Central BBQ


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Central BBQ is one of the hippest bbq joints in town. Their claim that Central is “…where the locals eat” is not just a marketing ploy. It really is a wildly popular place for locals, myself included. Besides their perfectly wood-smoked meats, they also offer house-made bbq chips, bbq nachos and smoked hot wings among other bbq culinary creations that can be found in Memphis. And hangin’ out under their covered deck is a relaxing way to enjoy it. Additionally, it’s central-ly located in midtown on Central Ave (hence the name). Near all the major universities, it attracts college students, professors and professionals alike. There is also a downtown location and another on Summer Ave (in an old Red Lobster) as well.

Wood Smoke Vanishes Through the Trees, Drawing In Memphians From All Over Town

Wood Smoke Vanishes Through the Trees, Drawing In Memphians From All Over Town

I first learned about Central BBQ from one of my workplace administrators, Soheila Kail, who also happened to be a Memphis In May barbecue judge, along with her husband, Memphis attorney Danny Kail. Danny has been involved in competition bbq in one way or the other for well over a quarter of a century. Soheila, aware of my quest to discover the best barbecue I could get my hands (and mouth) on, insisted that I needed to check out Central BBQ. She told me that Central’s ribs were the closest thing to competition ‘que that one could find in a restaurant in Memphis. By that time, I’d been to around 40-50 bbq joints, but had not yet become a certified bbq judge. Thanks to the direction and encouragement of Danny and his “Persian Princess,” as he affectionately calls her, I did become a bbq judge in 2008. For now, this was my opportunity to get a glimpse of competition-quality ‘que in a restaurant.

On that first visit, I ordered a full slab of dry ribs with sauce on the side. I asked a guy behind the counter about the several trophies that decorated the restaurant. He told me about some of the contests they’d won and that they’d been competing for some years under a different team name, which changed when the first Central BBQ was opened. After a very short wait, he smiled and delicately handed me the ribs in a foil pouch sleeve, as if he’d just hand over his own child to a stranger for safe keeping. Unable to wait for home (where I would have to share with the family), I decided to go for a couple of bones before I left the parking lot. My first impression-smoke. In my journey to discover the best barbecue I can find, I am deflated when I anticipate succulent, smoked meat, only to discover a faint resemblance of barbecue that is void of smoke flavor and could very well have been baked in a Kenmore. But I can still remember when I took my first bite of a Central BBQ rib, thinking, “Well, there’s no doubt these ribs were smoked.” In fact, since then, every bite of meat that I’ve had from Central BBQ has been wonderfully infused with wood-smoky savor. Not every bbq joint in Memphis is that consistent. I also savored the ribs’ perfectly seasoned crust, which provided a delectable contrast in texture with the tender meat. I had now taken a glimpse into the world of competition barbecue.

A Satisfyingly Smoky BBQ Pork Sandwich at

A Satisfyingly Smoky BBQ Pork Sandwich at

Central BBQ was one of the first notable competition team-turned-barbecue restaurants in Memphis and became an instant hit, not just in midtown, but all over. I finally had the pleasure of judging Central BBQ’s competition team at the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in 2011 at Tiger Lane, the year that the traditional Tom Lee Park suffered a major flood from the Mississippi River. Of the teams that I judged, Central got my highest score for the day. I discovered that the ribs I’d enjoyed at the restaurant weren’t too far from the competition ones. For some other teams who have restaurants, there is a very large gap between what is served in competition and what is served at the restaurant. It’s understood that more attention is given to a competition entry than to meat that has to be mass-produced. But for those restaurants touting trophies, but serving near smokeless meat, it’s misleading and inexcusable. In fact, I can think of several Memphis area bbq restaurants that don’t have a team and are smoking the pants off of some teams’ restaurants. But of all the teams-turned-restaurants, Central BBQ’s gap between competition bbq and restaurant bbq is smaller. Central BBQ has some of Memphis’ best ribs, both in and out of competition.

Quick-Fire Guide


  • The ribs have been very tender and juicy from my experiences and are some of the very best Memphis has to offer.
  • The shoulder has been tender and juicy most of my experiences there, which have been many. On one occasion I had slightly dry meat at the Summer Ave location. It was probably either day-old meat, or it had been held in such a way that it lost too much moisture. Otherwise, I’ve most always enjoyed tender, juicy smoked pork from Central. In particular, I like the total combination of the bbq sandwich with the house bbq sauce and slaw. It’s one of my favorite bbq sandwiches in Memphis.


  • The ribs I’ve had from Central BBQ have always had a perfectly balanced wood smoke flavor for my taste and are some of the very best Memphis has to offer.
  • The pork shoulder/Boston butt I’ve had from Central BBQ has always had a perfectly balanced wood smoke flavor for my taste as well. The bbq sandwich is one of my favorite bbq sandwiches in Memphis.

Bark Central BBQ has always been well known among bbq connoisseurs for wood-smoked meat with a wonderfully crusty and well-seasoned bark.

Sauce Central BBQ offers a variety of sauces to appeal bbq palates from various bbq regions in the U.S. Their house sauce, a tomato based sweet and tangy sauce, is my favorite and

Hangin' Out Under the Covered Deck at Central BBQ

Hangin’ Out Under the Covered Deck at Central BBQ

compliments the smoked pork and ribs well.

Slaw The crunchy mayo-based slaw is refreshing and compliments the pork.

Tim Shirley

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Helen’s Bar-B-Q in Brownsville, TN

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Helen's Been Working Her Pit for Years

Helen’s Been Working Her Pits for Years

The search for real-pit barbecue has led an ever-increasing number of enthusiasts to travel, write, and produce vlogs (video blogs) on the subject, all in an effort to attain some perfect formula. In search of that bbq gold, Helen’s Bar-B-Q should not be overlooked. Helen is a barbecue artisan. She’s been honing her fiery craft for many years. In fact, I dare say that this lady’s smokin’ many of the “big league” bbq restaurants in the Memphis tri-state area when it comes to smoked meats. At Helen’s Bar-B-Q in Brownsville, TN, you won’t find smokers that look like refrigerators, or pits that plug into the wall. There are no temperature gauges, probes or electrical wires-just a really old school, dry-stacked cinderblock pit covered with a simple steel lid. This is the heart and soul of authentic southern barbecue. And truth be told, many of the “big-leaguers” could learn a thing or two from Helen. Now here’s how her setup works. In her pit-house out back, she burns whole logs down to coals in one pit (essentially a fireplace), then shovels those coals into the other pit, where she smokes the meat. Simple, but this bbq treasure chest transforms a tough piece of meat into smoky, tender, barbecue bounty. Helen has yet another pit in the kitchen, where she keeps said bbq treasure warm for service. The smoky aroma of that meat dripping over wood coals was alluring and before I knew it, I asked her if I could move into her pit-house. “I’ll just place a cot right by the pit, if that’s OK.” My request earned a smile. “Move right on in!” she chuckled.

A Simple Cinder Block Pit Smokes Some of the Best Barbecue Anywhere

A Simple Cinder Block Pit Smokes Some of the Best Barbecue Anywhere

Helen was kind enough to give me a sample of her pork shoulder, which was juicy, tender and perfectly smoky. As delectable as it was, I was in the mood for ribs, so I opted for the rib sandwich. It had all the same elements of bbq perfection that I experienced in her smoked pork shoulder, plus a beautiful, crusty bark. Here’s how I enjoy a bbq rib sandwich-eat two bones, then pull the meat from the other two bones and enjoy a bbq rib sandwich with the rib meat, sauce and slaw.

Only about 45 minutes outside of Memphis city limits on the way to Nashville, Helen’s Bar-B-Q treasure is worth a leisurely early afternoon drive.

Helen's BBQ Rib Sandwich

Helen’s BBQ Rib Sandwich

fire icon10Quick-Fire Guide:


  • The ribs were both tender AND juicy. Not every pit-master achieves this proper balance. No dry meat here.
  • The shoulder was, just as the ribs, both tender and juicy. I barely squeezed the pork shoulder and juices dripped everywhere.


  • The ribs had a perfectly balanced and natural wood-coal smoky flavor. No electric smoker there.
  • The shoulder also had a perfectly balanced wood-smoke flavor for my taste.

Bark-The shoulder and ribs had nice bark. The bark on the ribs offered slight resistant chew-just like I like it. Tender meat inside, crusty bark with slight chew outside. It’s all about the contrast in textures.

Sauce-The sauce was a standard sweet-n-tangy. It’s not uncommon in the south for small bbq joints to use store bought sauces, sometimes doctored up a little. I believe I saw some bottled sauce in the kitchen at Helen’s Bar-B-Q. Just remember that the essence of true southern barbecue is the smoked meat. Sauces and seasonings are just condiments.

Slaw-The slaw was a tasty mayonnaise-based slaw, which complimented the pork well.

Tim Shirley

Helen's BBQ with Her Pit-House Out Back

Helen’s BBQ with Her Pit-House Out Back

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Guide Coming Soon!

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Morris Grocery, BBQ and Deli

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Morris Grocery BBQ Guide:

I’ve been going to bbq joints all across Memphis for many years and never knew about this place until late 2008, which as it turns out is only about eight minutes from my house. As it turns out, I’ve driven within a few hundred feet from it countless times down through my years of discovering Memphis bbq and it’s been right under my nose the whole time. I actually first learned about Morris Grocery in a forum on the internet. A few people were praising it as the best bbq sandwich in Memphis. Of course, I couldn’t stand knowing about this place that was so close to home and not having been there. It was my off-day from work and about 9:30 A.M. By 11:00 A.M. I was there getting two sandwiches, two fried apple pies and a pound of hoop cheese. This “grocery” store actually only has a few items in the entire store for sale: barbecue sandwiches, fried pies (when available), drinks, snacks, a few old-school deli items such as hot souse, stick-bologna and hoop cheese and some convenience items (i.e. lighters, gum, etc.). The gravel parking lot, old pipes running through the store, and leaning shelf reminded me that I was not in a five-star restaurant, and I loved it. For me it was like going on a bbq expedition and finding a rare artifact. Because I live so close to his store and hadn’t heard of it, I asked Mr. Laddie Morris how long he’d been selling barbecue there and got this response, “Since before you were born. Over forty years.” As I’ve asked around since then, I occasionally discover someone who grew up on Mr. Morris’ barbecue shoulder sandwich and fried pies. He was also nice enough to give me a tour of smokin’ his pits in the rear of the place, escorting me through a screened-in back porch and into the backyard of the store. Notice in my photos that the heat source is positioned below the meat, but the opening is smaller than the size of the smoking chamber where the meat is. It’s sort of a hybrid form of cooking both over the coals and indirectly. I’m assuming he rotates the shoulders in and out of the direct position.


