Barbecue pizza is all the rage these days. It’s a hot bbq entrée in Memphis and now, even abroad. Little Caesars sought to capitalize on the bbq trend, seen in their “Smokified!” commercial with legendary pit-
master, Big Moe Cason. Countless other chain pizza restaurants have jumped on the bbq pizza bandwagon as well, but to get the real deal, you know where to get your smoky pie-Memphis! After years of adventuring my way through barbecue from well over 200 bbq joints, soul food restaurants, bars, food trucks and roadside pits in the Memphis tri-state area, I’ve unearthed some bbq pizza gems along the way. I’m here to guide you to the besy bbq pizza around, but before I share my insider intel, allow me to honor the inventors of this beautiful bbq creation-Coletta’s Italian Restaurant.
Many articles have recounted the story of how Coletta’s began topping pizzas with barbecue in Memphis in the 1950’s to make pizza more attractive to southerners, since the Italian classic was not yet a mainstream dish nationwide. As the story goes, Elvis himself became a regular, requesting a regular dose of the pit-smoked bbq pizza.
If only I could go back in time to experience the original Coletta’s bbq pizza! As I understand, the famous Italian restaurant stopped smoking the pork years ago, opting for a large meat roaster instead. They still serve their beautifully crafted bbq pizza, just not quite like their original smoked meat version.
Despite the lack of smoke, I still find myself returning to Coletta’s from time to time, because it’s a piece of Memphis bbq history and because it’s still just so good. In 2016, I returned to Coletta’s, hoping to interview Jerry, but he wasn’t available. Mrs. Coletta, however, was
kind enough to give me a tour. In her heels, she carefully and gracefully descended old, uneven steps into the basement, where I was allowed to see the meat roaster and get some pictures for my blog. Despite the fact that there was no wood, charcoal, smokestack or smoke, that big roasting pit
still turned out tender, succulent pork. The handmade pizza crust, fresh grated cheese (using a giant meat grinder, only used for shredding cheese) and homemade not-too-sweet bbq sauce, were all quality ingredients that complimented the pork. It’s a carnivorous indulgence for any meat-lover.
As readers will discover, I’m all about real-pit bbq. And Coletta’s may no longer smoke their pork, but they did create smoked pork bbq pizza in the 50’s, and we’re all reaping the benefits of it today. So, smoke or not, I’m a fan of their food, family and contribution to barbecue. But if Coletta’s ever decides to return to their old ways of smoking pork for their bbq pizza, I just might move into that old basement! To read more about the history of Coletta’s, and the switch they made from smoking to roasting their pork, check out this article from the Ghost Pit Chronicles, or watch Bobby Flay’s interview with Jerry Coletta from one of his older Food Network shows, BBQ With Bobby Flay.
Now that we’ve paid tribute to the undisputed king and queen of bbq pizza, I’m almost ready to unveil my Top Eleven picks for Best BBQ Pizza in Memphis. But first, allow me to establish some criteria for legitimate, Memphis, real-pit-smoked bbq pizza, the way it was originally created.
BBQ means smoke. There has to be smoke. Real bbq pizza, means pizza topped with real-pit charcoal or wood-smoked barbecue. That’s my focus in this article. And smoke compliments pizza perfectly. Think about those delectable oak-fired oven pizzas, kissed with a wisp of wood smoke. Or imagine how much you enjoy pizza, when it’s topped with hickory-smoked bacon or smoked gouda. And I can’t forget about the freshly ground, stuffed and wood-smoked beef pepperoni pizza, made in-house at Rod’s Pizza Cellar in Hot Springs, Arkansas (Thanks for taking us there Tammy and Les). Smoke on pizza works, and it works well. Now for the criteria:
Memphis BBQ Pizza Criteria
- Locally smoked pork. For the purposes of this article, my focus is on bbq pork pizza, topped with meat that has been locally smoked. Locals may notice that some long-time, established Memphis pizza institutions are missing from this list. That’s because, during my search for the best bbq pizza in the Memphis metropolitan area, I
discovered that some of these restaurants offered a bbq pizza was topped with either oven-roasted pork or a smoked pork product shipped in from an out-of-town distributor-neither of which classifies as locally smoked, real-pit Memphis barbecue. By the southern, cultural definition of barbecue, the meat has to be smoked. Condiments are secondary. Roasted pork on a pizza with bbq sauce, could better be described as bbq “inspired” pizza. As for “factory bbq,” I’m only interested in bbq pizza topped with locally smoked pork, from the Memphis Tri-State area.
