Regional Spotlight: Memphis

Memphis is famous for many reasons, but for foodies, the city’s barbecue is what makes it a place worth visiting. While the barbecue tradition is strong throughout Tennessee, Memphis is the heart of it all, and its versions are counted among the four predominant styles of American barbecue (the others being Kansas City, Texas and Carolina). But luckily for those with curious tastebuds, “Memphis style” barbecue isn’t just one dish – there’s plenty to sink your teeth into.

In Memphis, pork stands apart as the pitmasters’ meat of choice, and from that noble animal, ribs are the favored cut. In fact, Memphis is so good at pork ribs that it’s famous for making them two different ways: “wet” and “dry.”

Those monikers refer to how the meat is seasoned as it’s smoked. In “wet” barbecue, the ribs are slathered with sauce before and then throughout the lengthy cooking process. They’re also swabbed with sauce again before serving. The typical Memphis sauce is a tomato-and-vinegar concoction, but every restaurant has its own – often closely guarded – secret recipe.

“Dry” barbecue refers to ribs that are rubbed all over with a dry rub made of a mix of spices, herbs, brown sugar, salt and whatever other secret ingredients the chef in charge can dream up. After a generous smoking, the result is a tender meat rich with a riot of intermarried flavors – in other words, out-of-this-world delicious.

But barbecue-crazed Memphians demand more from their favorite style of cooking than just those famous ribs. Other local specialties include barbecue nachos topped with pulled pork, chopped pork sandwiches and even barbecued spaghetti, which is said to have originated at local institution Brady & Lil’s (now the Bar-B-QShop).

A trip to Memphis will give you insight into the fine art of barbecue and all of its many incarnations, and you’ll leave with a full stomach – and maybe a suitcase full of sauce and rub. If you haven’t had your fill of barbeque, try a typical Memphis-style rib at home.

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