Pork Capital of America
There’s more to Memphis than Elvis. Its barbecue has long been a hallmark of soul food, linked with the city’s blues history since the beginning. This is succulent pork barbecue, not the beef commonly used elsewhere, and it’s pretty much the rule that the best meals in town are also the sloppiest.
Of the hundreds of barbecue joints in Memphis, a number are world-famous multigenerational institutions in business for more than fifty years and with no-frills decor that’s just as old. The short list of major leaguers includes the Rendezvous, or ’Vous, where 10,000 meals a week are served in a boisterous college-beer-dive atmosphere. The ribs here aren’t smoked but grilled, and are dry-rubbed with spices after (and sometimes before) they’re done – a style of barbecue found mainly in Memphis.
The place is hidden in an alley near the city’s grand old Peabody Hotel, which is worth a visit just to see the famous twice-daily parade of trained ducks, who waddle across the neo-Renaissance lobby to the music of John Philip Sousa.
The dry rub can be used on chicken, the signature dish of Cozy Corner, also famous for barbecued bologna and deliciously charred rib ends. For an equally beloved variation, try the wet ribs at Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que, slathered with a thick, sweet-and-tangy basting sauce of the finger-lickin’ kind. The same sauce also shows up on a curiously delicious house specialty, barbecued spaghetti.
For barbecue nirvana, show up at the cutthroat World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, part of the city’s annual Memphis in May bash. More than 300 teams from around the world congregate to grill on the waterfront, using their own secret recipes for the uniquely American art of barbecue.