- A house-made crust is coveted, but not necessary. That’s because the focus here is the smoked meat. In my list, you’ll find a few bbq joints that use a store-bought crust, then pile it with their own wood-smoked pork shoulder. I can respect that. They’re saying, “I’m not a pizza joint, I’m a bbq joint, and I’ll stick to my area of expertise.”
- Barbecue meat that is smoked in-house is also coveted, but not necessary, as long as it’s locally sourced. I also respect the pizza parlor that makes a beautiful handmade crust, then tops it with smoked pork shoulder that’s been locally sourced from a Memphis area bbq joint or pit-master. In this case they’re saying, ” I’m not a bbq joint, I’m a pizza joint, and I’ll stick to my area of expertise.” Using locally smoked pork, sourced from a local bbq shop or pit-master, gives the bbq pizza its authenticity as Memphis bbq pizza.
Pizza and Beer (and BBQ) It’s widely accepted that pizza and beer (and bbq and beer for that matter) go hand in hand, but we’ll ante up that perfect marriage with brew from our own Memphis microbreweries. Barbecue is my focus and what I’ve spent years studying. Admittedly, I’m no beer expert, but I am a fan of our local brew. So as we journey our way through Memphis bbq pizza, I’ll suggest some locally brewed beers to
pair with the pies. Any input from local beer experts is welcome in my comments section. Since we’re enjoying locally crafted bbq pizzas, it’s only fitting that we enjoy some Memphis microbrew to go with them. Artisanal beer for artisanal pizza. There’s no better way to enjoy this classic food and beverage pairing. Memphis beer in particular has an advantage over many other microbrews around the country, since the process starts with already naturally clean water. The city is positioned right on top of a giant underground artesian well, which provides us with naturally mineral-filtered water. As I’ve traveled around the nation, It’s sad to find yellow tap water with floaties. I’m spoiled on our clear and clean water. And as an added benefit, it produces a crisper, more refreshing beer!
I’m no pizza expert either, but I do have some points of reference. I’ve enjoyed pizza at Lombardi’s in New York City, America’s first pizza shop, along with other NYC pizza eateries. I also lived in northern Indiana for a few years while in college, just forty five minutes from Chicago. While there, I experienced Uno’s deep dish pizza in Chicago and even Chicago’s own version of thin crust (a baking soda crust, usually cut into squares). While doing a summer culinary internship at Hog and Hominy as a prep guy right here in Memphis, I was introduced to amazing hand-crafted Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzas from their oak-burning oven. At home, I’ve dabbled with all of these styles of pizza crust, including thin and crispy flatbreads, such as Italian piadina. After using the oven, pizza stone and a simple wood grill, I’ve found that I appreciate all methods, but prefer grilling mine directly over wood coals. After lightly charring and crisping my crust, I finish the pizza from indirect heat away from the coals with the lid closed, to create a smoky oven. At any rate, I’m a fan and student of pizza, but my focus in this article is on the barbecue and how it compliments or is complimented by the pizza..
So without further ado, here are my favorite spots in the Memphis tri-state area for smoked pork barbecue pizza, simply listed alphabetically instead of by rank. Read carefully, and you’ll discover FIVE BBQ PIZZAS in particular that are marked with my signature Memphis BBQ Guide flame icon . Those are my absolute personal favorite bbq pizzas-the best of the best. And you just might be surprised at where some of them come from!
