Blake and I stopped by Arnold’s Bar-B-Q here some years ago, where we shared smoky ribs and a deliciously sloppy sandwich as we watched TV in this unassuming little bbq shop. Always looking for a new bbq spot to discover, I ask around often, hoping to find the next best bbq joint in Memphis. That’s how I learned about Arnold’s. A supervisor at work told me that he really liked “a little place called Arnold’s BBQ” near his house. Until then, I’d noticed glimpses of Arnold’s BBQ in a few listings, but hadn’t heard anyone talk about the ‘que. So in the spring of 2009 I paid a visit with my then four-year old son, Blake to this simple and cozy little bbq shop located in a strip mall on Shelby Drive. We enjoyed both meats and the bbq sauce.
The sauce embodied all of the elements of a standard barbecue sauce: both tangy and sweet and not too thick or too thin (thick enough to have ‘stickability,’ thin enough to have flow). Blake and I both really liked it. I also enjoyed firin’ things up a bit with Arnold’s hot bbq sauce, a common Memphis bbq sauce staple. I usually go for a tangy not-so-sweet sauce for a bar-b-q sandwich and a sweet and tangy sauce and dry rub seasoning (or no sauce) for ribs. But I thought that Arnold’s bbq sauce was a well-rounded sauce that complimented both. The sweet, the heat and the tang created a complimenting trio of bbq sauce flavors poured over the smoky barbecued meat. The shoulder meat itself had a good combination of smokiness, tenderness and bits of crisp outer crust mixed throughout. Combined with the slaw, these are key elements of any soulful Memphis-style bbq sandwich.
As much as I enjoyed the sandwich, I liked the smoky, tender ribs even more. I didn’t ask about smoking fuel, but I believe that I got flavors of both wood and charcoal. The crusty seasoned exterior (bark) contrasted beautifully with the smoky and tender interior meat. If I’m having wet ribs, I usually enjoy sauce that has been glazed on. But sauce poured over smoky ribs is still good-like bbq gravy. I like to think of it as bbq comfort food. I particularly liked the fact that at Arnold’s the sauce didn’t completely cover the meat. Instead of drowning the meat in sauce, some of that beautiful, seasoned bark remained exposed for a nice combination of dry and wet ribs. After having Arnold’s smoky barbecued meats and tasty sauce, I came to the conclusion that this little chophouse represents a good standard for Memphis barbecue. And who knows, if the other Arnold ever gets that Memphis bbq taste in his mouth, he just might say, “Hasta la vista baby” to Cali and decide to make his new home in the Bluff City!
Check out my Quick-Fire Guide below, including photos of Arnold’s Bar-B-Q. Also check out full reviews and Quick-Fire Guides of other bbq restaurants from my BBQ Guide
Here are a few notes about the ‘que:
- Ribs-Ideally tender. The meat pulled clean from the bone without struggle.
- Shoulder-tender, not dry and with nice crusty bits of bark
- Ribs-wood and possibly charcoal flavor
- Shoulder-milder smoke flavor than the ribs had
Sauce-nice balance of sweetness, tanginess and heat in the hot bbq sauce they offered. Not too thick or thin.
Slaw-slightly creamy, tangy, with bits of crunch that complimented the sandwich well.
Thanks for visiting my Memphis bbq blog! Don’t forget to leave me your thoughts. Tim Shirley