A champion pitmaster offers a taste of Memphis’s smokin’ hot barbecue scene
Our Local Expert:
Memphis-based barbecue chef Troy Black has traveled the world competing in barbecue contests, racking up thirteen state championships in the process. He’s also written two books on the subject: The Big Book of BBQ and All Fired Up.
What makes Memphis an iconic barbecue city?
It goes back to our blues music—blues and barbecue just go together. Barbecue isn’t only a food, it’s an event. It’s hanging out with friends, eating, and enjoying good music. When you walk down Beale Street, you smell the barbecue and hear the blues; that’s something you won’t find anywhere else.
What is Memphis’s barbecue style?
We’re known as a pork town, generally pulled or chopped pork instead of sliced. Our sauce is tangy and sweet with a little vinegar. A lot of people associate Memphis barbecue with dry-rubbed ribs—the downtown restaurant Rendezvous, for example, is very well known for theirs. Something else we’re known for is our barbecue spaghetti. I’m not sure you’ll find the dish anywhere else. Most of the longstanding barbecue restaurants here, including the Bar-B-Q Shop and Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue, have some version of it.
Which local barbecue restaurants are your favorites?
The original Central BBQ; order the barbecue nachos. They’re loaded with pulled pork and lots of sauce and cheese.
My favorite place to get ribs is the Bar-B-Q Shop. They’re consistently moist and tender, and the flavor of their sauce with those ribs makes it my favorite in town. This is also the place to try barbecue spaghetti because they originated it.
Another one is Cozy Corner. It’s off the beaten path—make sure you go in the daytime—but people flock to this place. It’s low-and-slow pulled pork and ribs at their finest. This is where you can order a really good pork sandwich.
As far as desserts go, there’s a barbecue restaurant in Germantown called the Germantown Commissary, and you’ve got to stop there to get the banana pudding.
Where do you go when you’re sick of barbecue?
A Korean deli called Kwik-Chek; they have a fantastic Korean noodle bowl there. Oh God, it’s so good and so authentic. I also love the fried chicken at Gus’s. Even after all my travels, I still think it’s the best fried chicken in the world.
When all that cooking and eating gets to be too much, where do you go to burn calories?
Memphis has some of the best walking and biking trails around. We have a Riverwalk here that goes up and down the Mississippi that’s really wonderful. And of course nothing beats walking downtown on Main Street along the trolley line.
You’re a regular competitor at the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest during Memphis in May. What’s that like?
I’ve competed in well over 400 barbecue contests, and there’s nothing like that one. It’s as much a huge party as it is a cooking contest. There’s live music, big smokers, extravagant cooking sites, and lots of samples. It’s also such a beautiful setting at Tom Lee Park along the river. It’s something people have got to do at least once in their lives.