The Top 11 BBQ Pizzas in the Greater Memphis Area
Aldo’s Pizza Pies (Midtown Location)
Aldo’s Pizza Pies offers a their own take on bbq pizza with a crispy crusted pie, topped with wood-smoked bbq from the ever popular Memphis joint, Central BBQ. I can respect any pizza joint that focuses on their specialty, but sources barbecue locally for their bbq pizza. It’s still smoked, and it’s still local. The collaboration results in their deliciously
crispy, cheesy, smoky pie. We decided for some variety, by ordering a half-n-half pizza. The bbq half came topped with the smoked pork and bbq sauce from Central BBQ, mozzarella and red onions. Aldo’s calls it, The Memphis. I particularly enjoyed the pulled pork pieces with bits of the crispy outer bark included. It’s the part of the meat that gets the most smoke. The other half of our pizza, the Willie Cheech & Bob pizza, was Aldo’s jerk chicken pizza, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, jerk chicken, red onion, mango chutney, and jalapeño. Fantastic! We enjoyed both halves. Since the bbq sauce was rather sweet, I recommend for those who don’t care for sweeter bbq sauces to consider asking the server to go light on the sauce, or just ask for sauce on the side to add as needed to avoid masking the smoked pork. The crispy-edged crust and smoked pork were the stars in this bbq pizza. We enjoyed ours on the rooftop patio of the midtown location, which just happens to be neighbors with the Memphis Made Brewery. I’m sure there’s a way to take advantage of that.
Local Beer Pairing: Try Memphis Made’s Reverberation or Wiseacre’s Gotta Get Up To Get Down-both coffee stouts. Coffee and desert pair well, balancing each other. Likewise, the sweetness of The Memphis, will best be balanced by either of these local coffee-blended beers. Alternatively, the relative bitterness of any local IPA could balance the sweetness, for those who like in-your-face hops. For that, I like Wiseacre’s Ananda.
Double J Smokehouse and Saloon
Double J Smokehouse and Saloon is located inside the Clarion Hotel, just seven miles across the bridge from downtown Memphis into West Memphis, Arkansas. West Memphis is definitely within the influence of Memphis bbq. Besides that, Double J originally opened in downtown Memphis’ Civil Rights Museum district, later relocating to
West Memphis. Double J’s bbq pizza could surely be described as a smokehouse pizza, given the generous portion of wood-smoked pork that it’s topped with. I prefer a crisper pizza crust on the bottom and edges than this one offered, but it did its job as a vehicle for the real star-the hickory and oak-smoked pork. The moist pork, with lightly crispy edges of the smoky “bark” exterior crust, was complimented by a the well-balanced tangy-sweet bbq sauce and stretchy blend of cheeses. If perfectly balanced smoky meat is what you expect on your bbq pizza (and any self-respecting bbq pizza lover should), Double J delivers. Of all the bbq pizzas around town, this one stood out as one of the smokiest and therefore, one of my personal faves.
Local Beer Pairing: As a bbq pizza with such well-balanced flavors, I like the balanced Riverbank Red, by Ghost River. It’s just a great all round beer. The smooth hops with a bit of tanginess and a touch of sweetness compliment this smoky bbq pizza. Since it is a rather heavy pizza, a local coffee stout, such as Memphis Made’s Reverberation or Wiseacre’s Gotta Get Up To Get Down might be a good idea if you want to keep the party alive a while longer.
High Point Pizza
High Point Pizza is a charming pizza parlor tucked away in a beautiful Memphis neighborhood with a park-like setting near the Galloway Golf Course. This beautiful barbecue pork pie was topped with moist and tender, smoked pork, locally sourced from a
veteran bbq competition team-Pigs O’ War, according to owner Spencer Hays. The handmade crust was buttery and blistered, with some crispiness on the outside edges, but slightly spongy inside for pliability. Since the pie was layered with a classic marinara sauce, then topped with bbq sauce, it had qualities of both classic Italian pizza and Memphis bbq pizza. I highly recommend the bbq pizza from this quiet neighborhood pizza joint.
Local Beer Pairing: The deliciously buttery crust and smoked pork will be cleansed from the palate perfectly by Ghost River’s crisp and refreshing Golden Ale.
Isabella’s Pizza is a tiny strip-mall pizza parlor in Bartlett, a suburban town of the Memphis metropolitan area. I’ll just say right off the bat, that Isabella’s amazing house-made pizza crust is one of the very best I’ve ever placed in my mouth. It’s a New York style crust, with crispy edges and a light crisp on the bottom, but slight sponginess inside, so that the pizza droops a little, allowing for the New York pizza fold. The melty cheesiness was complimented by smoked pork, sourced locally from Brad’s Bar-B-Q nearby. My slice also had just the right amount of a sweet and tangy bbq sauce to as to compliment, but not overpower the pork. I would’ve liked more smoke flavor from the meat, but combined with all of the other elements of this incredible pizza, there was enough smoke flavor to result in an excellent bbq pizza. If they ever amp up the smoke flavor in their pork, Isabella’s could definitely contend for the best bbq pizza around Memphis. For now, the perfect pizza crust, oozy cheese, bbq sauce and tender pork, kissed with a bit of smoke, makes an outstanding bbq pizza that landed in my top eleven very best Memphis bbq pizzas.
