Chasing BBQ: Memphis Stops

with Mike Johnston
May 30, 2016
Tags: Barbecue Chasing BBQ Memphis

Believe it or not, after 31 stops in Texas I was still raring for more barbecue. So I headed up to Memphis next to find out what makes their regional take on this much loved-cuisine different from the Lone Star State’s. In Texas, I found the secrets of making a standout backyard brisket (along with inspiration for plenty of other tasty morsels), but in Memphis, it was all about pork ribs and rib tips.

Those ribs are prepared and served both "wet" and "dry." Dry ribs are seasoned with a rub then smoked and often served with a generous sprinkle of additional rub for an added boost of flavor. The Memphis-style rub is tangy and sweet thanks to the addition of brown and white sugars along with other traditional barbecue spices like paprika and black pepper. Wet ribs are brushed with sauce before, during, and after the cooking process. Like the Memphis dry rub, the sauce is tangy and slightly sweet, but it also packs a tomato-based punch which sets it apart from other regional sauce variations.

Maybe it's that love of tomato flavor in their barbecue that inspired one of the most unique dishes I found along the way: barbecue spaghetti. This Memphis-specialty originated at The Bar-B-Q Shopand is exactly what it sounds like - spaghetti tossed with a sauce that's a hybrid of traditional marinara and barbecue sauce and topped with pulled pork. The unique menu additions didn't stop there. Coleslaw is common across all the regions I visited, but in Memphis I found it at Payne's Bar-B-Que spiked with mustard for a totally different spin on the classic. Then there were the meat and cheese plates. A tray of smoked and grilled sausage and bologna is served with saltines and cubed cheese as a side or appetizer because, let's face it, it's never a bad thing to have more meat with your meat.

But no matter what sides were offered, the focus in the city that's known as the Barbecued Pork Capital of the World was, unsurprisingly, on using high quality pork and slow-smoking it for meat that's packed with flavored whether it's served dry or wet, pulled or in slabs of ribs. To learn more about my experiences at the 12 barbecue joints I visited in Memphis, click on the name of each stop below to read my Road Journal entries.

2249 Central Ave
Memphis, TN
(901) 272-9377
Co-founder and Pitmaster: Craig Blondis
Don’t miss: The perfectly ‘cued ribs (dry or wet), bbq bologna sandwich, and turnip greens hit with a little hot pepper sauce. Also try the chicken, endorsed by Senior Master Sergeant Jimmy Murphy.

Payne's Bar-B-Que, home to the tangy side dish known as mustard slaw.

1762 Lamar Ave
Memphis, TN
(901) 272-1523
Family owned: Flora, Candice, and Ronald Payne
Loved: Chopped pork, mustard slaw, bologna sandwich, deep fried summer sausage

709 Desoto Cove
Horn Lake, MS
(662) 536-3762
Owner and Pitmaster: Melissa Cookston
Stand Outs: Ribs, cake-like cornbread, turnip greens


52 S. Second St.
Memphis, TN
(901) 523-2746
Charlie Vergos has a great team and one of the best waiters in Memphis: Calvin
Best part: The unique spice rub! Heavily, or rather heavenly-spiced ribs

The buffet at Leonard's. Just one of the Memphis spots serving up barbecue spaghetti.

5465 Fox Plaza Dr
Memphis, TN
(901) 360-1963
Owner: Dan Brown
Don’t skip: Any of the buffets! Barbecue spaghetti, mustard slaw, ribs, lemon icebox pie

1782 Madison Ave
Memphis, TN
(901) 272-1277
Owners: Vernon Family – Eric showed us around
Best pick: ‘Glazed dry’ pork Ribs (true greatness!); also, barbecue spaghetti with Texas toast, tangy pulled pork, and homemade slaw

4523 Summer Ave
Memphis, TN
(901) 761-9898
Stand out items: barbecue wings, potato salad, and purple cabbage coleslaw (with jalapenos and blue cheese!)

A plate full of favorites at A&R Bar-B-Que.

1802 Elvis Presley Blvd.
Memphis, TN
(901) 774-7444
Owner: Pollard Family (daughter Randi showed us around)
Don’t Miss: Rib tips with mild sauce, green beans, fried okra

745 N. Parkway
Memphis, TN
(901) 527-9158
Family Owner & Manager: Bobby Bradley
Pitmaster: Rob Howard
Gotta Have: Cornish hens, rib ends with savory barbecue sauce, coleslaw

2290 S. Germantown Rd
Germantown, TN
(901) 754-5540
Owner: Walker Taylor
Top Picks: Pork rinds with melted cheese, Boss Hog Special (four meat platter—ribs, pork chunks, quarter chicken, sausage), deviled eggs, coleslaw (as good as grandma’s)

4560 Elvis Presley Blvd
Memphis, TN
(901) 398-2987
Owner: Tarrance Pollard
Can’t Miss: Fried green tomatoes, pickles, barbecued bologna sandwich with slaw, ribs with sauce (and made with love)

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