Memphis BBQ
May 21, 2024

Memphis BBQ for Beginners: The Perfect Grilling Afternoon

Memphis BBQ

When you think of Memphis, Memphis food and BBQ immediately come to mind, a culinary tradition deeply rooted in the city's culture.

This style of barbecue is mostly centered on pork, particularly ribs and pulled pork, which are slow-cooked to achieve an irresistible tenderness that falls right off the bone. 

The real magic in Memphis-style BBQ lies in the seasoning. It's not just any seasoning but a specially crafted dry rub blend rich in paprika, garlic powder, and a mix of other spices. This blend creates a burst of flavor in every bite, setting Memphis BBQ apart from others.

Excited to learn how Memphis BBQ is cooked? We'll discuss the technique (read: the secret) here. 

The Right Techniques to Cook the Best Memphis BBQ

Memphis BBQ

Selecting the Right Cut: The Heart of Memphis BBQ

When it comes to Memphis BBQ, choosing the right type of pork is crucial. There are two primary cuts you should consider:

For ribs, you can choose: 

  • Baby Back Ribs: Ideal for those who prefer leaner meat. They cook relatively quickly due to their smaller size and lower fat content.
  • Spare Ribs: These are larger and have more fat than baby back ribs. The extra fat makes them juicier and flavorful, especially when cooked slowly.

For pulled pork, choose:

  • Pork Shoulder (Boston Butt): This is the best cut for pulled pork. It has a higher fat content, which results in tender, flavorful meat after slow cooking.

When shopping for these cuts, look for pieces with a good balance of meat and fat. The fat is important because it melts during cooking, keeping the meat moist and adding flavor. 

For ribs, ensure the meat is evenly distributed across the rack, and for pork shoulder, choose a piece that is well-marbled with fat.

Crafting the Perfect Dry Rub: Key Spices for Memphis BBQ

Creating the ideal dry rub is essential for authentic Memphis BBQ. The dry rub blends various spices that coat the meat, imparting deep, rich flavors. 

Here are the key ingredients you'll typically find in a Memphis BBQ dry rub:

  • Paprika: The base of many dry rubs adds a smoky flavor.
  • Garlic Powder: Adds a robust, savory note.
  • Onion Powder: Complements the garlic powder with its subtle, slightly sweet taste.
  • Ground Black Pepper: Brings a slight heat and sharpness.
  • Cayenne Pepper: For those who enjoy a spicy kick, cayenne pepper adds warmth.
  • Brown Sugar: Balances the spices with sweetness and helps to create a caramelized crust.
  • Mustard Powder: Adds tang and depth.
  • Cumin: Provides a warm, earthy note.
  • Chili Powder: Adds a warm, spicy flavor.
  • Dried Thyme or Oregano: Enhances the flavor of other spices. 

The next step is to apply it to the meat correctly. This is a straightforward but important part of the process, as it greatly influences the flavor of your BBQ.

Start by ensuring an even coating of the dry rub on the meat. You want to cover every part of the meat's surface with the spice blend. So, massage the rub into the meat, ensuring it sticks well and covers the entire surface. This method allows the spices to get into the meat, providing maximum flavor.

Once the meat is thoroughly coated with the dry rub, let it rest for 6 to 48 hours. The longer you allow the meat to rest, the more flavor it will absorb.

Mastering the Slow Cook: Achieving Tender Perfection

The process of slow cooking is a fundamental element in Memphis BBQ. This method focuses on cooking the meat at a low temperature for a long duration, which is essential for achieving that tender, fall-off-the-bone texture.

Slow cooking in Memphis BBQ typically involves maintaining temperatures around 200 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is low enough to cook the meat gently but high enough for the fat to infuse the meat with flavor and moisture. Consistently keeping the temperature in this range is key. If you're using a grill or smoker, check the temperature regularly.

Slow cooking can take anywhere from a few hours to an entire day, depending on the cut and size of your meat. For example, ribs might take about 4-6 hours, while an 8-10lb pork butt could take up to 12-14 hours.

Sauces: The Memphis BBQ Experience

Two sauces go very well with Memphis BBQ. 

The first is tomato sauce, and the ingredients include ketchup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and salt.

This is the classic Memphis BBQ sauce, rich and red. It pairs perfectly with pork and adds a burst of flavor. This sauce is rich and slightly sweet, thanks to the brown sugar.

It has a tangy kick from apple cider vinegar that pairs wonderfully with smoked meat. 

Second, but equally delicious, is mustard sauce. The ingredients include yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, honey, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt.

Mustard sauce offers a unique tangy twist to Memphis BBQ. It's bold and slightly sweet, with the honey and brown sugar providing a delightful balance. 

The yellow mustard and apple cider vinegar contribute to its tanginess, while the mix of paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt adds depth to the flavor. It's a great choice for those who enjoy a zesty kick with their BBQ.

Indulge in Memphis BBQ

Memphis is famous for many things, like its rich musical heritage, the iconic Graceland, and its vibrant culture. But one of its most celebrated treasures is its BBQ. Known as the barbecue capital of the world, this city boasts BBQ joints in every nook and cranny.

Here are the steps to cook the perfect Memphis BBQ:

  • Choose baby back ribs for leaner meat, spare ribs for juicier, flavorful BBQ, and pork shoulder for tender pulled pork.
  • Create a spice mix using paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, mustard powder, cumin, chili powder, and dried thyme or oregano.
  • Coat your meat and cook it at 200 to 225.
  • Serve your BBQ with either tomato sauce, which has a rich and slightly sweet flavor, or mustard sauce, known for its tangy kick and a touch of sweetness from honey and brown sugar.