Local Beer Pairing So as not overpower the tamed smokiness of this one, I’m pairing this amazing pizza with High Cotton’s smooth, almost creamy Scottish Ale.
In 2015 my family had the pleasure of staying in a New York City apartment, a few blocks from Central Park in Manhattan. For a
week, we lived like New Yorkers, as we walked and took the subway all over the city (thanks for that amazing experience Becky and Jed). Now that I’ve spent some time in New York’s Little Italy, I have to say that this little Memphis pizza parlor of the same name actually does feel like a pizza shop that’s been carved right out of the New York City neighborhood. But this NY-Style eatery also knows that Memphians have a taste for smoke and have crafted for us, a deliciously cheesy bbq pizza. Like Aldo’s, Little Italy sources their smoked pork from the hip midtown bbq joint, Central BBQ. The bbq sauce, however, is Sweet Baby Ray’s. Combined with the awesome hand-made crust, this bbq pizza collaboration works really
well. I enjoyed some smokiness, sauciness and plenty of cheese. For those who don’t want a buttery crust, this one was not at all oily, but still maintained a nice ratio of crispy edges and bottom, with that slightly spongy inside that allows for folding, New York style.
Local Beer Pairing Some recommend against IPA’s for pizza, fearing that it will overshadow the pizza, but I think this one works. The hops of Wiseacre’s Ananda are strong enough to balance the Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce, but not too bitter so as to overpower the pizza itself. It’s the malty element that I think compliments this pizza. If IPA is not your thing, consider Wiseacre’s Tiny Bomb.
Loven Fresh Baking Co & Smokehouse
A mere twenty five minute scenic drive outside of Memphis in Oakland, TN, sits an unassuming little bbq shop adjacent to a laundromat, that’s turning out some of the best bbq pizzas in the Memphis Tri-State area. Chris McKnight began his little bakery/bbq shop when his banana nut bread became a local sensation. He also picked
up some pit-skills hanging out with a local bbq team, and the bakery/bbq shop was born. In recent years, Chris decided to take a step back from daily baking a wide variety of artisanal breads, to focus on bbq pizza. With a bbq pit shack on the side of his bbq pizza joint housing a huge steel pit, wood logs, his personal recipe bbq sauce and pizza ovens, he’s carefully crafting one of the very best bbq pizzas available. It’s the one I’ve showcased in the first photo at the beginning of this article. The crust offers both crispiness and pliability. His tasty, sweet and tangy bbq sauce perfectly compliments the smoky pizza and can also be purchased in glass jars (similar to Mason jars). In addition to the quality cheese and bbq sauce, it’s also the fruitiness of the bell peppers that add that something extra. But in the end, it’s the hickory log-smoked pork-a perfected artisanal barbecue that elevates this bbq pizza to the next level. To really experience one of the very best bbq pizzas, just enjoy that country drive to this little old-time store and get your hands on one!
Local Beer Pairing For this artisanal, smoked pork bbq-topped pizza, I’m going with what I believe is the most perfectly crafted, artisanal beer in Memphis-Memphis Made’s Fireside Amber. Both the beer and the pizza actually have a similar amber color and smoothness. Both are balanced in all flavors, but the wonderful smoke will be tastefully balanced by the roasted malty hops of Fireside Amber, which is rich in flavor, but smooth on hops. I haven’t found it bottled or canned yet, but Memphis Made beer can be found on tap at growler filling stations and restaurants all over Memphis. On Memphis Made’s website, they’ve posted a Beer Locater page, but if you don’t want to chase down a growler station, just grab some local brew from a grocery or wine store. Joel, an employee at Loven Fresh, recommends Ghost River Golden Ale, or Wiseacre’s Tiny Bomb. I agree, since both of those selections are well-rounded beers that will go well with most any pizza.