Laddie Morris of Morris Grocery, BBQ and Deli


Morris Grocery is one of those hidden gems, buried within suburban, on the edge of rural Tennessee, located in the Cordova/Eads area and tucked away in a back road with a bumpy gravel parking lot and a small metal sign on the front of the small cinder block building. I could see some sort of metal pit in the back of the property, with smoke rolling out. That wonderful smoky aroma is usually a good sign that barbecue goodness is in store for me if I stop in. I did and there was. First big plus: instead of storing pre-pulled or chopped pork shoulder in a warmer or pan, Mr. Morris pulled it right off the shoulder to order, which generally means two things-juicier meat and fresher meat. In other words, it didn’t dry out and lose flavor already chopped, sitting in a hot pan. I noticed that he chopped some of the meat, yet some was pulled as well. It was definitely tender enough to be pulled. But I don’t mind chopped too if it is tender and moist. The fact that the meat is chopped doesn’t necessarily mean the shoulder is tough and therefore has to be chopped as some pull-purists allege. Some just prefer the way the bark is better mixed throughout the meat by way of chopping. I like both chopped and pulled. My sandwiches at Morris Grocery have included a little of both.

Of course great barbecue is not only tender, but smoky. Morris’ sandwich was full of great smokiness and bits of crusty bark. What really set this bbq sandwich apart from others was the way that he assembled it. He served a tangy, sweet and spicy sandwich with a slight twist. Instead of mixing hot sauce into the bbq sauce to create a spicy bbq sauce as many Memphis-area bbq joints offer upon request, Mr. Morris layered the flavors of his sandwich. That’s really one aspect that makes a Memphis-style bbq sandwich so great anyway, that the sauce is not (usually) mixed with the meat, rather it is poured on top. That way, you get some bites with a complimenting sauce and slaw, but you also get some bites with smoky meat not masked by the sauce, allowing you to get some smoky barbecue yumminess. Mr. Morris took that concept a step further by layering his sandwich as follows: the bottom bun, then meat, then hot sauce (Louisiana) and bbq seasoning, then bbq sauce, then slaw, then top bun. By layering the flavors, he achieved a unique bbq flavor that stands out from most other bbq sandwiches here. I could taste everything distinctly, yet in harmony together. I wasn’t just getting bbq sauce with heat, because I could also distinctly taste the vinegary flavor of the hot sauce, which elevated the sandwich to the next level of bbq nirvana.


A BBQ Pork Sandwich at Morris Grocery


Being located in an old building is certainly not a pre-requisite for a good bbq joint, nor does it mean the ‘que will be great, but in the case of Morris Grocery it is the very picturesque “hole in the wall” bbq joint that doles out real-deal Memphis-style barbeque. When you go, don’t forget desert. The best crispy, buttery fried fruit pies are also served there, while they last. On my last visit, I enjoyed some good ole southern homemade peach cobbler-good as any you’ll find. Sadly, Mr. Morris does not barbecue ribs, but he does serve one of the best constructed bbq sandwiches in Memphis.

Tenderness-The smoked pork shoulder held its moisture, because Mr. Morris chopped the meat to order.

Smoke-Smoke flavor has been good on most visits.

Bark-The crusty bark was flavorful and added a slightly crispy dimension to the sandwich.

Sauce-It was sweet and tangy sauce that complimented the porkIt may have some liquid smoke added. What set Mr. Morris’ sandwich apart was how he layer the flavors-hot sauce, then bbq seasoning, then bbq sauce. The result is a sweet-heat sauce with distinct, yet blended flavors.

Tim Shirley


Mr. Morris Smoking His Pork Out Back at Morris Grocery

Morris Grocery on Urbanspoon

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The Shed Barbecue & Blues Joint

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The Shed’s BBQ Guide:


The Shed’s Whole Hog Smoked in a Pit Built into a Classic Jeep at Memphis In May 2011.

On our way to the beautiful beaches of Orange Beach Alabama down on the Gulf Coast, we made it a point to stop at The Shed Barbecue and Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, MS. Just this year (2015) The Shed won the Memphis In May grand championship, smoking a whole hog in pit built right into an old classic Jeep Willys. When we went to the restaurant a few years ago, The Shed was still working their way up through the ranks in competition barbecue, and have been improving each year. We’d seen them on TV more than once and were eager to check out the ‘que, as well as the unique atmosphere.

The string of sheds decorated with Christmas lights and junkyard

Enter The Shed

Enter The Shed

memorabilia led right up to the banks of the water, where a floating platform staged a live band. While we enjoyed the music and ambience from the shore side, others watched with feet dangling over the side of a boat that had pulled up next to the stage. Although my Civil War era quality pictures didn’t really capture the ambience, the evening was quite an experience. Definitely go at night.

We really enjoyed ourselves, despite the fact that the barbecue was a slight disappointment. On the up side, meat was flavorful and tender and the sauce was tasty. What was missing was smoke flavor. I’ve seen owner Brad Orrison work his bbq magic on TV enough to know that he gets good smoke flavor. But keeping that kind of quality artisanship consistent in a restaurant is surely difficult, especially if he’s away competing or participating in TV shows. I can only document what we experienced. I expected to get the smoke flavor. I wanted it. I just didn’t get it there on that particular night. But we really enjoyed the overall experience and will be back for sure.

Here are a few notes about the ‘que:


  • The ribs were tender and not at all dry. The meat held to the bone well enough to eat without falling apart, but tender enough to pull off easily.
  • The shoulder that I sampled from the Blake’s sandwich was tender and juicy, but not mushy.


  • The ribs lacked any noticeable smoke flavor.

    Live Music on the Shed's Floating Stage

    Live Music on the Shed’s Floating Stage

  • The shoulder had very slight smoke flavor-not enough for my taste. To be fair, I only had a small sample from my son’s plate.


  • The ribs had a nicely developed and well-seasoned crust.
  • The shoulder also had a well developed bark.

Sauce-A standard barbecue sauce with a nice sweet and tangy balance.

Tim Shirley

The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint on Urbanspoon

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Germantown Commissary BBQ and Ribs

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fire icon10Quick-Fire Guide: (Check back in the future for the full review)


This old commissary-turned-bbq shop looks like something right out of a western film. Space is limited, but the barbecue is good. It’s located in Germantown, TN just outside of Memphis, but still in the metro area. I’ve been there numerous times down through the years and I enjoy several things from their menu. Oh, and they have deviled eggs…yum. I’ve also been told by servers that Germantown Commissary uses only wood in their pits. I believe it, because I’ve always seen wood stacked outside against the small building.

Here are a few notes about the ‘que:


  • The ribs have always been tender and noticeably juicy. Juiciness is important. From my experience, some restaurants and bbq competitors produce meat that is not at all tough, but that is quite dry. Barbecue should be both tender and juicy.
  • The shoulder coming off the pit has been tender and succulent. Unfortunately, much of the time it sits under a heating lamp, ready for service. This is my one problem with the place. They spend hours smoking shoulder low and slow to create smoky, dripping meat that is then dried out under a heat lamp. Other restaurants use different methods to keep their ‘que warm for service. Heat lamps are for fries, not barbecue. If you’re fortunate enough to get some that hasn’t been there long, it may not be dry. I’ve had dry shoulder at least fifty percent of the time, but I will say that the total combination of the meat, sauce and slaw produces a great bbq sandwich.


  • The ribs have always had a nicely balanced wood smoke flavor for me.
  • The shoulder, despite being sometimes a little dry, has always been brimming with wood smoke flavor.

Bark-Both ribs and shoulder have always had a crusty, flavorful, smoky bark. Years ago, a server told me that at Germantown Commissary, a single coat of sauce is brushed onto the ribs within the last 20-30 minutes of smoking to be cooked back into the meat until it is nearly dry. So the ribs aren’t exactly wet or dry, but somewhere in between. It’s a great texture for ribs. You get this somewhat dry, savory crust that is slightly sticky (caramelized) in places. It’s best of both worlds. I sometimes sauce my ribs this way at home ever since I learned it from that server at Germantown Commissary.

BBQ Nachos-The combination of the crunchy chips, smoky meat, creamy cheese sauce, spicy, vinegary pickled jalapeños, savory spices and bbq sauce appeals to so many senses. They are quite addictive.

BBQ Spud-It’s everything on the bbq nachos on a huge baked potato, but the cheese sauce is replaced with melted cheese (maybe Colby-jack). The combination totally worked for me. It could very well be a meal for two.

Sauce-The sauce is both classic and unique at the same time. It has the classic sweet and tangy flavors. Yet, there is another interesting ingredient that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I think tamarind is a good guess. The hot bbq sauce is really good. It’s one of my favorite spicy bbq sauces. If it’s not already on the table, I always ask for it.

Slaw-The slaw is a typical one-crunchy, creamy, tangy, salty. It compliments well the barbecue served with it.

Tim Shirley

Germantown Commissary on Urbanspoon

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The Bar-B-Q Shop

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fire icon10Quick-Fire Guide: (Check back in the future for the full review)


On Madison Ave in midtown Memphis, The Bar-B-Q Shop serves up great ribs and shoulder sandwiches on buns or buttered Texas toast. The bbq spaghetti is made with a combination of their Dancing Pigs bbq sauce and the smoked spaghetti sauce. The result is the best bbq spaghetti I’ve ever had. People raved about the bbq spaghetti at Neely’s. I’ve had it. It was good, but it didn’t touch the bbq spaghetti at the Bar-B-Q Shop.

Here are a few notes about the ‘que:

Tenderness-I’ve never had shoulder or ribs from The Bar-B-Q shop that weren’t tender. Not sloppy tender (like boiled meat), but the right kind of tenderness for barbecue.

