10 Memphis Barbecue Joints You Have to Visit

Each spring, more than 75,000 people descend on Memphis for the World Championship of Barbecue. We scoured the Grind City to find the most authentic barbecue joints you can sample during the event.

By: Joe Sills
Related To:

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

The Bar-B-Q Shop

Halfway between downtown and Midtown’s booming Overton Square district, you’ll find find the Bar-B-Q Shop. Drivers on Madison Avenue can’t miss its neon lights, which beckon BBQ fans to pull over and take a dive into the land of the "Dancing Pigs." Inside, visitors will find a bar filled with authentic, Memphis memorabilia.

What’s popular: Though the entire menu is worth sampling, the chopped pork sandwich is king at the Bar-B-Q Shop. Sandwiches here come wedged between slices of buttery Texas toast. Order like a Memphian and leave the slaw on your sandwich. Then, load it up with your choice of house-made sauces available by the bottle at your table.

Unique treats: Try the potato salad. The Bar-B-Q Shop serves up a sour cream-based potato salad that’s an unstoppable side when partnered with their homemade baked beans. Take notice: this Midtown cornerstone also serves up some of the best sweet tea in the South.

Arnold’s Bar-B-Que & Grill

Arnold’s Bar-B-Que & Grill sits in the shadow of Memphis's downtown baseball stadium, Autozone Park. It’s an anchor for the up-and-coming Edge District, having opened a location in the area in 2018.

Arnold’s may be new to downtown, but they’ve been smoking meat from their Shelby Drive location since 1977. One step inside, and your nose will tell you that the old school flavors have migrated over from the south side of town. The entrance to Arnold’s is located in an alley off of Madison Avenue, and the front door can be tricky to find. Setting your GPS to 331 Madison will take you right to the entrance.

What’s popular: Arnold’s ribs for two is the restaurant’s best seller. Ribs are served dry with a sweet, tangy sauce that carries a thick, smoky flavor on the side.

Unique treats: Arnold’s serves up a mean order of rib tips, and the homemade chicken salad is an underrated house favorite.

Blues City Cafe

There’s a saying in Memphis, "Locals don’t go to Beale Street." Blues City Cafe makes them break that rule. Don’t let the touristy atmosphere fool you, this restaurant is as real as they come. B.B. King, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Yanni—yes, Yanni—have all dined here on the corner of Beale and Second.

What’s popular: If you’re not getting a slab of ribs at Blues City Cafe, you’re not doing it right. You’ll find flavorful ribs all over Memphis, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any as tender as the ones at Blues City Cafe. Almost without fail, they simply fall off of the bone.

Grab a full slab, half dry rub and half wet for the full culinary experience.

Unique treats: Don’t sleep on the tamales. Blues City Cafe was founded by entrepreneurs from the Mississippi Delta—where tamales are an art form. If you need something green to take the edge off of all that meat, the barbecue chopped salad makes for a fantastic change of pace.

Tom’s Barbecue and Deli

If you live by the phrase, "Never eat near the airport," Tom’s Barbecue and Deli will make you reconsider. Located almost within sight of Memphis International Airport, this underground barbecue joint has been smoking pork, beef and chicken in-house since the 1950s. The restaurant itself is a labyrinth of seating areas, at the heart of which lie two enormous barbecue pits.

What’s popular: Rib tips are a Tom’s speciality. The ribs here are slow cooked for an eternity before being blended with a Greek-inspired spice rub and dished out to customers alongside a cavalcade of sides like mashed potatoes, turnip greens and macaroni and cheese.

Unique treats: Ask the staff at Tom’s what they order from the menu, and they’ll point you to the smoked wings. In Memphis, wings are taken nearly as seriously as pulled pork, and a trip to Tom’s is incomplete without at least a sampling.

Cozy Corner Restaurant

World Championship attendees will find Cozy Corner on the outskirts of downtown, about two miles from the festivities at Tom Lee Park. You should be able to access this acclaimed hole-in-the-wall via a short Uber ride or by hopping on one of the city’s omniprescent electric scooter services. Believe us, you’ll want to.

What’s popular: Cozy Corner is the place in Memphis for Cornish hen. These bitesize barbecue birds are no marketing gimmick. They’re slow smoked just like the restaurant's ribs and pork, and they’ve garnered a following that migrated with the business when a fire temporariliy forced the original location to close in 2015.