Lucchesi’s Ravioli & Pasta Company
Lucchesi’s is actually an Italian deli and pasta maker reminiscent of a charming little New York City Italian deli. Walking in, you’ll feel like you’d just been transported to Brooklyn. Besides pasta and deli sandwiches, Lucchesi’s also offers Italian pantry goods, as well as other high quality goods, such as the amazing, smoky Benton’s bacon, out of the Smoky Mountains (better than double-smoked bacon). But my favorite spot in Lucchesi’s is their take-n-bake pizza counter. Some might think it odd that I’m including a take-n-bake pizza to my list of very best bbq pizzas in Memphis. But I’m including it, because…it is! It’s one of the best because the pizza has superb artisanal elements that create a quality pizza, not to be found in just any pizza shop. The fantastic handmade crust has that perfect crispiness on the edges and bottom that I love so much, while maintaining enough soft interior crust for pliability. Among the pizza crusts around town, this one is most definitely a favorite of mine. The smoked pork comes from one of my favorite bbq
restaurants in Memphis, Germantown Commissary BBQ. The meats there are smoked with wood logs only, no charcoal. And the sauce is a sweet and tangy bbq sauce, spiked with an interesting blend of spices. That gets topped onto one of Luchessi’s amazing house-made crusts with a blend of cheeses and packaged with instructions for home-baking. If you’re still not convinced, here are a few benefits of getting Luchessi’s take-n-bake bbq pizza:
- You get to choose the ingredients as it’s being made. The bbq pizza comes with standard toppings, but the pizza is assembled right behind the counter in front of you and I’ve always been asked what else I’d like on it, or what I might want to omit. For the bbq pizza, I usually get it as it comes. But I like the option of being able to ask to actually see the quality of any ingredient I may or may not want on my pizza.
- You get to choose the method for cooking it. Bake it on a pizza stone, grill it, or pop it in an outdoor pizza oven, if you’re fortunate enough to have one of those lovely little domes.
- You get it right when it comes out of the oven. You get it at its very best-hot, melty, crispy and fresh.
So after making my case for Luchessi’s take-n-bake bbq pizza, all that’s left to do is to take your own trip to Brooklyn, right here in Memphis.
Local Beer Pairing With the special blend of spices in Germantown Commissary’s bbq sauce, I’m going with cleaner flavors that won’t conflict. Tiny Bomb by Wiseacre is one of my go-to beers and offers robust hops, with a clean, crisp finish. And since it’s one of Memphis’ most popular beers, it can easily be found all over the city-an accessible beer for an accessible pizza.
Midtown Crossing Grill
Octavia Young’s Midtown Crossing Grill offers a fun twist on a Memphis classic. Her bbq pizza creation reflects the style of her hip pizza joint-eclectic and innovative. It’s called The Smoke House, but it could have easily been called Smokehouse on the Beach. If a bbq pizza and tropical pizza consummated, the child would be Octavia’s bbq pizza, because it brilliantly and successfully includes elements of both into one pie. The pizza gets topped with locally sourced smoked pork, cheddar, bacon,
pineapple, red onions, cilantro and a balanced swirl of sweet and tangy bbq sauce. The moist and smoky pork is barbecued by former Cozy Corner pit-master, Richard, who you’ll see front of Cozy Corner’s glass-walled pit in one of my articles of the famous bbq joint. The sauce is a semi-homemade bbq sauce that Octavia adds her own secret touch to. One might think this bbq pizza is too sweet, but the slightly bitter, earthy cilantro, smoky, salty bacon and tangy cheddar cheese, all aid the smoked pork in balancing the equation. The handmade crust provides buttery, crisp edges and a crisp bottom to support the ingredients, while maintaining the flexible bend you’d expect from a great slice of pizza. The total combination results in one of the best bbq pizzas in Memphis, with a touch of the tropics.
Local Beer Pairing A clean beer is needed to allow all the wonderful ingredients on this pizza to shine. Ghost River’s Golden Ale or perhaps their Prestige (a pilsner) will aptly refresh the palate, without obscuring all of the amazing flavors of this flavorful pizza. For something that’s still clean and crisp, but a little “hoppier,” go with Wiseacre’s Tiny Bomb.
