Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bar-B-Q Shop, Memphis, TN

This is the first of several accounts of outstanding meals that were eaten as Tamar and I traveled through Tennessee over Thanksgiving week, 2008.


It was the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving and we were driving south through Kentucky on our way to Memphis, Tennessee. Since I moved to Pittsburgh, this is a trip I’ve wanted to take for a number of reasons. This year, I finally had the chance and the perfect travel companion. Our itinerary was busy, but food was one of the primary considerations in our route planning. We were to arrive in Memphis on Wednesday night, spend Thanksgiving there, visit Graceland on Friday morning, and then get back on the road and head east towards Nashville.

Glancing at our dashboard clock and making some quick calculations, it appeared as though we were going to arrive in Memphis around 9 PM. After consulting my prepared list of targeted eats and making a few phone calls, only one place stayed open that late, The Bar-B-Q Shop, widely reputed to be one of the best ribs joints in Memphis, and thus by association, anywhere in the world. But they were closing at 9, so it was going to be a close call. Visions of succulent ribs and barbecue sauce motivated me as I accelerated faster towards our goal.

But time was not on our side. We were resigned that we might miss out on the evening’s dinner, and because of all restaurants being closed on the next day's holiday, would also be deprived of getting our fingers dirty until Friday. Depressed, we were starting to consider other options. In Dyersburg, TN, we debated pulling over at Bad Boys BBQ, whose storefront marquee promised a free gallon of sweet tea with every “Butt Job” order. Although it’s unlikely that I’ll ever legally have another chance to walk into an establishment and say “one butt job, please”, we drove on, still dreaming of The Bar-B-Q Shop.

However, after pulling out her cell phone, Tam made a discovery. While we started the day in northern Kentucky in the eastern time zone, somewhere on our 8 hour drive, we must have crossed a boundary and gained an hour! A Thanksgiving miracle! Our car’s dashboard clock was now an hour fast, and we had plenty of time to reach our dinner destination.

We eventually made it to Memphis and pulled into a parking spot across from The Bar-B-Q Shop with almost exactly an hour to spare before closing. Starving and thirsty, we were seated at a table by the window and took about five seconds to decide on our order: ribs (we ordered the rib dinner for two) and plenty of cold beer. Wanting to savor the spectrum of Memphis rib styles, we opted for half wet, half dry ribs. The dinner includes a full rack, a generous stack of Texas toast, and two servings of beans and slaw.

The dry ribs were simple yet superb. The dry rub was not overpowering, and consisted mostly of salt, sugar, and paprika. The sugar caramelized slightly on the outside of the slab, giving the ribs a nice, solid crust. Mother Chorizo liked it so much, she was licking it off the ribs before eating. The subtle aromas from the rub let the deep pork flavour of the ribs be in the limelight.

Equally good were the wet ribs. The porkiness was masked with a generous coating of tomato and vinegar-based sauce, which was nicely spiced to give it a little heat and complexity. The meat was so tender that eventually I started pulling it off the bone by hand and licking my fingers clean after each bite. Divine.

The beans were the best we ate on our trip. They were studded with bits of smoky pork and finely diced dill pickle to give it an amazing depth of flavour. They were perfect for mopping up with the thick, buttery toast.

It had been a long day on the road, but after this feast, every mile seemed worthwhile. We washed our meal down with a couple of glasses of Killian’s on tap, and in the spirit of the holiday, gave thanks to the invention of time zones which allowed us to enjoy this meal.

The Bar-B-Q Shop is located at 1782 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN; Call (901) 272-1277‎ for information.

You can order their sauces and rubs online at

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