Smoke-The meat I’ve enjoyed at The Bar-B-Q Shop has been smoky most of the time.

Bark-Both the ribs and the shoulder have had a nice bbq crust on my visits.

Sauce-I find their Dancing Pigs sauce to be rather bland by itself. However, it didn’t seem to take away from the sandwich. I’d get the ribs without it, or at least on the side. Also, it gets mixed with their smoked spaghetti sauce for their bbq spaghetti. That particular combination is perfect. The spaghetti sauce is placed in a pan in the smoker to catch some smoke AND meat drippings. This results in a greasy, yet wonderfully smoky bbq spaghetti. I love it. I just usually soak up some of the oil with a paper towel.

Slaw-The slaw is a standard slaw-creamy, crunchy, tangy, salty. It compliments the pork shoulder well. Sandwiches can be served on the standard bun or buttered Texas toast. Both work well.

Tim Shirley

To read about other Memphis area barbecue restaurants, food trucks and roadside pits, go to the BBQ Guide.

Bar-B-Q Shop on Urbanspoon

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Memphis In May World Chamionship Barbecue Cooking Contest-I’ll Be There

I’ll be judging at the Memphis In May World Chamionship Barbecue Cooking Contest again this year. It’ll be my eighth year judging and I’m still hyped! Hundreds of pounds of smoky meat dripping near smoldering coals will always catch my attention. If you like this site and you see me there, I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you. Thanks, Tim Shirley



Judging at the "World's Oldest BBQ Contest" in Covington, TN

Judging at the “World’s Oldest BBQ Contest” in Covington, TN

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Payne’s BAR-B-Q

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fire icon10Quick-Fire Guide: (Check back in the future for the full review)


I’ve been to this old service station-turned-bbq joint a couple of times. Mrs. Payne was kind enough to allow me to take some photos on my second visit. As a bbq judge, I had the pleasure of meeting Claire Robinson of the Food Network show Five Ingredient Fix while she acted as a celebrity guest judge at the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest a couple of years ago. I’d already seen her review of Payne’s BAR-B-Q on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and she sang their praises once again, as we discussed some of our favorite Memphis bbq joints. Read my notes of Payne’s BAR-B-Q below, but stay tuned for a full review in the future:

Payne’s BAR-B-Q in an Old Service Station on Lamar Ave in Memphis

Payne’s BAR-B-Q in an Old Service Station on Lamar Ave in Memphis


  • The pork shoulder was tender with just a bit of chew, but enjoyably so-more suited for chopping. Think-nicely tender grilled pork chop, chopped and served on a sandwich with sauce and slaw. I love that the meat stays on the shoulder until ordered. It literally goes from the shoulder right out of the pit, right to the sandwich.
  • The ribs were tender, but a touch dry. I may have gotten some that had been held for a while. I had them on my first visit, which was some years ago.

Smoke-The meat had mild, balanced smoke flavor. Smoke source appeared to be from meat dripping over the coals.


  • The pork shoulder-The exterior of the meat had a nicely developed crusty bark, which mixed throughout the more tender interior to create enjoyable contrast in texture.
  • The ribs had a nice golden  brown crust.

Sauce-Sweet, but balanced. Slight acidity. Near candy apple red color-may include grenadine. I like that it remains warm on a home stove, ready to be mopped onto the meat at service.

Slaw-Mustard slaw provides nice acidity and balances the sandwich. The contrast of the bright red sauce and the bright yellow slaw created a visually enticing.


Payne’s Chopped Shoulder Sandwich with Mustard Slaw

Payne’s Chopped Shoulder Sandwich with Mustard Slaw

Payne's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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Give Cozy Corner a Fire, They’ll Smoke Some Ribs


“Dry” Ribs from Cozy Corner in Memphis, TN

“I treasure the memories of the past misfortunes. It has added more to my bank of fortitude.” Bruce Lee

January 8, 2015, one of my favorite bar-b-q restaurants, Cozy Corner, suffered a fire. Thankfully that fire was contained mostly to the rear of the store and no one was injured. Additionally, their famous glass-walled pit remained intact. In fact, they were able to transport it across the street, where they are now temporarily serving ‘que out of Encore Café, owned by relatives of Cozy Corner owner, Desiree Robinson. The pit is now not one, but two pits, built into a wooden trailer parked behind Encore. This family stuck together through hard times, proving that blood is thicker than…yes, even barbecue sauce.


“Get ‘Er Done Man” Rob, Workin’ the Smokin’ Pits at Cozy Corner.

I decided this spring to make it there to show some support. The temporary Cozy Corner/Encore Café sign is a plastic banner stretched across the front of the store. Inside, there are two counters where orders can be placed. On the left was Cozy Corner and on the right, Encore. After getting permission, I drove around back to get a few pictures of those pits. There, I met Rob, self-proclaimed, “Get ‘er done man,” i.e. Cozy Corner pit man. I couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time. Meaty, maddening, fragrant smoke was rolling out of those pits, and I got to see the action inside. Rob invited me in, where he demonstrated a perfectly done Cozy Corner rib. The beautiful mahogany color and just the right bend where telltale signs that those ribs were smoked to perfection. As I’ve already indicated in my first article about Cozy Corner, they cook over the coals. This contradicts what most pit-masters are doing these days-and I like it. Cozy Corner proves that this a viable method. For me, it is the preferable method, at least for part of the cooking time. I use a hybrid method of smoking both over coals and indirectly. A closer look will reveal that long, low and slow bbq such as ribs and shoulder are positioned on an upper grill grate, high above the coals. below are the fast-cooking foods, such as wings. Not only do the ribs and shoulders cook low and slow because they’re high above the grill and because there is only thin layer of coals at the bottom, but additionally, faster foods create a barrier between the upper grate and the heat source. As a result, ribs and shoulder still smoke low and slow. And flare-ups are not a problem when there is a thin layer of coals that are spread out across the cooking chamber. Why this method? Again, as mentioned in my previous article, the meat drippings land directly on the coals, producing a smoke flavor not achieved from indirect heat.Pic-04302015-014

After Rob tortured me for several minutes with those wonderful sights and smells, I gave him the link to this site, shook his hand and made my way around front to place my order. By now, Cozy Corner was busy with fellow tortured patrons, ready to satisfy their meat cravings. I ordered a slab of ribs to take to Blake for his school lunch. The idea was that we would enjoy them together. Only, they sort of didn’t all make it there. Nope. I did as any responsible dad would do when feeding his boy-quality control. Once I got in the truck, I initially opened the box to get a picture to show my readers. But the craving was just too much..er.. I mean, I knew what I had to do to ensure the best for my son, so I wolfed down a couple of bones. When you bite into a Cozy Corner rib, the first thing that stands out, is the savory flavor of their house-made bbq dry rub seasoning. You have that, “What is in that?” effect. Then comes the smoke flavor from meat dripping onto coals for hours. Finally, you notice how tender juicy they are. Ideal tenderness in competition barbecue is when the meat pulls very easily from the bone, even with just your fingers, but the only meat missing is from the place you took a bite. If you try to take a bite and the whole piece of meat falls off the bone, it’s considered overdone and frustrating to eat. Getting that perfect balance of tenderness takes practice, and Cozy Corner nailed it.

The family of Cozy Corner and Encore Café have displayed love, hard work and fortitude. The original building is scheduled to reopen at the end of summer, I’m told. Meanwhile, I hope that others will show some support by heading out there and giving them some business as many have already.

Tim Shirley

For my original Cozy Corner review, click here.

Cozy Corner Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Categories: Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Corky’s Bar-B-Q, Memphis

Smokin’ to the Oldies

I’ve enjoyed smoky, succulent bbq from roadside pits, food trucks, dine-in restaurants, drive-thru windows, backyard barbecues, bbq competitions and even church pot-lucks-the place doesn’t really matter.

Corky's BBQ and Ribs in Memphis

Corky’s Bar-B-Q on Poplar Ave in Memphis

But barbecue in a restaurant with a fun atmosphere too-that’s a plus. The swanky 50’s and 60’s music and décor at Corky’s Bar-B-Q is both relaxing and fun with their wood-planked walls, tin roofs and classic oldies hits. I most always experience some nostalgia in this oldies-themed restaurant because it reminds me of my dad, Tom Shirley. He used to talk about Buddy Holly, the iconic “cool nerd,” with his signature hiccup sound and falsetto voice. Daddy was always sure to mention that his sister, Peggy Sue Shirley, was named after the classic Buddy Holly song of the same name. You’ll hear the likes of Buddy Holly and enjoy music, album covers, movie posters and memorabilia of the era in Corky’s.  And of course, any 50’s and 60’s music collection would be incomplete without Elvis and the Beetles. According to my dad, my uncle Butch used to play football with Elvis. Of course, as you ask around town you’ll find that almost every old-timer in Memphis “knew” Elvis in some way or the other. If you get “all shook up” about oldies hits, Corky’s is a cool place to eat, even if you just order a salad.

BBQ Chicken, Smoked Sausages, Buffet

Growing up at my house, if daddy said we were having barbecue, nine times out of ten we were having barbecue chicken. That’s what my dad usually barbecued. He set the bar pretty high, but barbecued bird I had at Corky’s passed the test. The last time I had it was from their Wednesday the buffet. Don’t get your hopes up. They don’t serve all you can eat ribs on that buffet. At least they didn’t when I was there. But they did serve bbq shoulder, smoked sausages, bbq chicken and southern sides.

