By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
When Kyle Rogers was living in Memphis, he’d often hang out with a group of friends who liked to get together and party and cook barbecue. In 2008, a couple of the guys got bold and decided to enter the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
“We kind of jumped in head-first in the beginning,” said Rogers, a commercial and industrial appraiser for Rogers Realty & Appraisal Co. in Tupelo. “At first, it was just a big party atmosphere for friends, but then we realized we could really be successful at it. It’s a lot of hard work, but there’s also some luck involved.”
The first couple of years, the team – called The People’s Republic of Swina – didn’t fare very well in the contest. But in 2010, they took 14th in pork shoulders and the following year, they won 10th place.
Last month, they won 2nd place for their pork shoulders at the prestigious contest, sometimes referred to as the “Super Bowl of Swine.”
“It took us a couple of years to figure everything out,” said Rogers, 29. “We’re the youngest team on the circuit. But we feel like we’ve got one of the best products out there now and we’ve been rewarded by the judges the past couple of years. To be second in the world in shoulders means we’ve really stepped up our game. The trophies and money are just silver linings – extras.”
The team consists of about 15 active members and another 50 to 60 social members, plus another 50 to 100 friends and supporters who show up to contests on a regular basis. This year, Rogers is the chairman of the board of the Swina team.
“I’m definitely not the head cook,” Rogers said. “Denny Koerner of Memphis is the head cook. The chairman of the board is kind of like herding cats. I’m just the one who keeps everyone else in line. More than likely, someone else will take the helm next year.”
Rogers calls himself the only non-true-Memphian in the group. The son of Chris and Holly Rogers, he was born and raised in Tupelo, attended Tupelo High School and graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s in business administration. He lived in Memphis for four years and in 2010, he and his wife, Brittany moved home to Tupelo.
“We do a lot of charity work for groups in Memphis,” Rogers said. “We’re trying to give back with our talents as much as we can.”
Rogers’ teammate Harris Rhea, a Memphis native who also moved to Tupelo, calls Memphis in May a fun challenge.
“We take the competition seriously, but we also have a good time,” Rhea said. “We do competition pork shoulders, but this year we also cooked 60 slabs of ribs one night and we fried 70 pounds of Pickwick catfish one night.”
Rogers said people on the Memphis in May circuit are starting to recognize the Swina name. So there’s no question the team will enter again in 2013.
“We’re shooting for first place this year,” he said. “That’s the only way to go.”