Pete & Sam’s
Pete & Sam’s is an old Memphis Italian restaurant institution-so old, one of their original menus lists Spaghetti with Meatballs at $1.50, Spaghetti and Bar-B-Que Half and Half at $1.65, Bar-B-Que Chicken at $2.00 and Filet Mignon for $2.85! But before you assume that this is yet another Italian restaurant that sources out the bbq, think
again. Pete & Sam’s actually smokes their own pork in-house, thanks to Sam Sr. passing on his pit-skills. Not only did he have barbecue prowess, he had a bbq restaurant, that once stood right across from Pete & Sam’s, called The Rib Palace, during the 70’s and early 80’s. A fire ended the barbecue joint, but not the barbecue, which still lives on at Pete & Sam’s to this very day. In fact, Sam Sr. yearly puts his skills to the test with his barbecue team, Sicilian Smokers at the most prestigious pork bbq competition in the world, the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Of course, Italian cooking
skills are employed as well at Pete & Sam’s. The ultra thin, house-made crusts provide the perfect crispy canvas for the cheesy, smoky bbq pies. The cheddar provides some tanginess and a certain creaminess, while the mozzarella provides that stretchy goodness we all love from a good slice. This perfect blend of cheeses, combined with their original recipe bbq sauce and the moist hickory smoked pork, including those tasty bits of smoky exterior bark, all piled onto their crispy crust, makes it one of the cheesiest, creamiest, smokiest, sweet-n-tangy, crispy bites you’ll ever have the pleasure of enjoying. For a taste of smoky history, Pete & Sam’s offers a Memphis bbq pizza experience not to be missed.
Local Beer Pairing This bbq offers a certain tanginess from the cheddar and from the sauce, which I think will be complimented by a smooth beer, such as High Cotton’s Scottish Ale or Ghost River’s Riverbank Red.
Jeremy Denno has brought his Northeastern pizza pedigree to Memphis with his increasingly popular Rock’N Dough Pizza, and we’re fortunate to have him. I mean, let’s face it-up north, any experienced pizza chef within the influence of NYC style pizza has the potential to put together some pretty amazing crusts. RND does that. They provide a premium pizza experience. From the first bite, I knew that they’d quickly become one of my favorite pizza shops in Memphis. I’ll attempt a description here, but to really “get it,” you’ll have to experience a heavenly slice of RND for yourself. Just from picking up a slice, the first thing I noticed, was the crackling crispy, even flaky edges. And I didn’t dare throw away those crunchy edges after I finished the cheesy part. They got munched down too. On my huge pie, the bottom also offered a nice crisp, all the way to the very center-no sogginess, despite being loaded with a healthy portion of cheese, meat, sauce, aromatics and herbs! That requires pizza-making finesse. But this is a barbecue pizza article right? It just so happens, that not only does Jeremy make quality
artisanal crusts at RND, but he also smokes his own pork with hickory wood for his bbq pizza-Smoker’s Pie, it’s called. The whole thing gets topped with mozzarella for
stretchy cheesiness, ricotta, for a fresh and creamy touch, tender house-smoked pork, red onions, cilantro and a drizzle of Sweet Baby Rays bbq sauce that’s been infused with garlic butter and apple cider vinegar. The choice ingredients played a harmonious symphony of flavors and textures, balancing sweet, savory, smoky, meaty, cheesy and crusty. Few bbq pizzas in Memphis rival this one.
Local Beer Pairing Jeremy recommends High Cotton’s Scottish Ale. I’ll add to that Memphis Made’s Fireside Amber, since both beers offer a smooth cleansing of the palette, to compliment, not mask the beautiful crust, cheeses and smoked meat.
Woodstock Store & Deli
Anthony Bledsoe stokes his huge steel pits with logs daily out back of his Woodstock Store and Deli just outside of Memphis in a small rural community, called Woodstock. The lazy country drive there, is a mere five minutes beyond the city limit, and less than a mile from Justin Timberlake’s Mirimichi Golf Course. The ready-made pizza crust acts as a mere vehicle for his smoky, succulent pork, sauce and cheese. Anthony’s focus is on barbecue, so the thin and crispy crust is simply there to do its job of providing the
platform needed to support this amazing smoked meat. His smoked pork sandwich is also one of my favorites in the Memphis metropolitan area. Every time I’ve had the sandwich or bbq pizza, the meat has been moist and tender, and included those bacon-like bits of smoky crust from the outside of the pork. The homemade bbq sauce beautifully compliments the smoked pork with a very interesting balance of some sweetness, tanginess and even a touch of something sour. I think the flavor resembles a classic tomato and vinegar-based bbq sauce, spiked with a bit of Asian sweet and sour sauce. The total flavor is addictive, especially with the smoked meat.