Wet Ribs

In Memphis two kings share the pork barbecue throne-the smoky Memphis-style bbq pork shoulder sandwich with sauce and slaw and of course, smoked ribs.  And in this town, ribs come two ways-wet (served with sauce on them) or dry (served without sauce on them). At Corky’s a slab of ribs can be ordered “half-n-half,” to get them half wet and half dry.  That way you get the best of both worlds.  One can get ribs half and half at many other Memphis-area bbq joints, but they won’t be the same.  Many restaurants’ version of wet ribs are nothing more than dry ribs with bbq sauce poured on top just before they’re served to create the half-n-half-something you can easily do yourself at the table. At Corky’s wet ribs are served with bbq sauce that has been basted on during the last few minutes of cooking. Ribs go from the smoker to a hot grill, where sauce is basted on a few minutes before service to allow the sauce to caramelize onto the meat.  That kind of basting the sauce on is how I grew up on barbecue at home in Memphis. Pouring bbq sauce over ribs if the sauce is warm can be good, like getting bbq gravy poured over the meat, if done in moderation so as not to overpower the smoky flavor of the barbecued meat. But for the basted sweet-n-sticky kind, Corky’s wet ribs are done right. As far as smoky flavor, I’ve had some with wonderful wood-smoked savor at Corky’s. At other times, the meat tasted like it could have been oven-baked. Tenderness has never been an issue for me at Corky’s, but I’d like to find more consistency in smoke flavor from them, which is the real essence of real pit barbecue. To maximize your chance of enjoying some good smoke flavor at Corky’s, order the “dry” ribs.

“Dry” Ribs

What’s the big deal about dry ribs? Eating dry ribs is all about getting that unadulterated smoky barbecue flavor, not masked by the sauce.  When eating dry ribs, dismiss any expectation of sweet and sticky ribs and embrace a different type of flavor.  Dry ribs are all about the smoke flavor and the meat itself; lightly crispy bark on the outer texture, tender and smoky inside and with sauce served on the side to control the sauce-to-meat ratio.  It’s pure barbecue paradise when it’s done right.  A dry rub seasoning can also accent the meat flavor if applied with care. I like Corky’s seasoning, but I think that they should tone it down a bit.  It’s poured on heavily and dubbed, “dry sauce,” which is overkill and gimmicky-a mere marketing technique. I usually ask them to go light on the seasoning or just dust some of it off myself.  Sauces and seasonings are only intended to compliment the flavor of meat, not overpower it. But if getting dry ribs allows one to focus on the smokiness of the meat, without covering it up with sauce, why recommend the wet ribs?  It is a different barbecue experience, but plenty tasty, especially if done right.  Usually just enough sauce is basted on to compliment the meat, not overpower it.  Extra sauce can easily be available on the side.  Again, Corky’s is one of few places I’ve found in Memphis that brushes the sauce onto the ribs during the cooking process so that the sauce caramelizes and cooks onto the meat, making sticky bbq goodness.  That’s how I grew up eating bbq in Memphis-how my dad used to barbecue chicken.  The idea is that you still get some good smokiness since the meat isn’t drowned in sauce.672

Corky’s is a popular place, and the celebrity-colored walls tell the story of their fame.  But diehard bbq connoisseurs criticize that Corky’s is too commercial with its “touristy” décor and locations that are in “nice” areas of town.  Some speak as though a bbq joint has to be run-down to be legit.  The barbecue speaks for itself. Either it’s good or it isn’t. As I’ve already acknowledged, Corky’s has been inconsistent for me. But the same could be said for most every bbq joint out there, big or small. I’ve had great ‘que and I’ve had “just OK” ‘que there. The ribs and shoulder at Corky’s are slow-smoked for many hours with hickory and charcoal, the barbecued “bark” is flavorful and the meat has always been tender, sometimes smoky. When they’re good-n-smoky, they’re great. When they’re not, they’re just tender ribs without the essence of bbq flavor-the smoke. If Corky’s could be more consistent with the smoke flavor, they might fall back into the graces of serious bbq aficionados, but business doesn’t seem to be affected. They’re always busy and they still ship bbq all over the country.

The BBQ Sauces

Corky’s bbq sauce is a complex well-seasoned sweet sauce with some good tanginess as well. BBQ sauce is an individual thing. There is no such thing as a “best” sauce. Every sauce on the planet will have those who like it and those who don’t. I think Corky’s sauce is well balanced. Corky’s also has a hot version as well as an apple bbq sauce. I like all three.

BBQ Sandwhich

One of the first inspirations for my bbq restaurant travels came from Corky’s sweet, tangy and smoky bbq sandwich in the late 90’s. I’d recently returned to Memphis after having been away for a few years. I was working with a friend Jason Strickland, who owned a lawn care and landscaping business. As we headed out for lunch one day, he asked if I’d ever had a Corky’s bbq sandwich.  When I replied that I hadn’t, he insisted, “You cannot live in Memphis and not have had Corky’s barbecue!”  He treated me that day to a Corky’s bbq sandwich.  I couldn’t believe how much meat was given for the money.  I’d be willing to say that the jumbo sandwich was a half foot tall.  The meat was tender and smoky, the sauce complimented it and the creamy, crunchy slaw completed it. I enjoyed it so much that I began checking out different bbq joints to compare, looking for the best bbq that I could find.  Although I’d grown up on barbecue, this was the beginning of my barbecue journey in Memphis’ bbq restaurant scene.

BBQ Nachos Another way to enjoy Corky’s smoked pork is by ordering a basket of bbq nachos. My wife Angelica probably ordered them three or four times before I ever tried one several years ago.  I was on my bbq purist high horse, and remember saying to my wife, “That’s not real barbecue.”  I finally took a bite and understood why they are so popular.  They may not be very traditional (although they have become a Memphis tradition in recent years) but they are topped with traditional smoked pulled pork.  Smoky pork is piled high on a bed of nacho chips, covered with nacho cheese, swirled with Corky’s sweet and tangy sauce, dusted with their tasty dry rub seasoning and sprinkled with sliced jalapenos (unless ordered otherwise). This appetizer can easily make a meal for two and has for us on more than one occasion.  What makes them so good is the whole combination of flavors and contrast in textures: smoky, meaty, crunchy, spicy, sweet, salty and cheesy.  What’s not to love? I cannot count how many addictive baskets we’ve gone through.

Fried Catfish, Hot Tamales, Beans, Slaw

Besides bar-b-q, Corky’s has great bbq beans with pork shoulder mixed throughout, a crunchy mayo slaw with cabbage, celery seeds and bell pepper, tasty buttery yeast rolls, crispy seasoned fries, crispy cornmeal-battered fried catfish, southern style hot tamales and a variety of desserts.   The desserts look delectable, but I’ve never had enough room for one after my meal.


BBQ Pizza

I’ve had bbq pizza from several places around town, but the bbq chicken pizza at Corky’s didn’t really work for me.  To be fair, I don’t generally care for chicken on pizza. I like bbq chicken and I like pizza, I just don’t like the combination. I think smoked pork works better on pizza.

Beef Brisket

Admittedly, Memphis isn’t particularly known for beef brisket. In the Bluff City, barbecue is all about pork shoulder and pork ribs. Most bbq joints here offer beef brisket as an alternative for non-pork eaters, but it’s not a specialty here. I‘ve had sliced smoked beef brisket from several places in Texas and smoked beef brisket “burnt” ends from several places in Kansas City. With a few exceptions, our beef just doesn’t compare. But I think we totally smoke ‘em on the pork shoulder. The brisket I had at Corky’s was void of smoke flavor. It reminded me of pot roast with bbq sauce poured over.


Drive thru windows, multiple locations and a bbq buffet on Wednesdays have made Corky’s an attractive and convenient choice among Memphis patrons.  It’s swanky atmosphere, really prompt service and menu variety make it an enjoyable southern food dining experience.  As for the barbecue, I would like to see more consistency in smoke flavor, but the sauce is one of my personal favorites and I’ve always found consistency in tenderness at both the original Poplar Ave location and the Cordova location. For good food and fun, I recommend Corky’s “blast from the past” bbq experience.

Corky’s Founder, Don Pelts

I met Corky’s founder Don Pelts some years ago while judging at the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. A lot of people are surprised to learn that Corky’s doesn’t compete in the bbq contest. They do, however, have a concession there. That’s where I met Mr. Pelts. He sat down with me at a pick-nick table and we talked for a few minutes. I asked him what they were smoking with. Simultaneously, as if rehearsed, he and his son looked at each other and yelled back to the concession kitchen, “Hey, what are you guys smoking back there?”  He turned back to me and chuckled, “Hickory and charcoal.” A few years later on Wednesday May 15, 2013, just before the Memphis In May barbecue contest, two Memphis barbecue patriarchs, Don Pelts of Corky’s and John Willingham, both passed on the same day. That following Saturday the 18th I had the privilege of judging Willingham’s bbq competition team. His children carried on his tradition in his honor. Interestingly, the first two restaurants that started my Memphis bbq journey were first Corky’s and next, Willingham’s before it closed. May God bless the loved ones both men left behind. Their spirit of passion for their craft lives on through those who continue to feel their influence. Finally, to my dad: We’ll always have you in our hearts daddy. We love you and look forward to seeing you again someday. P.S. I can still taste your barbecue chicken.

Corky's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Categories: Best Pork Shoulder, Best Ribs, Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kansas City BBQ Tour

Kansas City BBQ Tour


Ribs in Kansas City aren’t all sweet and sticky. I had these delectable bones at Wood-Yard BBQ


In the summer of 2011 I dragged my family nearly 500 miles across the south and into the Midwest, from Memphis to Kansas City, just to experience Kansas City style bbq and to have a point of comparison with our ‘que here in the bluff city. We sampled barbecue from ten different bbq restaurants in two days, plus one more in St. Louis en route. The boys had fun helping me review the bbq by giving their own opinions and even writing some of them down.

