest and best of ways. This past weekend they converged on Tiger Lane where over 2,000 people ate the Best Memphis Burgers and contributed to a worthy cause, Memphis Paws, providing sustenance- I suppose- to both bodies and souls.
Here are this year’s category winners:
Team: Slider Inn
Savory Portabella mushroom and walnut burger, topped with vegan mayo, fire roasted hatch Poblano and Jalapeño pepper and fresh avocado with spicy ketchup and crispy shiitake mushrooms.
Best Memphis Burger: Classic Style Cheeseburger
Team: Eat My Meat
Ground Wagyu beef, Pepper Jack cheese, Lettuce, Pickles and Onion and "G" Sauce
Team: Flying Saucer
Grass fed beef patty, bacon & onion marmalade, black mushroom trouffle aioli, bibb lettuce, heirloom tomato and whiskey cheddar