What Is Memphis-Style BBQ?

Home of the Memphis In May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Competition, Memphis is known for its unique style of barbeque, but what makes it so special? To sum up Memphis-style barbeque, you could simply use four words: tasty and tender pork. Served “wet”, with sauce, or “dry”, without sauce, the delicious smoked pork is savory and tender with plenty of flavor, even without barbeque sauce. Whether you are enjoying pork ribs or pulled pork, both typical of the Memphis style, you can be sure the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and full of flavor. The key to tender and tasty pork, the trademark of the Memphis style, is smoking it slowly over a low hickory fire. Although smokers vary, as well as individual smoking techniques, smoking ribs at 250 degrees for about four-and-a-half hours should do the trick. If you’re smoking pork butt, a temperature of 225 degrees for about eight hours is recommended.

In addition to the slow smoking technique, the use of a dry rub is crucial for Memphis-style barbeque. While most Memphians will not divulge their dry rub recipes, which vary greatly and incorporate a wide variety of ingredients, a true Memphis-style dry rub will be paprika-based and have a perfect combination of savory, sweet, and spicy flavors. The paprika and other spices give the smoked pork a rich, reddish color and provide enough flavor that barbeque sauce is often not needed.

Another technique common in Memphis-style barbequing is “mopping”. A mop can be created by adding water to the dry rub, creating a thin sauce. This sauce is then applied to the ribs or pork butt about every 30 minutes as they smoke, adding even more to the flavor and tenderness of the meat. Mopping is important in the process of smoking the pork because it maintains the moistness of the meat.

While Memphis-style pork is delicious without barbeque sauce and does not necessarily need any, many people choose to eat their ribs or pulled pork “wet”, or with sauce. A barbeque sauce typical of the Memphis style is slightly sweet, incorporating both vinegar and tomatoes. The thinnish sauce is poured over a pulled-pork sandwich or served on the side of a slab of ribs.

Arguably the most popular version of the Memphis-style pork is slow smoked ribs. Spare ribs cut St. Louis Style are commonly used as well as baby back ribs. Although many people may prefer ribs, some argue that the trademark of any Memphis-style barbeque is a nice, juicy pulled pork sandwich, preferably topped with sweet and fresh coleslaw.

Whether you prefer ribs or pulled pork, with or without barbeque sauce, one thing is for sure: If you appreciate great barbeque, the Memphis style, packed full of flavor and tender goodness, may be for you.

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