I wanted a sense of what KC style ‘que is all about. Some of what I found challenges popular notions. Some of what I discovered reinforced what I’d heard. Most of what I’d read and heard describing KC style barbecue sauces depicted them as sweet-n-sticky. I found the various sauces to be generally less sweet than what you’ll find in Memphis (of the sweet sauces-some Memphis restaurants still serve the old-fashioned tangy style sauce) and KC sauces also tended to have southwestern flavors, such as cumin and chipotle. Dry ribs were also fairly common, despite Kansas City’s reputation for sweet and sticky ribs with a molasses based bbq sauce. Prior to my trip I’d also heard that barbecue in KC meant both pork ribs and beef brisket, especially in the form of “burnt ends.” This much I found to be very true. I tried to get a sense of what each place seemed to specialize in and got that. In some bbq shops we had pork ribs. At others, we ordered burnt ends. Overall, I found tender, smoky meat and really enjoyed the ‘que. Click on the highlighted links below from the list of KC bbq restaurants we visited for photos and my notes (short reviews) for each bbq joint. Check back for added and updated posts. Begin your online Kansas City bbq tour here. If I may, I suggest starting with Wood Yard Bar-B-Q.                                 Tim Shirley

  1. Arthur Bryant’s BBQ-Kansas City, MO
  2. BB’s Lawn Side BBQ-Kansas City, MO
  3. Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ-Overland Park, KS
  4. Gate’s Bar-B-Q-Kansas City, MO
  5. Hayward’s Pit BBQ-Overland Park, KS
  6. LC’s BBQ-Kansas City, MO
  7. Smokehouse BBQ-Independence, MO
  8. Three Little Pigs BBQ-Kansas City, MO
  9. Wood-Yard BBQ-Kansas City, KS
  10. Zarda’s BBQ-Blue Springs, MO
Categories: Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mexican Grilling

If you’re an enthusiast of grilling, smoking, pit-cooking or any other type of live-fire cooking as I am, then you’ll really enjoy my Mexican Grilling page. My family has taken a few trips to Mexico to visit my wife Angelica’s family. I’ve made it my mission to discover there, what Mexican outdoor cooking is all about. Join me on a visual journey and experience Mexican pits and cuisine. Continue to check back as I add and update.

Smokin' Pits of Mexican Meat Goodness in Cabo

Smokin’ Pits of Mexican Meat Goodness in Cabo

Acapulco-Chile-marinated roasted pork (tacos al pastor)

Cabo San Lucas-Wood-grilled fish tacos on the beach. (pescado)

La Paz and La Isla Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit Island)-Coming Soon…

Los Barriles-Coming Soon…

San Jose Del Cabo-Coming Soon…

Todo Santos-Coming Soon…

Categories: Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leonard’s Pit Barbecue-Memphis’ Oldest Operating Barbecue Restaurant

101_1174The glorious Golden Era of the Roaring 20’s continues to live vicariously through architecture, music, film, Leonardo DiCaprio and Leonard’s pig with top hat and twirling cane. Established in 1922, Leonard’s Pit Barbecue is one of Memphis’ oldest barbecue institutions and some say that it is the oldest operating Memphis bbq restaurant. Bozo’s BBQ, established in 1923, is about twenty minutes outside of Memphis proper in Mason, TN. While the decade was marked with grand ballrooms, theaters and overall prosperity, Leonard’s Pit Barbecue came from humble beginnings. Articles and films have well documented Leonard’s history. Just to paraphrase, here’s a brief summary of what I understand. Leonard Heuberger traded his Model T for a sandwich stand and a few stools, from which he began selling his .5 cent sandwich. The business grew and evolvePic-01302015-015d down through the years as he sold his wonderfully crafted barbecue sandwich with sauce and slaw to untold thousands until his passing. Under Leonard, it also eventually became a bar-b-q drive-in, carhops and all. Years later, protégé Dan Brown bought the place. Brown had been working for Leonard from his teen years and basically grew up in the business until he bought the restaurant in 1993. Sad to say, the bar-b-q drive-in0 is now mere history, but Leonard’s pits still burn in Memphis. It’s now located on Fox Plaza Dr, just off of Mt Moriah and Mendenhall, where it’s a full service restaurant, including take-out and even a barbecue buffet.

Around 2006 or 2007, while the boys were just toddlers, I took my family to Leonard’s for the barbecue buffet. At least one night a week they have a buffet featuring ribs along with shoulder, fried catfish and lots of other southern goodies. There aren’t too many restaurants offering a barbecue rib buffet, so we decided to check it out. It’s located in a semi-industrial part of town, but inside was your typical old diner atmosphere, standard for many Memphis area barbecue joints. While the boys were on tip-toes, peering into the widows of an antique truck parked right in the middle of the restaurant and I was scoping out the barbecue buffet, I noticed an elderly lady sitting at a booth. She wasn’t eating-just smiling at the boys. I introduced myself and asked if she was the owner. After telling me how cute the boys were, she replied that she and her husband owned the place. After introducing my family, I decided to get a little intel about the ‘que. I asked her if wood was used to smoke the meat. Without hesitation (as if to repeat something she’d told a thousand times), she explained that they smoked the pork shoulder with charcoal and hickory, but the ribs with charcoal only. I pictured a marriage of charcoal and hickory together in the pit, but Guy Fieri’s show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives reveals their method. Shoulders are first smoked with the wood and later placed over the charcoal to create a nice deep mahogany crisp bark exterior. Thanks Guy.Pic-01302015-007

Rib buffet night was pricey, but worth the experience. The ribs had nicely browned exterior and the meat was tender and lightly smoky. I also noticed that the meat was not just tender, but tender and juicy.  Those tasty, meaty natural juices were still right where they should have been-in the meat, as opposed to the tender but dry ribs I’ve received so many times in bbq restaurants. This usually happens because ribs were smoked earlier, or even the previous day and have been held warm all day, till ordered. It also happens when ribs have been smoked for so long, that ALL of the fat has been rendered off. In the past, this was a popular misnomer-that rendering off all of the fat was a goal in making great barbecue. That school of thought has long since been abandoned by most serious barbecue enthusiasts. Most pit-masters today know that much of the flavor and juiciness of the pork comes from the fat. I would have liked more smoke flavor from my ribs at Leonard’s, but the endless slightly smoky, tender, succulent meat with all the southern fixin’s was indeed, a carnivore’s feast. And instead of room temp bbq sauce, the sweet and tangy sauce, was kept warm on the buffet, screaming to be ladled over Pic-01302015-019the meat like warm bbq gravy. I’ve noticed that some of the old bar-b-q restaurants in Memphis include tamarind in their sauce. I’m pretty sure I got that in Leonard’s sauce too. I once thought of tamarind as an Indian/Latin ingredient, but old-timers have told me that tamarind trees were everywhere in the American South and that it was very commonly used in southern cooking in times past. I’ve since noticed the ingredient in several old southern recipes as well. Tamarind trees can still be found around town. There are a few, loaded with tamarind pods at Shelby Farms Park, right in the middle of the dog park.

I rarely do buffets any more, but really, one “Big Leonard” bbq shoulder sandwich is a feast between two buns. I picked up one to go from the downtown Main St location before they closed. The shoulder had delightful bits of the crusty, smoky bark mixed in, just as I requested. That meat was then piled onto a bun and loaded with bbq sauce and mustardy slaw. It doesn’t hurt to ask to get some of the crust mixed in. Otherwise, you could end up with a sandwich made with just the interior part of the shoulder. The “all white meat” crowd thinks they’re getting a better sandwich because the interior meat tends to be more tender. Instead, they’re getting a lonely white meat sandwich that lacks its crusty, smokey companion. The combination brings more smoke flavor and contrast in texture,101_1176 making a complete Memphis style bbq sandwich. Leonard’s BBQ pit-masters smoke their shoulders “butt naked,” so as not to impede the absorption of smoke with any spices, sugars or sauces. I like the savory element of the dry rub, however, Leonard’s BBQ proves a point. The flavor-the essence of real pit bbq is all about the smoke and they work to achieve that smoky crust. Again, thanks to Guy for pointing that out to us in his show. Despite their technique though, the ‘que I’ve had at Leonard’s has been only mildly smoky. For some, that’s not a bad thing. But today, with the rise of ever popular competition teams-turned-bbq joints, the boundaries of intense wood smoke flavor are constantly being pushed closer and closer to bbq perfection. And patrons’ tastes are becoming accustomed to that flavor. Of course, no one wants bitter, over-smoked meat, but pit-masters are constantly perfecting a balanced, but really noticeable wood smoke flavor. Somewhere between ashtray barbecue and meat that you’d swear had been oven-baked, there is a perfect balance of smokiness that people have come to look for. Ultimately, the perfect balance is simply whatever is perfect for the one eating, but more and more people are coming to expect a good shot of smoke in their ‘que. If you’re looking for a good, sloppy sauce and slaw Memphis barbecue sandwich or tender juicy ribs and mild smoke is your thing, Leonard’s will satisfy your craving. And with a barbecue buffet, meatopia is waiting for even the hungriest carnivore. For nearly a century, Leonard’s Pit Barbecue has, like a proud papa, been serving Memphis real pit barbecue. And evidently, we still haven’t had enough.

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

101_1173Leonard's Pit Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Categories: Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boss Man Pit Stop-How to Eat a Rib Sandwich

Boss Man Pit StopAnyone who’s lived in Memphis for any period of time has seen a burger, nachos or a piece of chicken hand-painted right on the front of a small restaurant or diner of some kind-not unlike what you’d see some of the older food trucks. The Memphis urban landscape is dotted with them. Take Boss Man Pit Stop for example. It’s a small, unassuming strip-mall bbq shop with the menu painted right on the front: burgers, catfish, smoked turkey leg, nachos, sausages, hotdogs, bbq sandwiches, rib tips and hot wings. Interestingly enough, I had none of these. Instead, I had a rib sandwich.

Usually in Memphis, a rib sandwich means a four-bone section of ribs served on a bun or a couple of slices of bread, with sauce and slaw on the side. The best way to enjoy it is to eat a bone or two, then debone the rest of the meat and make a sandwich with it. Don’t forget to add the sauce and slaw. A little hot sauce or hot bbq sauce, if available, is in order too. Eating your rib sandwich this way enables you to enjoy both ribs and a bbq sandwich for much less than the cost of a slab of ribs. It’s also a good way to watch that supermodel figure that you’ve worked so diligently to achieve and still enjoy some ‘que. As much as I enjoy barbecue and as often as I eat it, it’s become necessary to learn the meaning of moderation. But don’t think for a minute that I didn’t savor every bite. The sauce was tangy-sweet and the meat, everything I like in ribs-smoky, tender and savory. At this pit stop I got my much needed barbecue fuel for the soul.

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

Boss Man Pit Stop on Urbanspoon

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Blues City Café on Beale Street




My family knows that a good time for me means checking out a new bbq joint. And when given a choice of where to celebrate Father’s Day one year, I chose Blues City Café on Beale Street. I’d read about it on the net and heard local radio DJs give it high praises. So, walking with our “feet ten feet off of Beale,” as singer-songwriter Marc Cohn so eloquently wrote, we made our bbq journey to Blues City Café. It’s a Beale Street blues joint with a down home southern vibe. But don’t let the name fool you. Blues is not the only type of music you’ll hear performed on their Band Box stage. Various genres of live music are showcased at Blues City Café on different nights of the week, from rock & roll to R & B and soul. It’s a hip hangout, but I was there to check out the ‘que.


