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A lot has changed since the 1960’s… but you wouldn’t have known it sitting in the Corned Beef House on Jackson Ave. in Memphis. Some culinary historians might dub the place a “grease house,” where even the smoked shoulder is chopped and brought to back temperature on an oiled griddle. It’s not my first choice for reheating shoulder meat, but for some, a little extra grease just means a little extra love in the food. The small green, white and graffiti-covered building was just around the corner from the better known Cozy Corner BBQ. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to experience this historic diner before it closed for good, especially because they served barbecue and are therefore, a little piece of Memphis bbq history. I didn’t ask, but I assumed the pork shoulder and ribs were smoked in the old propane pit out back.
Barbecue was sold only on Saturdays and the corned beef was the staple. As with many old-school bar-b-q institutions in Memphis, the sauce played second fiddle to the meat, and emphasis was on the smoky charcoal-pit barbecued flavor. As such is the case, the sauces offered there were merely commercial-Kraft for the chopped shoulder sandwich and KC Masterpiece for the ribs. I picked up ribs, a bbq sandwich and of course, a corned beef sandwich and took it all home to the family to eat with some sides at the house.
The ribs were tender and had an excellent charcoal-pit taste, but there were drawbacks. The meat was too fatty for my taste. I don’t like to have to dig through a lot of fat to get to the meat. Also, I noticed a hint of charcoal fluid taste in the meat. Perhaps the pit-master didn’t allow all of the charcoal fluid to burn off before placing on the meat. Or it may be that my taste was acute enough to recognize any trace of charcoal fluid after cooking without it for so long, opting instead for the cleaner and more natural flavor achieved using more natural methods.
There was yet one final drawback. The ribs were reheated in a microwave behind the counter. As I later discovered, the meat still had nice smoke flavor, but when I saw the ribs being popped into the ‘nukebox’ I got a little worried about how they would turn out. Of course I have reheated my own ribs at home in the microwave and they were just fine. It seems a little uncouth for a restaurant to serve ribs in such a way, but at an old school type of diner like the Corned Beef House, things are done in a homier fashion. Overall, the ribs were well-seasoned, had a great crisp bbq bark on the outside and were tender and smoky inside.
To my surprise, the shoulder sandwich was actually tasty. It was the only griddle-heated shoulder I’ve had that turned out OK, and I’ve had a few. The buns were toasted on the griddle and picked up some of that greasy crispiness-in a good way. Despite the fact that the shoulder was chopped and reheated on the griddle, it was a meaty, smoky sandwich. The corned beef sandwich was served with long strips of corned beef heated for a few seconds on the griddle, and then piled high on buttery griddle-toasted rye bread. It was quite tasty with mayonnaise.
“I used to sit on the stools and just watch old men smokin’ pipes and tellin’ lies” a co-worker told me about his experience growing up at the Corned Beef House. It was a simple place from a simpler time.
Here are a few notes about the ‘que:
- Ribs-Tender, but fatty. Had a nice bark.
- Shoulder-Tender despite being reheated on a flat griddle.
- Ribs-Had a nice charcoal-pit smoke taste, but a hint of charcoal fluid taste.
- Shoulder-Light, but noticeable smoke flavor.
Sauce-KC Masterpiece was used for the ribs and Kraft for the shoulder.
Slaw-Standard crunchy, creamy, tangy slaw that complimented the pork.
Thanks for visiting my Memphis bbq blog! Tim Shirley