An Englishman Goes Walkin' in Memphis, Finds God in BBQ Ribs and Sausage
A perfect sausage smothered in sauce -- you don't need an Elvis sighting to find miracles in Memphis.
After my earlier (somewhat sarcastic) rejection of all of Memphis barbecue, I felt I should probably try somewhere that wasn't Red, Hot and Blue and aim to be remotely fair. As luck would have it, during a New Year road trip we passed through Memphis for a day (en route from Cracker Barrel in fact. My poor insides). So, risking my neck, taste buds, and a wide variety of diseases (I AM STILL BEING SARCASTIC AT THIS POINT EVERYONE), I ventured to a couple of choicer Memphis barbecue venues.
First up, Central BBQ, which is presumably in a central part of Memphis. I don't know, I was only there for a day. It's on Central Street, though, and is named Central BBQ, so to put it in the outskirts would seem perverse at best. There is a promisingly lengthy wait, and although the venue is small, crowded, and not that exciting-looking, it does of course smell delicious. The ribs were $23 a rack though. I mean, for that amount of money, the ribs should surely be made of gold and/or fellate me. I got them in a sampler plate, with brisket (not something I was led to expect in Memphis) and pulled pork (far more likely), which still cost $23. What am I, Memphis, constructed entirely from valuable resources? I ask you.
Anyway, in ascending order of quality: The brisket was flame-grilled, which is just a disaster (more like a steak than brisket, although that's still an improvement on the inedible lump of shoe that Red, Hot and Blue saw fit to label brisket); the pulled pork was fabulous; and the ribs were like eating some approximation of the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, only less chewy.
I should mention at this point I got to choose from FOUR barbecue sauces (yes FOUR) and because in Memphis you're SUPPOSED TO COVER EVERYTHING IN SAUCE (!) this is exactly what I did. I was like a child in a place children really enjoy being. An animal in whatever it is animals particularly like being in. Alas, my prose is suffering due to the joy of the memory.
Let's have a go at a brief description, as I seem to remember that's my job or something. The ribs were burnt crispy black on the outside, with a savage, smoky, delicious rub that stung the taste buds, but inside were perfectly pink and almost melting. It was no effort to get absolutely all the meat off the bone. I want to build a house made entirely from the ribs, and dedicate my life to eating said house. Worth all 2,300 pennies. My God, Memphis. You did it, you really did it. Just stay away from beef, there's a good chap.
Second, the Germantown Commissary BBQ, in Germantown, a town I approximate to be a quaint, attractive suburb of Memphis. Like Plano, but nice. This place is just the coolest. The venue is a small Civil War-era former town store, converted into a smoky, awkward-to-walk-around-in paradise. The whole thing was made of wood and happiness. Even better, this place has totally forgone the beef, in a frankly belated admission that Memphis has no idea what's going on with cows. Once more, the ribs were prohibitively expensive, leading me to speculate either a breakdown in the cow-to-table supply chain or an overall shortage, but after the previous night's experience (this was the following afternoon) I could hardly say no. Again, the sampler plate was $23, but crucially this one replaced brisket with sausage.
The pulled pork was again excellent. It's very light and easy to eat, Memphis pulled pork, without losing any of its flavour. It's like eating a pig cloud, but one that's full of sauce rain. If that makes any sense. I'm not sure it does. What I'm trying to say is that, apart from the explosion of flavours and happiness chemicals, you don't really notice you're eating it. The ribs are equally as good as last night's (although far less heavy on the rub), which makes them approximately as good as watching the new season of Arrested Development while getting a back rub from a naked Megan Fox. Memphis ribs really are incredible. I feel like OTB in Forest Hill or Cousin's in Fort Worth had the best ribs I've tried in Texas, but both Memphis places beat them hands down. I'm not sure if the rub contains crack, but we do need to look into getting them flown in.
You might have noticed I hadn't mentioned the sausage. Well, Jesus Christ on several bicycles. It was a religious experience on a par with walking round Mecca with the Pope, using the Turin Shroud as a mocked-up sun hat, while Buddha plays you a jaunty tune on some sort of Zen instrument. It was light, smoky, and the snap was perfect. We immediately purchased a second sausage. Upon asking where the hell they found this creation, that should only really be available in the Sistine Chapel's side-BBQ joint, they replied some local butcher they couldn't remember. May I suggest this local butcher is immediately sainted and given the freedom of the Kingdom, possibly even appointed president. At the very least he should be given a free run at Megan Fox.
In summary -- sorry Memphis. You were right about pork. Not about your brisket though. Your brisket can suck it.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.