While we waited for the food I gave the table bbq sauce and seasoning a taste. So far- good and good. I thought both captured that Memphis flavor. The sauce was both a little sweet and a little tangy. The dry rub seasoning was savory and robust. In just a few minutes a platter of meaty bones was placed in front of me. The ribs had a nice bark on the outside and were very tender inside. Everything about this bbq joint screamed great Memphis barbecue except for one very important ingredient-smoke. The meat had no visible smoke ring or even the slightest bit of pink that is present when meat is pit-smoked. More importantly, the meat had no smoke flavor at all. Smokiness is really the barometer of good barbecue. It’s the true essence of barbecue and the ribs at Blues City Café fell short that evening. All of the other important elements were there, which still made them enjoyable barbecue-flavored ribs, just not barbecued ribs.


A few years later I later watched a television episode featuring Blues City Café on the Food Network. Bobby Flay paid a visit and I learned how they “barbecued” their ribs. They were using a little contraption that basically bakes the meat, with a tray in which to place wood chips. Heated by some sort of heating elements, the wood produces smoke to flavor the meat as it bakes. Essentially, it appeared to be an electric or gas smoker. 101_0886After the ribs were “baked” for tenderness, they were placed on a display grill (visible to patrons) for a few minutes. Perhaps they intended to add a little charred flavor just before serving. Or more likely, it’s all part of the show. After all, the ribs really did look great coming off that grill. But a few minutes on a grill at the end of the cooking process will not add any significant smoke flavor. These types of electric and gas smokers actually can produce smoky ribs if they are operated properly. But if for example, an employee gets busy, cuts corners and neglects to place wood chips in the tray, one will essentially end up with oven-baked ribs. In effect, that’s what I got, because my ribs simply had zero smoky flavor. There is just no substitute for a real bbq pit. And with so many bbq eateries in town serving real pit bbq, I see no reason to chance the expense of smokeless ribs again.

Overall, I still liked so many other elements of Blues City Café and would like to make my way back. 101_0890The southern sides were great and I understand they have some of the best fried catfish around. They also have an interesting way of cooking and serving steaks. They’re ordered by the pound and pre-sliced, then served family style on the table for one or more guests. If you’re a steak-lover as I am, you probably prefer getting your steak whole for maximum juiciness, and cutting away each bite as you eat. However, it could be fun to explore this unique steak dining experience with family or a few friends. Despite the less-than-perfect bbq, I recommend Blues City Café for a great southern meal, great times and great tunes. And if no one neglects to place the wood chips in the tray, you just might get some tasty smoked ribs as well.

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

Blues City Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Big Bill Bar-B-Que – Little BBQ Joint, Big Bill Flavors




On Elvis Presley Blvd, just half a mile from Graceland, I came across a small bbq joint with big flavors-Big Bill flavors that is, at BIG BILL BAR-B-Q. The atmosphere was simple, but unique. Pictures of Rufus Thomas, Elvis Presley and B. B. King served as wall décor. And if barbecue has its leaders, Big Bill is certainly one of them. Not because he has won bbq competitions or touts trophies and medals, or because he has a TV show or cooking school. But simply because in a world of new school, he’s still old school. Big Bill Bar-B-Q just cranks out addictive, old-school barbecue, day in and day out. He needed no claim to fame because the ‘que spoke for itself. My taste buds were  glad I listened, because my palette was rewarded with smoky, tender pork ribs. I couldn’t find anything at all wrong with these ribs.  They were perfectly tender, brilliantly smoky ribs with a nice well-seasoned crust and a sweet-n-tangy sauce that complimented the meat. In one visit Big Bill Bar-B-Q went from a place new to me, to one of my favorite bbq discoveries in town for old-school barbecued ribs.  Also on the menu was all of the typical Memphis bbq fare: barbecue (smoked pork shoulder),bbq bologna, bbq nachos, fried catfish, southern style tamales and the like. On my visit I also happened to see a colleague from work, who was actually out on maternity leave. When those cravings came, mom knew right where to go. No chance of me gettin’ pregnant (thankfully), but that old time backyard bbq flavor is one that I crave, and I think Big Bill Bar-B-Q is one of the best places in Memphis to get it.

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

Big Bill Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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Alfred’s on Beale Street – Ribs Over Beale



Alfred’s is a Beale St. club that hosts some of the best live bands around. Combine that with the terrace dining, southern food and plenty of cold drinks and you get spirited fun and spirited people. So here’s the formula: live music + terrace dining + southern food + cold drinks = a great time on Beale. You’ll hear more than the blues at Alfred’s too. I can still remember that afternoon our family dined under the terrace at Alfred’s. The impending Y2K was fast approaching, sparking conversation, laughter and a touch of uncertainty. A local rock band was covering Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ On yet another visit Kevin Paige and The Amazing Flea Circus performed an eclectic set of numbers, including a hit by Prince.


Since Beale St. is known for both blues and bbq, it was no surprise to find ribs on the menu our first visit several years ago. I call this my ‘rags to riches’ bbq story because Alfred’s went from low on my bbq totem pole to high on my list of Memphis bbq greats. I was the unlucky guy to end up with the worst ribs on the planet that first time. In fact, they were so bad I’d be willing to bet that if those ribs had been served to Alfred himself, he wouldn’t have eaten them either. I sent the ribs back for the following reasons: the ribs were about 50% fat, which was cold, the texture was rubbery and smokiness was non-existent. Imagine eating cold fat when you were expecting smoky, tender barbecued ribs. In Memphis, we take pride in our ‘que. The thought of some unsuspecting out-of-towners expecting world class Memphis bbq and getting cold fat, was a little unsettling. Then again, after a few beers and some spirited tunes the ribs might not have tasted so bad after all.


But, the fairytale didn’t end there for my experience at Alfred’s. In 2010 I spotted a banner on Alfred’s advertising that their bbq competition team had placed well in a bbq contest. Needless to say, I was surprised. But I figured they probably had a new pit-master. That was my cue to make a return visit after so many years. And how different they were! This time the ribs were sensationally slightly sweet and sticky, succulently tender, had a well-seasoned bark and were smolderingly smoky! Was the first visit a fluke, or was this the new Alfred’s? No matter. This time at Alfred’s I got top shelf ribs that would have tantalized any barbecue connoisseur’s palate-sober or not. Not only did Alfred’s redeem itself in my eyes, but it also moved way up my list of best ribs in town. Alfred’s is also still a favorite club on Beale for many locals, showcasing some of the most talented, lively and relevant artists in Memphis. It’s a jam-packed hotspot on Beale, where the music’s hot, the drinks are cold and the ribs are smokin’.

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!


Terrace at Alfred’s on Beale St. with additional seating underneath.

Alfred's on Beale on Urbanspoon

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A & R Bar-B-Que – “Fire” Ribs at the Old Ramill Rd Store



A&R Bar-B-Q in Memphis

A & R BAR-B-QUE family owners Andrew and Rose Pollard (related to the owners of Pollard’s BBQ, I’m told) run a handful of old school Memphis neighborhood bbq restaurants that have been smokin’ great barbecue since the early 80’s. I first learned of A & R when work colleagues of mine discovered my passion for barbecue and proclaimed that A & R’s ribs were “fire.” I began asking around and discovered that A & R BAR-B-QUE has a loyal following. But if you ask locals which of the A & R locations serves the best ‘que, chances are you’ll get different answers. I wanted to decide for myself, so I paid them all a visit.



A&R Bar-B-Que on Stage Rd in Bartlett, TN

My first visit to A & R BAR-B-QUE was at the Stage Rd (aka hwy 64) location in Bartlett, TN (a suburban town of the Memphis metropolitan area). The atmosphere was simple but the lure of the sweet smoked pork enticed me in. I had the awesomely sloppy, tasty, pork shoulder sandwich. The meat was lightly smoky and tender, and included some of the bits of the crust from the outer “bark” throughout the meat. The tangy-spicy sauce was not the kind that one might dip chicken tenders into. It simply accomplished its task of complementing the pork, along with slaw and bun. A sweet treat afterwards was tempting, though. One of the plastic-wrapped cake squares by the register just kept staring at me. But after that huge mound of meat, it was time to move on.


AR Elvis Pres

The Original A&R Bar-B-Que on Elvis Presley Blvd

AR Elvis Pres Smoke House

A&R’s Smokehouse at the Original Elvis Presley Blvd Location

I usually try to make it to the original or at least oldest running location of any bbq joint, so my second experience with A & R BAR-B-QUE was at the Elvis Presley Blvd. (aka Bellevue) location. The atmosphere of the restaurant itself was quite typical of an urban Memphis bbq joint-simple, homey and bustling with business. And why wouldn’t they be with smoke billowing out of large brick smokestacks from a separate building out back. A bbq joint with a smokehouse? Barbecue jackpot! I couldn’t wait for my order to come out. In no time at all, I had my ribs in a Styrofoam box and hopped into my car to head home-but not without a bite first. After the smoke cleared, I had good, not great ribs; just a little fattier than I prefer, but mild smokiness and tenderness were there. Still, my favorite A & R ribs were yet to come.


Some of my co-workers kept insisting that the ribs at A & R were “fire,” so my third trip took me back to the Stage Road store in Bartlett. Lightly crisp bark on the outside, tender on the inside and well-seasoned dry ribs, these bones had a great smoky flavor that reminded me of the way that many local Memphians like to barbecue over charcoal right in their own back yards. Drippings land on the coals, producing smoke that flavors the meat with carnivorous savor. I was glad to find one of a few places in Memphis still using the nearly lost art of barbecuing over the coals. As much as I enjoyed the Stage Rd bbq shop, there was yet more ‘que to be experienced from other A & R BAR-B-QUE restaurants.



