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​Memphis-Style BBQ

January 10, 2019 Prepared By Dax

Memphis is famous for both its blues and barbecue heritage. The city is considered to be one of the big four regions for American barbecue, and its people have enjoyed the “powerhouse of pork” reputation for as long as can be remembered. While many other regions are pork-centric, Memphis-style is commonly referred to as “whole hog barbecue,” and the pits are built to accommodate. Memphis is home to the World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest that focuses on “the Whole Hog” and how the barbecue restaurant menus revolve around that.


Pork has been an integral part of Tennessee ever since domesticated pigs were first introduced by the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, around the mid-1500’s. From then on, the South seemed to embrace the power of the pig! The early days consisted of informal get togethers with music, food and families that became the fabric of the region. After World War II, it seemed the pit masters’ entrepreneurial spirit boomed in the form of small barbeque shacks across Tennessee. A few of these historic places, like Payne’s Bar-B-Que, still operate in their original locations and reflect the roots of this great culinary region.

The early barbeque shacks were referred to as juke joints and would house both barbeque and blues. Memphis seemed to embrace the culture of the food, music and gatherings brought to these establishments like no other region. Today, barbecue, as well as music, are still a huge part of the town’s identity, hence the nickname Home of the Blue’s. Memphis celebrates every spring with the World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest on the banks of the Mississippi River and it is known as the “Super Bowl of Swine.” Memphis houses some of the best whole hog barbecue joints to be found anywhere.


  • FIRE: The purist will never stray from a real fire for the smoky flavor. Many today use charcoal fortified with wood chips, and others exclusively use hardwood to fuel their craft. While there may be a slight debate in this area, the one thing they do agree upon is that a serious pit master would never use strictly gas as the sole heat source.
  • WOOD: Historically, hickory hardwood is the most prevalent in Memphis-style barbecue. Although today, fruitwoods, like pecan woods, are gaining acceptance with the pit masters for their delicate flavors.
  • MEAT: Memphis-style barbecue is characterized by pork, but to be more specific, they are a whole hog region using all of the meat. It simply is not Memphis-style barbecue without it. That doesn’t mean that joints won’t offer other meats, but pork is center stage here. Other offerings include:
    • Beef brisket.
    • Chicken.
    • Bologna.
    • Sausage.
    • Turkey.
  • RIBS:
    • Baby back or spare ribs? Both are offered, and both are very acceptable. Some of the joints in more modest parts of the city will focus on the more economical spare rib.
    • Wet or Dry? This is a common question when you order ribs in Memphis. The difference is as simple as it sounds. Dry means the ribs only have a dry rub applied to them during the cooking process. Wet ribs are basted with sauce during the cooking process and before serving them.
  • MEMPHIS-STYLE SANDWICH: A pulled pork sandwich, the region’s specialty, is served on a simple white bun, topped with a little tomato barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
  • SAUCE: It is traditionally a thinner, tomato sauce with a vinegar base and moderate to low heat. But, the Memphis in May event has a few categories and breaks tomato based and vinegar based apart as separate sauce profiles. Much of Memphis barbecue is served dry or rubbed.
  • RUBS: Traditionally, dry rubs contain: paprika, black pepper, mustard powder, brown sugar and cumin. But this is an area that is liberally added and subtracted from.
  • VARIATIONS: Memphis seems to be a region more than others where people love to put their pulled pork on top of anything. Just about every menu has some special option like the ones listed below:
    • Barbecue nachos.
    • Barbecue smoked spaghetti.
    • Barbecue baked potatoes.
    • Barbecue quesadilla.
    • Barbecue fries.
    • “Redneck taco” – pulled pork and a hoecake (a pancake made with cornmeal). It got its name from originally being made on the blade of a hoe.
    • Barbecue pizza (add banana peppers and you have Elvis’s favorite pizza).
  • SIDES: Like any Southern region, the sides are almost just as much the barbecue experience as the meat itself. Common sides found in this region are:
    • Potato salad.
    • Coleslaw.
    • Fries.
    • Deviled eggs.
    • Macaroni and cheese.
    • Baked beans / pinto beans.
    • Hoecake.
    • Brunswick stew.

As developers at Asenzya®, we look to popular regional specialties and ethnic cuisines that will draw attention. Memphis-style barbecue drives home a regional comfort food that is very approachable to a vast array of consumers. If you have any questions on how to develop this or any other trend, please feel free to reach out to Asenzya® and allow us to guide you on your next flavor journey.


Germantown Commissary

ADDRESS: 2290 S. Germantown Road, Germantown, TN 38138
WEBSITE: http://www.commissarybbq.com/
WHAT TO GET: Ribs and pulled pork sandwich.
NOTES: Small, but amazingly great food.

Payne’s Bar-B-Que

ADDRESS: 1762 Lamar Ave., Memphis, TN 38114
WEBSITE: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paynes-Bar-B-Que/157672144255356
WHAT TO GET: Pulled pork sandwich, with a side of incredible yellow slaw.
NOTES: One of the old classics where you get the true feel for Memphis BBQ. One of my top picks.

Central BBQ

ADDRESS: 2249 Central Ave., Memphis, TN 38104
WEBSITE: https://cbqmemphis.com/
WHAT TO GET: Ribs and pulled pork sandwich.
NOTES: Very solid.

The Bar-B-Q Shop

ADDRESS: 1782 Madison Ave., Memphis, TN 38104
WEBSITE: https://thebar-b-qshop.com/
WHAT TO GET: Ribs, pulled pork sandwich, and smoked spaghetti.
NOTES: Great place to get the current feel.

One & Only BBQ

ADDRESS: 567 Perkins Extended, Memphis, TN 38117
WEBSITE: http://oneandonlybbq.com/
WHAT TO GET: Pulled pork sandwich.
NOTES: Nothing too special.

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint

ADDRESS: 410 4th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37201
WEBSITE: https://www.martinsbbqjoint.com/
WHAT TO GET: Ribs and pulled pork sandwich.
NOTES: Not in Memphis, but from the region.

Memphis in May International Festival

ADDRESS: 56 S. Front St., Memphis, TN 38103
WEBSITE: http://www.memphisinmay.org/events/world-championship-barbecue-cooking-contest/event-details/
WHAT TO GET: Anything pork that the contestants will let you try. For health code reasons, they are not permitted to sell you food at the competition. So, you have to convince them to give you a piece or two.
NOTES: Amazing spectacle of smoked pork!

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