Best Memphis Barbecue
Memphis may be known as the "Home of the Blues," and the "Birthplace of Rock 'n Roll," but the city has another, tastier feather in its cap: "Barbecued Pork Capital of the World." Die-hard barbecue fans and local foodies know this city cooks up some of America's best barbecue, ranking as home to one of America's most famed styles, alongside Kansas City, Texas and Carolina-style fare.
What makes Memphis' style unique is its penchant for pork products (ribs, shoulders, tips, the whole gamut!), and slow cooking the meat in a pit, known as "pit barbecue." In a town so beholden to smoky pork products, it’s hard to pick the best of the best. Still, we've dished on our top picks for the best Memphis barbecue.
Diners can sink their teeth into all manner of barbecued delights at Central BBQ, like pork shoulder and ribs, dry-rub wings and smoked sausage. Favorites include a pork plate with “bark,” the dark, heavily smoked crust that barbecue lovers devour. Homemade potato chips dusted with Central's special blend of seasoning make for a tasty side dish. Wash this goodness down with a cold brew from the restaurant's selection of craft beers, including Memphis's own Ghost River. If the food weren't enough to lure you in, perhaps the location will. Central BBQ is situated along bustling Central Avenue, in midtown Memphis, and its large outdoor deck serves as the perfect people-watching setting on a warm evening.
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Tom's Bar-B-Q and Deli might serve up some of Memphis's most unique barbecue flavors. The founder, Tom Sturgis, was a Greek immigrant, and Tom's barbecue rub calls upon his Greek heritage with a selection of spices that include oregano, garlic, paprika, red and black pepper, thyme, basil, nutmeg and cinnamon. Incredibly, all the beef and pork at Tom's is marinated in this spice rub for a whopping 24 hours. While you'll be hard-pressed to find anything on the menu that isn't amazingly good (most popular are the baby back ribs, beef brisket and pulled pork), Tom's is unsurpassed in its rib tips, which are smoked on an open pit over hickory wood and charcoal, then served with Tom's signature sauce.
Payne's Original Bar-B-Q
Located in a former auto service station, dimly lit Payne's may not offer up much in the way of atmosphere, but a down and dirty vibe is perfect for this barbecue haven. Payne's Original Bar-B-Q dishes up one of Memphis's best -- and messiest -- chopped pork sandwiches, and has been doing so since 1972. Though the menu list is short, it doesn't matter; you're here for one thing: Payne's pork sandwiches served chopped or sliced, smothered in your choice of mild or hot sauce, topped with a tangy, day-glow-green, mustard-infused slaw.
Burying your face in an order of A&R Bar-B-Q's pork ribs is a heavenly experience; tender and juicy meat falls off the bone and is enhanced by pitch-perfect seasoning. Order the dry-rub ribs, so that the flavors of the meat -- smoked in pits on the property -- won't be masked by any sauces and can be fully enjoyed. Arrive with a group and get the best of all A&R has to offer by ordering a mash-up of the restaurant's top picks: a half-slab of the pork ribs, smoky dry-rub rib tips and a chopped pork sandwich.
Prepare yourself for a wait upon arriving at Cozy Corner; this popular Memphis barbecue landmark is notorious for long lines. Cozy Corner has made a name for itself by perfecting barbecue classics like ribs, rib tips wings and smoked sausage. Still, the real reason folks flock to the Corner is a slightly more surprising dish: smoked Cornish hen. That's right, Cozy Corner serves up a delectable Cornish hen, its meat succulent and tender, the skin perfectly crispy and the whole bird glazed with a tangy sauce.
Some barbecue evangelists argue that Charlie Vergos's ribs are not "true" barbecue because they are grilled with direct heat over charcoal rather than pit smoked. Still, no other joint in Memphis has become as iconic as "The Vous," as it’s known, which has been serving their version of barbecue in the city since 1948. The house specialty is the dry-rub ribs, coated in a tasty crust flavored with paprika and oregano. Sure, the place feels like a tourist trap -- it's a massive maze of tables filled with historic barbecue-themed tchotchkes, located down an alleyway in the business district -- but you'll stand in good company should you pay it a visit. The Vous has hosted the likes of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Justin Timberlake and Mick Jagger.