Recent retirees may feel restless or overwhelmed with the changes in their daily lives. But Mark and Pat Wise have decided that becoming judges of the best BBQ around is their way of testing out their new freedom.
The Wises both attended and graduated from Ole Miss with Mark focusing on electrical engineering and Pat on law school. Their endeavors in higher learning led them both to long careers in their respective professions for over 30 years. They are also enjoying 51 years of marriage so far and have seen their children, and now grandchildren, grow up. Nonetheless, life is not winding down for them; it is revving up with new possibilities in this next phase of their lives.
Now that the Honorable Patricia Wise is no longer presiding as a courtroom judge and Mark Wise is no longer obligated to complete engineering projects, they have set their sights (and taste buds) to discovering the top Southern BBQ eats.
Mark introduced Pat to the world of BBQ judging through Memphis In May, a month-long festival in one of our nation’s Blues capitals of the world. And just as fast as BBQ ribs leave sticky fingers, this destination event became a focal point and pleasurable interest. Mark and Pat had always enjoyed entertaining, grilling, and cooking for their friends and family over the years. Frequently, the couple would eat out at BBQ joints inside and outside of Jackson and around the South, developing a penchant for the African American delicacy that is BBQ. Mark said, “Our daughter lives on the South Bluff in Memphis. And during a visit with her, we wanted to get some BBQ. We thought we could just go to the Memphis In May BBQ contest grounds and buy some but found out that’s not the way it works. You have to be a judge to get BBQ during the contest…it’s not for sale to the public.”
After attending a few BBQ festivals around the country, Memphis In May stood out as the world championship BBQ cooking and judging contest in the United States. Then, the couple learned that the Memphis In May organization offered a Judges Training Seminar whereby they could become certified as BBQ judges. Mark and Pat attended and completed the judges’ training, passing the final test in 2016. They became certified Memphis In May judges and participated as judges for the first time in 2018.
The Mound Bayou and Oxford natives wanted to explore a common interest. Pat said, “We wanted a leisure-time interest that would bond us in a different manner of commonality that eludes so many retired couples. Judging BBQ contests creates a familiar environment because you run into many of the same judges over the years as you attend and participate in contests around the country [like] we have.”
Both Mark and Pat received their Memphis In May certification credentials in 2018 and have participated in ancillary judging activities of exotic BBQ. They have even judged Asian BBQ contests, tasting delicacies such as octopus and other specialty meats and seafood. Mark says, “You never know what you’ll be asked to judge… could be a blind judging event where you evaluate taste and texture only.”
Mark and Pat have been selected to participate in the 2023 Memphis In May BBQ contest as official judges where only pork – including whole hog, ribs, and pulled pork – will be judged.
When asked what type of judging they like best, Pat says, “I like to do blind judging because it’s done inside a tent with no walking from tent-to-tent. Steak has become my favorite as pork has become less and less desirable because my grandchildren don’t eat pork. If I’m going to eat pork, there’s nothing like a good pork rib. I especially like judging the Kansas City BBQ contests because they judge steak, chicken, and pork. Mark likes outside judging at Memphis In May that requires more walking from tent-to-tent for pork judging but he’s also more adventurous, having a knack for judging exotic fare.”
Mark and Pat have judged at Memphis In May 2022 at Liberty Park; the 2023 contest will occur down on the Mississippi River. Pat states, “I like my BBQ with my own homemade sweet sauce.” However, Mark says, “When BBQ is done right, no sauce is needed.”
The couple reports that they have become very proficient at preparing and barbecuing at home. Now, they rarely eat BBQ outside of their own home. BBQ beef ribs are the Wise Family specialty, but, every once in a while, they will venture to their favorite local BBQ spots – E&L BBQ and Sonny’s BBQ.