Woodstock’s bbq pizza is one of my all-time favorites, because that unctuous, meaty pie has some of the best smoke flavor I’ ve ever experienced. It wasn’t a heavy, bitter smoke, but a full, balanced wood-smoke. And because a ton of the smoky meat was piled onto the pizza, I got more barbecue smokiness in every bite. If that weren’t enough, the
pizza also came loaded with cheese and sauce. Like his bbq pit, Anthony’s bbq pizza is outrageously huge. All of that excess made my bbq pizza dreams come true. For a dainty, gourmet pizza, maybe Mr. Bledsoe’s meat portions were too much. Maybe he didn’t get the memo to lightly sprinkle on the meat. Well, I’m glad he didn’t get the memo. I mean, c’mon. This BBQ pizza! Smoked pork by nature of it’s purpose and design gets piled on. Thank you Woodstock Store and Deli for your wonderfully sloppy, smoky, saucy, cheesy, outrageously meaty, real-pit BBQ PIZZA!
Local Beer Pairing Some might say this pizza is a real sleeper. With all the heavy meat and cheese, a coffee stout just might be in order, unless you plan on taking a nap immediately after. For this, I recommend Wiseacre’s Gotta Get Up To Get Down or Memphis Made’s Reverberation. Otherwise, a crisp, refreshing beer such as Ghost River’s Golden Ale, will provide a refreshing beverage, without adding heaviness to the equation.
A Few Shout-Outs
Here are a few that didn’t make the list for one reason or the other (i.e. it’s a nationwide chain that does have some local elements, the meat comes from a little too far out to be classified as “locally smoked pork,” or it’s a bbq chicken pizza). But these are worth a mention here and still definitely worth a visit:
Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizza
Pyro’s is a chain, but it’s a Memphis-based chain. The smoked pork is sourced from the 1987 grand champion of the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, Darrell “Big Un” Hicks of Cajun Cookers. Darrell now ships his smoked meats all over from his Humbolt, TN based operation, Hick’s World Championship Meats (about an hour and a half from Memphis). The meat on my bbq pizza from Pyro’s had great smoke flavor and the awesome thin and crispy handmade crust had all the right elements-crisp edges and bottom, with slight chew and some pliability. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Whole Foods Market Pizza/BBQ Shack
Whole Foods may be a nationwide chain, but having a bbq shop right inside the store, means the meats are smoked fresh daily in-house. It just so happens, that the local beer section is adjacent to the BBQ Shack and the pizza shop is directly across. There you have it-house-made pizzas, housed smoked ‘que and local beer, all in one place! The pizza shop’s bbq pizza is made with smoked pork from the BBQ Shack, along with a variety of other pizzas that can be ordered whole, or by the slice. Even better, one of the pizza chefs told me that I could choose any smoked meat from the BBQ Shack, and they’d make a bbq pizza with it! With bbq sauces inspired by various U.S. regions, as well as various house-smoked meats, such as smoked pork, smoked beef brisket, smoked sausages, smoked turkey and smoked chicken, there are numerous possible bbq pizza combinations. I might like a smoked pork pizza with South Carolina style mustard bbq sauce. Or I could just go wild and order a smoked beef brisket and sausage combo pizza with peppers and onions, topped with their chipotle bbq sauce! Yum!
This charming little Italian eatery offers a pizza topped with barbecue from a local bbq team pit-master per the manager. I respect
that the Italian restaurant sources the smoked pork locally, and the bbq did have some smoke flavor, but it was masked by loads of other toppings. I was only able to taste the smoke, because I isolated a few bits of the smoked pork, so that I could focus on the barbecue. The real problem lied in the fact that there just wasn’t enough barbecue to get any smokiness from the pizza as a dish. The pizza was topped with very small
amounts of bbq, which made it seem like an afterthought. I like veggies, but the bbq sauce, which clearly had notes of cinnamon, didn’t really compliment them, since the meat was nearly absent. The crust was also a bit chewy for my taste, yet it did have some redeeming qualities. The crispy edges were nice and some parts were less chewy than others. I say this bbq pizza has potential. But if I ordered one again, I’d ask for extra smoked meat and I’d enjoy my smoked pie in their beautiful atrium.
Silky O’Sullivan’s (Beale St.)