A&R Bar-B-Que Downtown Memphis

In March of 2010 I made it out to the newest restaurant, located on Third Street on the first floor of a high-rise building in downtown Memphis. Business was busy and fragrantly smoked pork was smoky. I had the rib tips this time; the cartilaginous yet meaty ends of the bones on spare ribs. Some bbq shops serve their spares with tips intact. Others trim them off, giving their spare ribs a more uniform shape called the St. Louis cut. The ribs tips are then smoked separately, just like the tasty tips I had at his downtown A & R. The meat was tender in parts and a little chewy in other parts, but I don’t mind a little “bbq jerky” on some of the end pieces. They were served with A & R’s mostly sweet, yet slightly tangy and spicy sauce, which actually seemed a bit different from the mostly tangy-spicy bbq 101_1452sauces I recalled from the A & R restaurants on Elvis Presley Blvd and Stage Rd. Had the recipe changed? Did they use a different sauce for ribs and tips than for the sandwich? Who knows? But ultimately it’s all about the meat, which actually had a light wood-smoked flavor this time. Combining wood and charcoal makes sense for a lot of pit-masters. Usually, charcoal is burned to maintain steady heat and wood smolders to impart flavor. But as I’ve already pointed out, charcoal makes its own contribution to flavor. This prompted a return visit; this time for a rib sandwich. Once again that charcoal pit taste came through. Still, one of my favorite A & R barbecue experiences was just a few miles away.


AR Ramill

A&R Bar-B-Que on Ramill Rd

Still searching for those “fire” ribs, I made my way over to yet another A & R store in Memphis, located on Ramill Rd in the Raleigh area. Driving up, smoke billowed from the smokestack on top of the building into towering 101_1462blankets of pure bbq heaven for the senses. I wasted no time getting inside to place my order; a four-bone dry ribs (sauce on the side) sandwich from an old brick and steel pit to the left behind the counter. The ribs had that same great crusty, “bark” exterior that I enjoyed so much at the Bartlett restaurant, with a tender and smoky interior as well, served with A & R’s sweet and tangy sauce. Loved it! It was that old-school Memphis charcoal pit barbecue flavor. I got my “fire” ribs.



Smoked Turkey Leg at A&R on Hickory Hill Rd


A&R on Hickory Hill Rd

In the spring of 2011 I added yet one more A & R BAR-B-QUE to my never-ending Memphis bbq quest, this one located in the Hickory Hill area. Since the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was just around the corner, I wanted to go easy on the pork (if one can imagine that) to get ready for judging. So I grabbed a smoked turkey leg. I nearly gave in to one of the huge homemade fried pies stacked next to the register, but since I was trying to keep it light, I just stuck to the poultry. The smoked turkey leg actually had all of the same great qualities of A & R’s ribs: smoky, tender meat, well-seasoned crusty bark and a nice tangy-sweet sauce to compliment. And when the menu read, “Jumbo,” it meant jumbo! It could’ve easily fed two people (so much for eating light). There’s no need to wait for the county fair to get a meaty smoked turkey leg. A & R’s are plenty smoky and plenty meaty.   I finally concluded that the Ramil location was my favorite, but in the end it’s still all tasty family barbecue-and proof that where there’s smoke there’s “fire!”

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

Update as of 2014:   Elvis Presley location-Open Hickory Hill Rd. Location-Open Ramil location (my favorite)-Closed Stage Rd. Location-Closed Third St. Location-Closed

A&R Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Categories: Best Pork Shoulder, Best Ribs, Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q (Mason, TN) – BBQ Time Travel

The influence of Memphis barbecue extends well beyond its city limits to include its surrounding metropolitan area towns and the entire tri-state area. It’s a nice change of pace to escape the noise pollution and concrete jungles of the city by venturing into one of the little country 101_0914towns on the outskirts. Tucked back in the country, a thirty minute, breezy, country drive outside of Memphis to Mason Tennessee, Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q is a place out of town and out of time. To get there from Memphis, you’ll enter Tipton County, the birthplace of soul music legend Isaac Hayes, and you’ll pass one of the original Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken restaurants. Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q is one of the oldest, if not the oldest operating bbq restaurants around Memphis. It was established in 1923 and rumor has it that this bbq joint is even older than Bozo the clown, who allegedly sued them for a copyrights violation. As the story goes, the clown lost a counter-suit because the bbq restaurant was able to prove that smoke was billowing from their smokestack as Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q long before the clown began painting his face for the public as Bozo the Clown. One thing’s for sure-Bozo’s Hot Pit BBQ has been around for a long time. I’ve heard a few old-timers speak of growing up on Bozo’s barbecue.

In a world of internet, iPhones and robot vacuum cleaners, Bozo’s hasn’t lost their old-time homey charm. The woody, smoky aroma and piggy memorabilia throughout the restaurant transported me back to another era; a place in time where folks are friendly and 101_0923Best of all, old-fashioned downhome cookin’ was on the menu. And when it comes to the barbecue, they’re not clowin’ around at Bozo’s. I enjoyed the pork shoulder sandwich most of all. It came just the way I like it-‘dirty!’ That’s right, ‘dirty’- smoky, tender and loaded with bits of the bark or outer crust mixed throughout the meat. That contrast in texture, combined with the smoky flavor of the meat, the slightly sweet but mostly tangy sauces and mayonnaise-based slaw made one serious bbq sandwich. For those who want even more vinegar punch, Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q offers a tangy vinegar slaw as well. The ribs, only available on weekends, were tender and had a nice barbecued crust with slight, yet noticeable smokiness. But it was the bar-b-q sandwich that impressed me the most and one that I’ll be back for. In fact, I can already taste my next trip there, all clowin’ aside.

Scroll further down to see photos of the old Gus’s Fried Chicken in Mason, TN and to read a short story from one of my readers.

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

Bozo's Hot Pit Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon



Thomas O’Brien posted the story below in the comment section. I liked it and decided to share it here, courtesy of Thomas.

Hello Tim,
A short story for you.
Many years ago, approximately mid 70’s, me and my young family moved to Galloway, TN. just down the highway from Bozo’s Barbecue. I had heard of Bozo’s and wanted to give it a try. One Saturday evening we made the short drive down highway 70 to find Bozo’s with a seriously long line literally out the door.
No way am I waiting in that line.
Hungry and impatient I spot a little shack across the road named “Maggie’s Short Orders.” We decide to give it a try. We were the only costumers in the store. A pleasant older woman, Maggie, greeted us and told us all she was serving this evening was fried chicken with beans and slaw. Hungry and ready to eat we said fine. She brought out the chicken on a platter like family style with our sides.
One bite and I had just sampled the best fried chicken I had ever tasted. I gorged and when the platter was gone she asked if we wanted more. Everyone else was sated but I wanted 2 more pieces.
When all was said and done this charming lady charged us $5.00 each. $15.00 for three people to leave stuffed.
I find out many years later that Maggi, was the mother of Vernon Bonner (Gus) of the now famous Gus’s Fried Chicken.
Maggie”s husband, Napolean Bonner, developed the recipe for the now famous chicken. They passed in the early eighties and about a year later their son Vernon, nicknamed “Gus Bully” reopened the restaurant using the family recipe as Gus’s Fried Chicken.
I have asked a thousand people but not one remembers “Maggie’s Short Orders.” Damn I’m Old.
And yes I did return and dine at Bozo’s on a few occasions and now with memories stirred I must do it again and stop by Gus’s across the street.

Thanks Thomas. I really enjoy these types of stories. Interestingly enough, the day after I read it we ate at Gus’s to celebrate that my son Blake had been honored with the presidential award of excellence at school. The place was his choice. While we were eating, Thomas’ story came to mind. Thanks again for that little piece of culinary history Mr. O’Brien.




Categories: Best Pork Shoulder, Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Cozy Corner Restaurant-Old School Memphis Barbecue Dry Ribs

UPDATE: Follow the link below to read about my most recent visit to Cozy Corner since they suffered a fire on January 8, 2015.
Give Cozy Corner a Fire, They’ll Smoke Some Ribs or continue reading my original review below.


At the corner of North Parkway and Manassas in downtown Memphis, meat drips overs coals daily, drawing in crowds of barbecue lovers from all over this ‘que-lovin’ country.

Cozy Corner BBQ

Cozy Corner’s Barbecue Pit

It’s a cozy corner; a small and humble place with no bells and whistles, no tourist traps and no large wooden statues for kids to get a picture with-just one of the best places in Memphis to get real deal Memphis-style charcoal pit bar-b-q. It’s Cozy Corner Restaurant. Just driving by, the barbecue aroma is intoxicating enough to make even our vegetarian friends crave one of their meaty bones. Its unique glass-walled smoker sits smoke-filled, right behind the counter to the left, displaying racks of smoky meats cooking low and slow over charcoal.


The near lost art of cooking over the coals sounds like barbecue blasphemy to many pit-masters in the world of competition barbecue, where using the indirect wood smoked method reigns supreme. I too was on the bbq trail looking for ribs with the best wood smoked flavor when I first paid a visit to Cozy Corner years ago. I recall that after my first bite of a Cozy Corner rib I asked myself audibly, “Man, what is in that?” Was it in the seasoning? How did these ribs taste so great without the wood smoke? It was when I saw an online interview with Raymond Robinson (Cozy Corner founder and original pit-master) from the documentary ‘Smokestack Lightning,’ that I learned his secret to mouthwatering bbq. He said, “I want my juices to fall out of the meat, hit the coals, burn, make a smoke and come and go back through the meat. And that’s the flavor I’m looking for.” That one tip completely revolutionized the way I barbecue. There is a particular type of smoke flavor the meat takes on when the drippings hit the coals. Since I like both wood smoked flavor and this old charcoal pit smoky flavor, I most often now find myself utilizing both methods simultaneously.