Unique treats: Don’t let the friendly price tag fool you, Cozy Corner’s barbecue bologna sandwich is a gourmet treat. Pair the sandwich with a glass of sweet tea, which runs neck-and-neck with The Bar-B-Q Shop’s blend for best in town.

Payne’s BBQ

Payne’s has been serving chopped pork sandwiches dripping with their unique, mustard-based slaw since 1972. However, for much of that time, they’ve remained a local secret. A few years ago, word about this "underground" Orange Mound establishment spread like wildfire, making Payne’s one of the better known joints in town.

That newfound cult following hasn’t stopped regulars from coming back again and again.

What’s popular: The chopped pork sandwich is numero uno at Payne's. Simply put: if you’re not ordering the sandwich—with slaw on top—you’re not doing Payne’s justice.

Unique treats: Don’t skip the baked beans. Behind the counter, you’ll find what looks suspiciously like a household kitchen stove. Rest assured that everything coming off of it, especially the beans, tastes like a family recipe straight from home.

Leonard's Pit Barbecue

Leonard’s has been serving pit-style Memphis barbecue for nearly 100 years. Legend has it that Elvis Presley used to rent the place out for private parties in the 1950s and 60s. Though the restaurant is now on its third location, the recipes at Leonard's haven’t changed since the King of Rock 'n' Roll’s heyday.

What’s popular: Leonard’s is best known for its classic, no-frills barbecue sandwich. The chopped pork sandwich comes served between two buns inside a mountain of homemade coleslaw.

Unique treats: The sauce itself is the secret at Leonard’s. Their tangy sauce has subtle hints of fruit and smoke that you won’t find anywhere else in Memphis. If you’re played out on pork, switch things up by ordering a barbecue chicken breast with plenty of dipping sauce on the side.

Pollard’s BBQ

You’ll find this Whitehaven institution just minutes from Graceland on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Pollard's opened in 1996, but relocated to its current location—the former Leonard’s building that Elvis was rumored to frequent—in 2012. In the process, Pollard's paid over $10,000 to move their original barbecue pit to the new restaurant. According to regulars, the move paid off.

What’s popular: Slabs of ribs move quickly at Pollard's. They usually come with a hot or mild wet sauce, but if you want to eat them like Mrs. Pollard, you’ll order the ribs with a dry rub and sauce on the side for dipping.

Unique treats: 77-year old Grandpa Pollard still makes the restaurant’s sausage links by hand. Do yourself a favor and add one to any order. Make room for the barbecue turkey leg, too. By our count, it’s one of the only places in town to score a big bird leg from a pit.

Smoky City BBQ

This North Memphis newcomer is making waves for blending Memphis-style barbecue with a Texas speciality— brisket. Smoky City BBQ has only been open for three years, but in that timespan, the owners say they’ve converted plenty of skeptical Texans to their Memphis-style brisket. The secret, they say, is giving the meat the respect it deserves.

What’s popular: Chopped pork shoulder and sliced brisket. Smoky City’s brisket is slow cooked overnight and served up on a toasted, buttery bun with coleslaw: exactly like the traditional Memphis pork sandwich. The resulting fusion is a savory, sensory overload.

Unique treats: Smoky City has also mastered the art of catfish and crawfish. Add an order of either as a complimentary contrast to your brisket. Drop by on Tuesday night around 9:00 p.m. for karaoke.

Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ

The Neelys are royalty among Memphis barbecue families. They were some of the first to put Memphis barbecue on the national map. In 1989, Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ was named the No. 2 barbecue joint in the nation by People Magazine. And four decades since they opened their doors in South Memphis, the busy restaurant is still wearing a permanent crown.

What’s popular: Due to its legendary reputation and proximity to I-55, Interstate BBQ is a beacon for passing travelers looking for their first taste of Memphis barbecue, as well as swine junkies searching for a taste of an institution. The combo platter is a must here. It comes with beef ribs, pork ribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage links and barbecue spaghetti.

Unique treats: You’ll find barbecue spaghetti on several Memphis menus, but the Neely’s arguably do it the best. Don’t miss a chance to grab this Bluff City speciality from the masters of the trade.

Shop This Look