To understand exactly what one means when one speaks of Memphis barbecue, this quote sums it up: '"It's not barbecue if it didn't have a curly tail." And, the best way to get to know why the pig is king in Memphis is to go on a day-long barbecue binge.
Yes, the pig rules when it comes to Memphis-style barbecue, whether it's a pulled pork sandwich or a rack of ribs. Or both. Memphis is known for dry rub - a tangy mixture of spices that no pit master will ever divulge, rubbed onto the mean - mostly ribs. You can have wet ribs, too. (That means with your choice of hot, medium or mild sauce.)
Coletta's barbecue pizza was a favorite of Elvis Presley, and it's still on the menu today — Photo courtesy of Stephanie Jones
Before setting out, it's important to know that everyone in town has a favorite restaurant for each kind of barbecue. They'll recommend ribs at one place and a pork sandwich somewhere else, while their spouse will say just the opposite. So half the fun of your barbecue binge is making up your own mind. (And don't try this alone. What fun would that be?)
So, let's go: First, let's start with brunch. On Saturday and Sunday at about 11 a.m., Central BBQ opens for lunch. Pick Central's pulled pork nachos. Grab a table on the patio, a cold local beer and dig into those nachos, which are piled high with pork, shredded cheese, sauce and the gooey nacho cheese.
Barbecue - it's what's for brunch, lunch and dinner in Memphis — Photo courtesy of Stephanie Jones
Work off the snack with a walk down Central to one of the antique markets, and then head out for your second stop - Coletta's. Elvis Presley and his gang - dubbed "The Memphis Mafia" - used to hang out at Coletta's, which was likely the first restaurant to put pulled pork on pizza. Genius! There's an entire room dedicated to Elvis at the restaurant, and the scrumptious barbecue pizza is still on the menu.
Ribs are up next, so hit Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous - a downtown institution of barbecue nirvana. Then scoot a bit east from central downtown to the basic storefront of Cozy Corner, where you'll have a slight departure from pork and snack on a barbecued Cornish game hen. Worry not: Your loyalty to the pig is not in question. Finally, it's time for an amazing pulled pork sandwich from Payne's, topped with a mustard-y slaw.
Since you'll be darn close to a barbecue coma at this point, you can drive through your last stop: Corky's. Maybe some lighter fare - a sausage and cheese plate or a pulled pork salad - will assuage your binge guilt.