Silky’s has one of the coolest outdoor patios in town, no doubt. From the outdoor music stage, to the stringed lights, trees, huge fountain and even live goats with their very own wooden castle, there’s a lot to keep one entertained. But when I discovered that they offered a pita topped with house-smoked pork, I had to try it. The bbq pita pizza was rather “bready” and didn’t really offer
the crispness that I look for in pizza. And the pork had very slight smoke flavor. I wouldn’t call it one of the very best bbq pizzas in Memphis, but I don’t really think it was intended to be. It’s more of a-it’s 2 a.m. on Beale St and I’ve got the munchies-kind of bbq pizza. And after some local brew, it just might taste amazing.
152 Beale/Blues City Café
152 Beale is known around town as a lively and rather clandestine club. There
wasn’t even a sign on the front when I was there. I just know where it is. They don’t smoke their own stuff (at least not pork anyway), but they do get it from their adjacent sister Beale Street joint, Blues City Café. Pizzas are topped with the Blues City bbq and baked in-house there at 152. Like the one from Silky’s, the crust was “breadier” than I like, lacking those crispy edges and bottom. The sauce was dark as the night is long at this Beale Street club. I like charred edges, but this pizza had some slightly burnt, bitterness in places. The pork only had very slight smoke flavor, but was definitely present. With a few minor adjustments, this bbq pizza has a chance, especially as a convenient bbq pizza bite after a night of dancing and cocktails.
For our non-pork eaters (poor souls), bbq chicken pizzas are a dime a dozen, but allow me to offer a couple of options that will give foodie adventurers a more local taste of Memphis.
Pizza On Beale
Walking down Beale, just look behind the Pizza On Beale sign, and you’ll see a wood-fired pizza oven, right there out in the open on the side of the street! Pizza by the slice is up for grabs, or whole pies can be ordered. The crusts aren’t made in-house, but are sourced from a local bakery, according to owner, Jeremiah Martin. Jeremiah does smoke his own meats and make his own sauce, however. Think about it-smoked meat on a wood-fire kissed pizza, right on Beale Street in Memphis! I certainly couldn’t just keep walking. I had both the bbq pork and bbq chicken pizzas.
The bbq chicken pizza in particular was outstanding. By design, the pork didn’t offer much in terms of smoke, since it was primarily prepared for pork carnitas tacos at the sister restaurant, 901 Tacos, which Jeremiah co-owns with his fiancé, Carey Clark. They met at St. Jude and began fighting together for the lives of their children, who are real troopers themselves. He’s from Kansas City and she’s from Austin-both bbq cities in their own right. They
fit in well here, after adopting Memphis as their home, and tell me they’re committed to serving the local community. As for the bbq pizza, Jeremiah did tell me that he was contemplating cranking up the smoke for the shoulder meat in the future, but the bbq chicken pizza was what really caught my attention. I’m not usually a big fan of chicken on pizza. In general, I prefer pork or beef for pizza. But the balanced wood-smoke flavor, homemade bbq sauce and crispy fried onions all complimented that thin and crispy wood-fired crust perfectly. For non-pork eaters wishing to experience Memphis bbq pizza on Beale Street (with a touch of KC), here’s your chance.
Erica’s Pizza, Quiche & More (a.k.a. The Pizza Lady, Pizza Queen)
I actually haven’t had Erica Jones’ bbq chicken pizza yet, but it’s on my radar for sure. I’m so interested, because I hear so many ‘rumblings’ among locals and on social media about how amazing her home-cooked pizzas are. People sometimes refer to her as, “the pizza lady,” and she’s been called, “pizza queen” as well. Her majesty’s pizzas are only available on weekends though, and only directly from her. I’ll update this article, once I’ve had the opportunity to get my hands on one of these “underground” bbq chicken pizzas . And I’d love to hear from any reader who’s already experienced her food. Until then, Erica was kind enough to send me a photo of her bbq chicken pizza. It looks decadent from the picture. Other baked goods, such as her various quiches, creative desserts and buttery cinnamon rolls, also look heavenly.
Looking for BBQ Pizza near you? Check out my Memphis BBQ Pizza Map Below!
Thanks for visiting my Memphis bbq blog! Comments, rants, raves, disagreements and downright bbq feuds are welcome below the map. Tim Shirley
Memphis Pizza BBQ Map