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All ‘Cued Up


This city’s barbecue is the stuff of legends

In Memphis, it’s all about the ribs. And the pulled pork. And the chopped pork. Even barbecue spaghetti (a local favorite combining barbecue sauce with traditional marinara). This city’s barbecue is the stuff of legends, and it’s serious business.

While Memphians will argue to the point of breathlessness that their city has the best ‘cue in the world, it’s a simple question of preference that splits the city’s barbecue lovers in two: Wet or dry?

When visiting Memphis, it’s a good idea to be familiar with both styles of ‘cue. Wet-rib lovers slather their ribs in heavy, sticky sauce that covers the fingers and tantalizes the taste buds—finger lickin’ good, literally. Fans of the dry version claim the sauce covers the smoky flavor of the meat and prefer their racks to be sprinkled with a seasoning known as “rub.”

Where to Get It:
Locals are loyal not only to their wet or dry ribs; they’re also fiercely loyal to their favorite ‘cue joints.

Rendezvous is tucked away in an alley just a few blocks from Beale Street and has served its dry seasoned ribs since 1948. Owner John Vergos is quick to point out that there’s nothing dry about his family’s dry ribs. “Technically, yeah, they’re dry, because we don’t slather them with sauce. They’re not wet, not dry, they’re juicy,” he explains. “The whole point of barbecuing is to bring out the flavor of the meat, so quality is key.”

Barry Pelts, co-owner of Corky’s Bar-B-Q agrees with his culinary cohort on starting with quality ingredients. “You just can’t cut corners in this business,” says Pelts, who specializes in both wet and dry barbecue. “You use the best quality meat, hire the best people, and give the best service. It’s pretty simple.” Modest sentiments from a man whose East Memphis location alone cooks a minimum of 144 pork shoulders daily.

Midtown Memphis is also home to the Bar-B-Q Shop, which serves ribs and pulled pro sandwiches; Payne’s BBQ, famous for chopped sandwiches topped with a tangy, mustard-based coleslaw; and Central BBQ, known for great mea and a variety of sauces.

Tops Bar-B-Q has a funky diner feel with five-star fare, and Neely’s, whose ‘cue—not to mention the outgoing personalities of owners Pat and Gina Neely—earned them a show, “Down Home with the Neely’s,” on the Food Network.

For something a little different, a visit to downtown’s Cozy Corner is in order. The small, no-frills place smoke devilishly good Cornish Hens and has one of the only sliced barbecue sandwich in town. Or head on over for a giant BBQ sandwich at Interstate Bar-B-Q, run by Jim Neely and wildly popular with out-of-towners and locals alike.

No matter where you find yourself, whether you choose wet or dry ribs, mild or spicy sauce, pulled or chopped pork, you’re going to leave this city happy—and full. “The worst barbecue in Memphis is better than the best barbecue in any other city,” says Pelts. 

Bar-BQ Shop, 1782 Madison Ave., 901-272-1277
Central BBQ, 2249 Central Ave., 901-272-9377
Corky's, 743 Poplar Ave. W., 901-405-4999
Cozy Corner, 745 N. Pkwy., 901-527-9158
Interstate BBQ, 2265 S. Third St., 901-775-2304
Neely’s BBQ, 670 Jefferson Ave., 901-521-9798
Payne’s BBQ, 1762 Lamar Ave., 901-272-1523
Rendezvous, 52 S. Second St., 901-523-2746
Tops BBQ, 14 area locations, 901-323-9865

This article has been adapted from the original, which was published in October 2008 by MSP Communications.

Spill It: Tell Us What You Think!

Ric Anderson
You left off one of the best BBQ joints in Memphis, "One and Only BBQ and More" in the Germantown area at 1779 Kirby Pkwy. Amazing ribs, far better that Corky's or Neely's.
5/22/2009 3:45:03 PM

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