Pack your stretchy pants and loosen that belt for some swine dining in Memphis.
There are more than 117 barbecue restaurants in Memphis; more if you count the baby back ribs or chocolate dipped applewood smoked bacon at the Peabody Hotel’s Sunday Brunch. The city is famous for its pork-centric style of ‘cue, where they’re best known for their slow-cooked ribs (either served “dry” or “wet”—sloshed in a tangy sauce) and their slow-smoked pork shoulder barbecue sandwiches. More power to anyone strong enough to withstand the meat sweats-inducing challenge of trying out all 117 restaurants while in town (although many of them now ship around the US!), but there are only 10 essential stops necessary for completing a successful barbecue crawl through Memphis during your trip.
Neely’s Interstate BBQ
The secret is in the sauce at this iconic barbecue joint, where owner and founder Jim Neely began selling his smoked creations back in 1979. Interstate Barbeque’s menu includes the classic pork ribs and chopped pork, but it’s their Bar-B-Q Spaghetti Dinner that attracts most diners. An Interstate original, this Italian dish gets a Memphis spin with a hearty helping of seasoned Bar-B-Que pork bathed in his signature sauce that’s then poured over spaghetti pasta with a side of slaw and bread.
INSIDER TIPSave room for the Sock-It-To-Me Cake for dessert and be prepared for a sugar rush, totally worth the eventual crash.
With a décor scheme straight out of the 1950s and surroundings that include a decaying strip mall, it’s not hard to say that you don’t go to Cozy Corner for the ambience; you go for the ribs, which are slow cooked to perfection. Original owner Raymond Robinson was known for saying his secret ingredient was the smoke that came from years of juices dripping onto the hickory coals in the pit. Nowadays, it’s Raymond’s son who mans the pit, where he serves up one of the city’s best Cornish game hens famous for its smoky and spicy finish.
Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
Locals now know it best as “The ‘Vous,” but Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous has been a Memphis institution since Charlie Vergos opened up a permanent establishment back in 1948. Follow your nose to this elusive alley entrance where the smell of barbecue smoke will have your mouth watering before you even lay eyes on the front door. Start with a cheese and sausage plate and save room for the divine dry-rub pork ribs and brisket combination platter with a side of beans and slaw.
The Bar-B-Q Shop
Family owned and operated, The Bar-B-Q Shop is a Memphis favorite that serves up something for everyone, with a famous and filling order of ribs known as the Boss Slab and a lighter option of barbecue pork salad. Their barbecue veggie burger has converted meat lovers to the green side on more than one occasion—don’t knock it till you try it.
Throw a rock and you’ll likely hit a barbecue joint putting a barbecue spin on a classic Tex-Mex dish, but Central BBQ’s nachos are the ultimate in Memphis-Mex. Pulled Pork is served atop a bed of tortilla chips, which then gets topped with barbecue sauce, cheese sauce, shredded cheese, and jalapenos. The nachos are finished off with a light dusting of Central’s signature barbecue shake. Diners have referred to these nachos as “life-changing,” and with three options of meat for the topping (chicken, beef, or turkey), chances are you’ll find your life-changing combo in less than three visits.
One & Only
Living up to its name, One & Only is the one and only home of the Junkyard Dog. This Memphis-style hotdog is topped with a quarter pound of pulled pork, mild barbecue sauce, coleslaw, barbecue baked beans, hot giardiniera, and French fries. Locals order their dogs with a side of turnip greens, and the add-on is so popular they often run out each day. Opt for the delicious Brunswick Stew during winter to warm up with this steaming bowl of smoked pulled pork, shredded chicken, and fresh vegetables in a richly seasoned, barbecue chicken stock.
Mamma Payne and her two boys have mastered the art of the barbecue sandwich at this former gas station location. Payne’s BBQ in Memphis is a hidden gem in an off the beaten path locale. Their sandwich comes with low and slow roasted pork shoulder that is then served either pulled, chopped, or sliced with a scoop of slaw on top.
Don’t let the line of cars fool you, Corky’s is one of the rare “’Cue on the Go” restaurants where you get quality even though it’s served quickly. They call their barbecue sandwiches “Memphis on a bun,” and they do it well. Among the most popular items on the menu is the barbecue pork shoulder sandwich—do yourself a favor and add an order of their fried pickles to your meal; you can thank us later.
Germantown Commissary’s All-You-Can-Eat-Ribs special puts this suburban eatery on the map for Memphis barbecue. The special is only available Monday nights, and the meaty order comes with beans, slaw, a deviled egg, and bread. The rest of the week, their pork tamales shine as the best-kept secret on this saucy menu, and their banana pudding is worth the trip alone.
Leonard’s Pit Barbeque
Leonard Heuberger opened the doors to Leonard’s Pit Barbeque in 1922, selling barbecue sandwiches for 5 cents a pop. Legend has it that Elvis was a regular, often keeping the shop open until sunrise after his shows in town. The Deep South Salad at Leonard’s is said to be the original barbecue salad, but the barbecue dinner is a classic, with pork shoulder piled high on a platter with beans, slaw, and wedge fries.