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.
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 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.
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
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!