The Lowdown on Memphis BBQ: Why it’s Time to Give it the Recognition it Deserves

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The city of Memphis is known for many things. It’s the place where Elvis Presley’s music career started and is the location of Elvis’ home Graceland. It also has the iconic Hernando-Desoto or simply the I-40 bridge that’s in the shape of the letter “M”. Memphis is also known for being the home of Ja Morant, the star point guard of the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA.

One more thing is that Memphis is famous for its food. And when it comes to Memphis food, there’s nothing more notable than Memphis Barbecue. It’s practically the official cuisine of Memphis–at least, that’s what plenty of tour guides and websites say.

But you know something? Memphis barbecue is often overshadowed by Kansas BBQ and/or Texas-style barbecue. However, that’s not fair to Memphis barbecue–it has a taste and identity of its own!

That’s what you’ll discover in this blog article. Keep on reading and find out why Memphis Barbecue is great and should get more recognition–and why it’s known (and deserves to be known) as the pork barbecue capital of the world.

What is Memphis Barbecue?

When someone says, “Memphis Barbecue”, what should be the first thing that comes to your mind? Well, the answer to that is pork! Memphis-style barbecue is known for its emphasis on pork, especially pulled pork and ribs.

Don’t worry, though: in case you happen to be in Memphis and don’t eat pork, barbecue makers or pitmasters still smoke beef, sausage, chicken wings, and other styles of meats. But in Memphis, you can be sure that the pitmasters will prioritize pork, no matter the part of the pig.

Oh, and they’re called “pitmasters” because genuine Memphis barbecue is slowly cooked in a barbecue pit.

The other aspects of Memphis Barbecue are the use of a dry rub made with various spices, herbs, and sugar, and it being served with a sweet and smoky tomato-based sauce with a tangy finish for added flavor on the side. Memphis restaurants will serve your barbecue with various sides such as coleslaw, cornbread, baked beans, greens, mac and cheese, and cornbread.

What Makes Memphis Barbecue Unique?

Okay, now you know what Memphis Barbecue is. But what makes it unique and stand out from other famous barbecue styles in the US? Well, here are four things to take note of.


When it comes to the history of the art of barbecuing pork, there’s a reason why Memphis is the king of it. Historically, the first pigs in the US arrived way back in the 1540s. They came with Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto.

What’s the significance of this fact? Well, the explorer eventually brought these pigs to the place that would eventually be called Memphis. During the winter season, he and his men made camp with Chickasaw Indians. Records show that a pig roast with the Indians happened–barbecue-style cooking, if you will.


In short, way before Memphis became an American city, it has been home to pork barbecue for a long time.

Plus, when it comes down to it, Memphis is a city that can really claim that it has a widely-recognized barbecue style. After all, since the early 1920s, celebrities like Bing Crosby have been visiting Memphis to experience Memphis barbecue!

Multi-Cultural Flavor

Memphis has always been a major distribution area. And during the Civil War, it was one of the many places where black people fled to escape the Confederates. That made it a melting pot of cultures. And that’s the reason why there’s no one definitive style of Memphis barbecue.

Also, since Memphis is a port town, pit masters have easier access to other ingredients they want to try on their barbecue, as well as other things to barbecue. The diversity makes it more fun since you’ll be able to taste different ways of cooking pork as well as other things.

The Dry Rub and Sauce

Before Memphis pitmasters cook their barbecue they rub it down first with different spices, herbs, and sugars. That’s unlike the other barbecues in the US which are likely slathered with sauce. This method allows the meat to take center stage.

Each Memphis barbecue joint has its own secret blend of dry spice. However, you can be sure that all Memphis-style rubs have paprika and garlic.

Pitmasters have their own blends of sauce. Generally, though, the sauce is thin, tomatoey, and a good mix of sweet and spicy. As mentioned above, the sauce is served on the side. Eaters can just dip their pork into the sauce while eating.

These two things also help to make Memphis-style barbecue less messy to eat!

Family Traditions

As mentioned above, Memphis is a melting pot of different cultures. That means it also houses a lot of different families. And with different families come different recipes!

That’s the reason there are plenty of restaurants in Memphis all selling Memphis-style barbecue. Each has its own distinct flavor and recipe. Some recipes even date back to 100 years old.

Enjoy the different varieties of barbecue–just don’t try to ask the barbecue joints what’s inside their recipes!

How BBQ Bolsters Memphis’ Economy

​​One more thing you should note about Memphis Barbecue is that it really helps the economy of Memphis. Aside from the barbecue being a must-try for any foodie, there’s the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. It draws plenty of people (think over 100,000) and plenty of competitive teams.

Ticket prices start at $15–imagine how much that helps the people of Memphis!


Plus, all the local barbecue joints are reasons why people come over to Memphis. It’s called “Barbecue Tourism.” And because of that, the restaurants get people to cook, as well as keep ordering ingredients and things they need to successfully cook their signature barbecue.

Imagine how many people get jobs and earn money just because of the Memphis pork barbecue!

Final Thoughts

To sum things up, Memphis barbecue is a unique cuisine that has a rich history and cultural significance. Its presentation and taste set it apart from other barbecue styles in the United States. Not only is it a delicious culinary experience, but it also plays a significant role in the economy of the city of Memphis.

What other barbecue style can be described as such? That makes Memphis barbecue deserve to be recognized and stand out on its own!