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Coleman’s Bar-B-Q Pit & Grill is not your swanky bbq tourist attraction with celebrity-signed autographs. It’s a simple old school bar-b-q shop that offers standard Memphis fare-smoked shoulder, ribs, rib tips, smoked sausages, fried catfish, slaw, beans and the like. There are three Coleman’s BBQ stores that I know of. Two are in northern Mississippi a short drive outside of Memphis in Hernando and Senatobia. The one in Memphis is on Millbranch.
My first experience with Coleman’s was with my family several years ago at the Hernando location en route to visit my father’s grave near Arkabutla Lake. This old-school bbq joint served the Memphis classic tangy-style sauce with a great “bbq slaw” that really complemented the sandwich, all on top of mildly smoky pork shoulder. My only objections-I would’ve liked more smoke and more bark, since it was unfortunately mostly an all white meat sandwich. The Coleman’s BBQ in Hernando did not serve ribs, but I did take home a bottle of the tangy sauce, which I’ve served at home with barbecue, burgers and a Memphis original, barbecued bologna. It’s the sauce that has that very distinctive sour pickle tanginess that can be found at many Memphis-area bbq shops, such as Tops BBQ. It’s basically Blue Plate bbq sauce (originally out of Louisiana) or some variation of the sauce with some added ingredients. It’s not uncommon for some Memphis area bbq joints to doctor up a store bought sauce. While many bbq restaurants in and around Memphis serve this tangy-style sauce, the Coleman’s in Hernando is the only one where I have been able to purchase a bottle of their take on the sauce, although I have picked up a gallon jug of Blue Plate bbq sauce from Charlie’s Meat Market on Summer Ave in Memphis.
In early 2010 I paid a visit to the Memphis location on Millbranch across from Granny’s Market, after a co-worker swore they were the best in Memphis. Pulling in, the pits were smoking with the fragrant aroma of pork spare ribs dripping over coals. Just like many other mom-n-pop bbq joints in Memphis, popular menu items were painted right onto windows, but my mind was already made. It had to be smoky ribs! I got them to go and ate them from a Styrofoam box (yes, while I was driving). The ribs weren’t “fall off the bone” tender, but had a more pork chop-like texture. These charcoal-pit ribs were nonetheless smoky and very savory. The meat had that nice crusty bark I so enjoy. A visible and smoke ring told me that the meat was smoked before I ever took the first bite.
In 2015 I returned for ribs again. This time the ribs were more tender. The meat pulled easily from the bone. I think they were actually smoked the previous day, then reheated on the smoker, because the smoke ring was faded, but plenty of smoke flavor was still present. Reheated or not, the interior of the meat was actually quite juicy and not at all dry. As before, the seasoned bark was flavorful and added nice contrast to the tender meat. My only complaint-for the first time at Coleman’s Bar-B-Q, I noticed a hint of charcoal fluid flavor. It’s a misstep that is unfortunate, because I really enjoy modest little bbq shops like this one. It’s a missed opportunity. I think they could be considered one of the better bbq joints around town, if it weren’t for that one problem. More and more pit-masters are going to more natural means of barbecue fuel. The original Mr. Coleman passed away a few years ago, but I hope that the current owner follows this trend away from chemicals and chemically saturated coals. Interestingly enough, it is an old-time bbq joint, serving old-time flavors, that just needs to get back to the really old-time burning methods.
Here are a few notes about the ‘que:
- Ribs-On the first visit, the ribs were similar to the texture of grilled pork chops. On my second visit, the meat was more tender and pulled easily from the bones. On both visits, the ribs had a well-seasoned and flavorful bark. (Millbranch, Memphis, TN)
- Shoulder-The meat was tender and not dry. (Hernando, MS)
- Ribs-The ribs had great charcoal pit smoke flavor on both visits. On the second visit, I detected a slight charcoal fluid taste in the meat. (Millbranch, Memphis, TN)
- Shoulder-The meat was only mildly smoky and lacked bark. It was unfortunately mostly an all white meat sandwich.
Sauce-a popular tangy style sauce in Memphis with sour pickle notes, most likely made using Blue Plate bbq sauce, originally from Louisiana.
Slaw-a finely chopped, crunchy, tangy slaw that complimented the pork.