Cozy Corner BBQ-Smokin’

Cozy Corner is especially famous for their bbq Cornish hens and their ribs. They both get a good shot of charcoal pit smoke and their tasty barbecue dry-rub seasoning. The seasoning is yet another Cozy Corner secret. The few times I purchased some to take, I actually got in a Styrofoam cup. The coffee lid provides a little flip top from which to sprinkle that magic bbq dust. It’s simple and old-fashioned. They sold it by the pound and half pound. The first time I ever had it was actually not at the Cozy Corner Restaurant. It was at a cookout that a fellow work colleague, Daniel Thorpe was shaking the dry-rub all over some bbq chicken. It was some of the best bbq chicken I’d ever had. It reminded me of my dad’s bbq chicken. I’ve modeled my bbq chicken after that flavor ever since. When I asked Thorpe (we went by last names at work) where he got the seasoning he just said with a smile, “I buy this stuff from a little store in the hood. This man (referring to Raymond Robinson) mixes it up and sells it in Styrofoam cups like this (showing me the cup). You don’t know nothin’ about that Shirley.” Since then we always enjoyed talking ‘que. I toyed around with different flavors, trying to find out what is in it. But even if one knew the basic ingredients, who knows the ratios? I like this rub because I think Mr. Robinson captured just the perfect flavor for barbecue. Some rubs are very aromatic and taste good on cheese and what not, but not all rubs taste good when cooked on bbq. Some spices take on a whole new flavor once they are exposed to heat and smoke. Cozy Corner’s rub is probably fairly simple, it’s just an ideal blend for bbq. I can’t say if I’ve cracked the top secret G-4 classified formula, but here’s the best I could come up with: paprika, salt and/or seasoning salt, pepper (red and black), garlic and/or onion powder, a little cayenne pepper, perhaps MSG and a touch of magic. These are actually typical ingredients for a bbq dry rub, but good luck finding the exact flavor.



Delectable “Dry” Ribs From Cozy Corner in Memphis, TN


If you’re looking for sticky-sweet type ribs, you won’t find them here. Those can be good too, but that’s not what Cozy Corner’s barbecue is about. It’s just a different kind of bbq. Sauce is poured on like bbq gravy instead of basted, which then marries with their dry rub seasoning and gives birth to a whole new tasty bbq creation. Still, I usually order the dry ribs with sauce on the side so that I can control how much sauce is on the meat. That way, I ensure nothing is covering up that great smoke flavor.   And I’ve never had, “fall off the bone tender” ribs from Cozy Corner either. But that’s no accident. It’s by design and it’s perfect tenderness by competition standards. Ribs should instead be “come clean from the bone” tender. That is-when you take a bite from a bone, the whole piece of meat doesn’t fall off and the only meat missing is where you took a bite. They are tender enough to eat easily without struggle, just not sloppy tender like say, boiled chicken. Smoky, tender and touched with a magic seasoned barbecue bark, the ribs at Cozy Corner BBQ are high on my list of Memphis’ best for barbecued ribs and second to none of the charcoal pit-smoked variety.

UPDATE: Follow the link below to read about my most recent visit to Cozy Corner since they suffered a fire on January 8, 2015. Give Cozy Corner a Fire, They’ll Smoke Some Ribs


Cozy Corner Restaurant

A final word about two great barbecue pit-masters

Raymond Robinson and Daniel Thorpe passed on to heaven a few years ago, but they leave behind their passions for great barbecue to those who they touched with good food and good times. I dedicate this review to them and to the loved ones whose lives they touched.

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

Cozy Corner Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Categories: Best Ribs, Memphis BBQ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Pig on Beale – “Pork With An Attitude!”

Pork with an attitude!

Pork with an attitude!


Music, wood smoke and the smell of lively concoctions fill the air on Beale Street, where neon lights guide the way to good times for tourists and locals alike. But in the midst of that neon jungle, a sign stands out from the rest. Who can possibly miss the pig in sunglasses, flexing his bicep with microphone held firmly in the same hoof? The sign reads, ‘Pork With An Attitude!’ Enter the world of The PIG on Beale.

But first, allow me to take a step back. My first experience with The PIG on Beale was not actually at The PIG on Beale, but at their former Millington location, Millington PIG. Millington is a small military town, a mere ten minute drive from the Memphis city limits. It hosts the annual Memphis Airshow and is home to the award-winning championship Mirimichi Golf Course, brain-child of hometown music sensation, Justin Timberlake. the Millington PIG was a star in its own rights in the world of barbecue. A step into this bbq diner with retro décor of classic movie posters, booths with glitter-covered seats and a jumpin’ jukebox, felt like going on a time machine ride that made a pit stop in the 50’s. And old-time wood-smoked barbecued ribs completed my trip to the past. The wood smoke flavor, tenderness, caramelized bark and a sweet-n-tangy bbq sauce on those meaty bones solidified Millington PIG as a bone-a-fide rib joint. Millington PIG has since closed its doors, but the original store on Beale Street is still rockin’ out ribs and shoulder.

The Pig on Beale

The Pig on Beale

About a year later I made my way down Beale to The PIG to get the ‘que from the source. I’d heard mixed reviews about the place, but that it had improved. The Pig on Beale had the same cool retro décor of the Millington PIG and still smoked up some of the best meat in town. There, I had one of the very best smoky bbq sandwiches I’ve ever put in my mouth-period. It had all of the elements of a smoky, tender, well-seasoned barbecue sandwich with slaw and same great sweet-n-tangy bbq sauce. The crust throughout the meat had the kind of pink color that is present when meat has been wood-smoked low and slow. Those bits of extra smoky meat I always look for in an authentic Memphis-style barbecue sandwich-a bbq sandwich with an attitude. So go and enjoy yourself. Go ahead, be a PIG!

YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!

 Pig on Beale on Urbanspoon

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Loven Fresh Baking Company and Smokehouse Barbecue


Loven Fresh Baking Company, BBQ and Deli

Loven Fresh Baking Company, BBQ and Deli


A Picture of the Smokin’ Pit that Drew Us in on Our First Visit to Loven Fresh, Taken with My Stone Edge Cell Phone Camera.

One site that will always catch the eye of any barbecue enthusiast out on the road is a jumbo barbecue pit in a parking lot, smoke billowing out. And that is exactly why I was forced to make the twenty five minute trip out to Loven Fresh Baking Company and Smokehouse Barbecue in Oakland, TN. I had passed by the little bbq shop with the big bbq pit on my way to see family in Selmer, TN. Unable to stop at the time, I would eventually make the trip with my wife and kids. It’s actually a bakery, deli and bbq shop all combined into one. The store itself was tiny, with a few wooden picnic tables outside for seating. But I liked it. It reminded me of picnics, family reunions and church pot-lucks, which are all the heart and soul of American barbecue anyway. Sitting next to a hickory log pile and the large smokin’ pit provided a front row seat right in the heart of the barbecue action.


Stepping into Loven Fresh bakery was like taking a trip back in time to a charming, wholesome, country store. Shelves were lined with goodies ranging from molasses to fruit preserves to an assortment of gourmet flavored oils, no doubt intended for dipping some of that fresh-baked bread into. Other shelves featured Loven Fresh’s freshly baked breads, cakes and the little gem that started it all for owners Chris and Angela McKnight-banana nut bread. Their bio on the back of the store’s flyer tells the story of Chris making banana nut bread loaves for Angela to sell at work. Orders reached a few thousand within only a few months. Since then, he opened Loven Fresh and hasn’t stopped multiplying loaves since! I was there for the ‘que, but it’s hard to resist homemade banana nut bread, so I took a loaf home to the family. That poor loaf never had a chance! Once the boys got hold of it, the bread lasted for about five minutes. I enjoyed a couple of slices with cream cheese spread between-yum! It was moist and zingy with spices. The pungent cinnamon and other spices make this loaf stand out from the rest. A slice of this banana nut bread and a cup of freshly ground locally roasted coffee would be a delightful way to start the day.


It’s true that there’s a lot of loven’ in this oven, but I was more interested in what was in the pit. Chris had hooked up with a competition bbq team, eventually honing his own craft. As a result, the unique bakery-deli-bbq shop was born. We’ve talked bread. Now let’s talk shoulder. The meat had a deep and obvious smoke ring, which was evidence that it had been smoked for many hours. It was also very tender and had really good bark or crust developed from spices and smoke on the outside of the Boston butt. These crusty bits were mixed throughout the pulled pork-just the way I like it. That way, I get a nice contrast of textures-crispy, chewy, tender, juicy. The sauce had some good tang, the right amount of sweet and worked well with the crunchy slaw to compliment the smoky sandwich.


Barbecue shops are notoriously inconsistent. But the smoky pork sandwiches I’ve grabbed on return visits to Loven Fresh have still been-crispy, chewy, tender, juicy and oh so smoky. Each time I return, the little bakery-bbq shop seems to have grown up a little. Soon the pit was moved into a covered patio adjacent to the building, where smoke still billows out, drawing in bbq lovers. In July of 2014 I decided to take the boys to a massive inflatable water slide called the Midsouth Family Fun Park in Eads, TN. Since Oakland was just a few miles down 64, where to eat lunch was never a question in my mind. The trip was a win-win situation. The boys got to slide and I got some ‘que at Loven Fresh! All three of us had the barbecue pork sandwich with sauce and slaw. The meat was still on “que.” They’d also built a charming patio with a fountain and some plants.

Loven Fresh Baking Company, BBQ and Deli

Loven Fresh Baking Company, BBQ and Deli

I am already planning yet another visit. See, I asked Chris if the buns for the bbq sandwiches were baked in-house. But trying to bake fresh buns for the thousands of bbq sandwiches he cranks out on a regular basis is not plausible, given that Chris is the owner-operator of this bakery-bbq shop. He’s keeping it small in size, but great in quality. One could, however, special order fresh buns and pick up smoked pork shoulder by the pound with sauce and slaw to take home. In fact, Chris can bake an assortment of breads. Now I can imagine what some of my fellow bbq connoisseurs might be thinking; that a traditional bbq sandwich is made with a very simple burger bun-nothing fancy. This way, the smoked pork can be the star of the show. But imagine if you could get that simple burger bun freshly baked and piled with freshly smoked pork shoulder, homemade bbq sauce and slaw! Could anything be better? In fact, that’s exactly what I plan to do on my next trip to Loven Fresh. I want to experience the ultimate oven fresh, Loven Fresh bbq sandwich!

Overall, Loven Fresh is just one of those rare bbq gems, where the owner-operator serves up passion on bun. Still small, still passionate about great food. The meat, the smoke, the aroma, the charm-Loven Fresh Baking Company, Barbecue and Deli is the little bakery-bbq shop with big flavor; and a must stop for ‘que-lovin’ folks like me.

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