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Memphis Barbecue

August 12, 2007
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register


 This Downtown, back-alley dining room that started in 1948 with a slab of  ribs and an old coal chute has blossomed into a barbecue icon over the years. More than the city’s most famous BBQ restaurant, Rendezvous now ships its famous dry-rub ribs all over the world.


 One of the country’s biggest BBQ franchises didn’t begin life with an “LLC” after its name. The original Corky's opened its doors in Memphis in 1984, serving up meats slow-cooked over hickory wood and charcoal. Ribs are well- trimmed, and every smoky-sweet shoulder is still hand-pulled. Save some room for the homemade apple cobbler.


 Interstate BBQ owner Jim Neely spent some two and a half years perfecting his sauce recipe from scratch. He’s spent the past 20 or so years dishing out some of the best ribs and sandwiches in the world. If you’re feeling daring, sample the original BBQ spaghetti—a Memphis tradition that started right here.

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Memphis is the “Pork Barbecue Capital of the World” and is noted for its many famous barbecue restaurants and Memphis in May International Barbecue Cooking Contest.


 The Neely Brothers (Patrick, Tony, Gaelin and Mark) may have learned the basics from Uncle Jim, but their recipes are uniquely their own. Neely’s is arguably the perfect representation of Memphis BBQ. Perhaps that's why it’s served at Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Tigers home games at FedEx Forum arena.


 Only Memphis could pull off BBQ fast-food style. And that’s exactly what this local favorite does, with more than a dozen locations in and around the city. The shoulder here is finely chopped and served with a tangy, mustardy sauce that doubles as a superb dip for your requisite side of crinkle fries.



 Opened in 1972 by the late Emily Payne and her son, this converted gas station/garage still uses the same sauce recipes Mrs. Payne learned as a child. While the standard mild sauce is somewhat sweeter than most, the hot sauce is downright nuclear. But don’t fret. The cool, tangy-sweet slaw is enough to douse the fire.



 Tucked away in an unassuming Midtown strip mall, Frank and Hazel Vernon’s place (now run by son Eric) is home to one of the most original and distinctive sauces in town: their famous Dancing Pigs sauce. The Shop also offers what many swear are Memphis’ best wet and dry ribs, and their sandwiches (on thick Texas toast) are otherworldly.


 Memphis In May Barbecue Contest veterans Roger Sapp and Craig Blondis began Central BBQ in 2002. The sandwiches and ribs are predictably awe- some, but the tie-dye-adorned staff manages to crank out a few surprises, too. Homemade potato chips are sold by the bag, the BBQ nachos are Memphis’ best and the BBQ portabella sandwich will make any vegetarian feel at ease.


 Raw cinderblock and fluorescent lighting set the tone at this no-nonsense dining parlor, just a few blocks north of Graceland. Beyond the outstanding wet (and dry) ribs and chopped pork sandwiches, A&R also serves up an assortment of other down home dishes. The catfish and tamales are both outstanding, and the meatballs-on-a-stick are, well, meatballs-on-a-stick.


 The most popular sandwich here features traditionally non-Memphis-style sliced beef and a thin, vinegary sauce, and the slow-cooked ribs are on any Q-connoisseur’s short list. But the real innovation at this Downtown staple is the barbecued Cornish hen—served with a few slices of the freshest Wonder Bread anywhere. (The bakery is just blocks away.)

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