What is Memphis BBQ?

Memphis is known for its rich history, music, and of course, its barbecue. Memphis BBQ is a unique style of barbecue that is slow-cooked and smoked to perfection. The city is home to numerous award-winning barbecue restaurants, making it the ultimate destination for barbecue lovers. We’ll argue with anyone that we have the best in the world!

Barbecue is an important part of our culture here in the Bluff City. Memphis-style barbecue stands out from the rest! Here in the 901, we tend to lean more towards the pig, specifically pulled pork or a big ‘ole rack of ribs. Memphis barbecue typically uses the highest quality of meat and wood, then allows the slow smoking process to enhance the meat’s natural flavor. This results in pork that is tasty and tender, even without rubs and sauces. Memphis is best known for its dry rib for that reason.

You can’t turn a corner in Memphis without smelling that signature smoke, a smell synonymous with the best barbecue in the world. Of course, we don’t discriminate, options such as, beef, sausage, turkey, and all parts of the chicken — especially wings, can be considered barbecue too.

What is the Difference Between Kansas City, Texas, Carolina, and Memphis BBQ?

Every region and state “known” for its BBQ has its own way of doing things. Kansas City BBQ is known for its use of a thick, sweet tomato-based sauce, while Texas BBQ is all about the beef and is typically served with a spicy sauce. The Carolinas are big on their different sauces and the East Coast states prefer their meat sliced and tangy. Still, no one does it quite like Memphis.

Memphis BBQ is all about the pork and is served with a tangy, thin sauce. The slow-cooking process is also different between the three styles, with Memphis BBQ being cooked over a low, slow fire, while Kansas City and Texas BBQ are cooked over high heat.

History of Memphis BBQ

Memphis BBQ has a long and fascinating history. The unique blend of spices and sauces used in Memphis BBQ can be traced back to the early 1900s when African American pitmasters first started cooking pork shoulders and ribs over slow-burning wood fires. Over time, this style of cooking became popular in the city, and the rest, as they say, is history.

A lot of the variation in barbecue flavors and sauce can be explained by geographical factors. Since Memphis is a port city, there was access to a wider variety of ingredients to slab on the meat, plus molasses was an ingredient that was easily attainable because it was shipped right up the mighty Mississippi River so that kinda became the style – lots of spice and a sweet, tomato-based sauce.

Memphis BBQ Sauce

Memphis barbecue sauce has its own distinctive flavor. Though the specific ingredients will vary from cook to cook, Memphis sauce is usually made with tomatoes, vinegar, and any countless combination of spices. It is generally thin, tangy, and somewhat sweet.

Memphis sauce is poured over pulled pork or served alongside dry ribs. Some of the top barbecue joints in Memphis have their own unique signature sauce, such as Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and Central BBQ.

Discovering the Best Memphis BBQ Joints

You’ll have to download the Memphis BBQ Trail map for the full rundown, but here are some hints at where to start. Some of the top barbecue joints in Memphis include the Bar-B-Q Shop, A&R Bar-B-Q, and Central BBQ. Each of these restaurants has its own unique style and signature dishes, so be sure to try them all to find your favorite.

Memphis Popular BBQ Sides

Common sides are coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans, greens or green beans, and mac and cheese. And let’s not forget the banana pudding! Hungry yet? Some restaurants serve a bun with your order, cornbread, or a toasted slice of bread. Whether you make a sandwich or just use it to soak up some of the delicious sauce, it’s what we like to say, “Smack Yo Mama Good!”

If you are at a BBQ restaurant and are at a loss for what to order, start with a pork sandwich and you won’t be disappointed!

Don’t see your favorite on the list?

Let us know. Tag @wearememphistn to share your can’t-miss BBQ spot!

Find out more about Memphis food & restaurants.