5 Things to Know About Memphis BBQ

Fire Smoke & Flavor, Regional Spotlight

Memphis, Tennessee, marked the third stop on Williams-Sonoma’s Fire Smoke & Flavor tour, where the team learned the ins and outs of smoking flavor-packed ribs. Here’s what makes that city’s barbecue style unique.


1. Ribs, Two Ways

Ribs are the staple of Memphis barbecue, and customers can order them wet or dry. Wet rubs have been basted with a tangy sauce that is vinegar and tomato based, and is thinner than the Kansas City-style sauce. Dry rubs have been seasoned with a spice rub instead of a liquid.


2. Shake It

At Charles Vergos’ famous barbecue joint we visited, Rendezvous, cooks use a large shaker to douse the ribs with the dry rub. Memphis-style rubs include herbs and spices (usually a secret house mix), but paprika and garlic powder are also classic ingredients.


3. Signature Sandwich

The flavor and texture of Memphis barbecue meat varies among pit masters, but the regional pulled pork sandwich remains the same. Slow-roasted pork shoulder — ordered “pulled,” meaning shredded by hand, or “chopped” — is piled on a bun with a layer of slaw. A squirt of sweet sauce, made of vinegar, ketchup and chili powder, may be added.


4. Open Fire

One thing most Memphis pit masters can agree on is cooking over an open charcoal fire. Unlike other barbecue regions, no oak or hickory wood chips are required.


5. Nonstop Barbecue

Memphis doesn’t stop with barbecued ribs and pulled pork. The city has branched out into barbecued bologna, barbecued spaghetti and even Cornish hen.

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