Memphis's barbecue smoke is inescapable. It billows from chimneys all across the city, and though it is present all year long, it makes its biggest impact in those months when people have their car windows open. Drivers experience an inexplicable, almost Pavlovian response. They begin to salivate, their eyes glaze over, and they follow the smoke to its source -- a down-home barbecue joint.
In a region obsessed with pork barbecue, Memphis lays claim to the title of being the pork-barbecue capital of the world. Non-Southerners may need a short barbecue primer. Southern pork barbecue is, for the most part, just exactly what its name says it is -- pork that has been barbecued over a wood fire. There are several variations on barbecue, and most barbecue places offer the full gamut. My personal favorite is hand-pulled shoulder, which is a barbecued shoulder of pork from which meat is pulled by hand after it's cooked. What you end up with on your plate is a pile of shredded pork to which you can add your favorite hot sauces.
Barbecued ribs are a particular Memphis specialty; these come either dry-cooked or wet-cooked. If you order your ribs dry-cooked, they come coated with a powdered spice mix and it's up to you to apply the sauce, but if you order it wet-cooked, the ribs will have been cooked in a sauce. Barbecue is traditionally served with a side of coleslaw (or mustard slaw) and perhaps baked beans or potato salad. In a pulled-pork-shoulder sandwich, the coleslaw goes in the sandwich as a lettuce replacement. Corky's Ribs & BBQ is the undisputed king of Memphis barbecue, while the Rendezvous is famed for its dry-cooked ribs.
The city's other traditional fare is good old-fashioned American food -- here, as in Nashville, known as "meat-and-three," which refers to the three side vegetables that you get with whatever type of meat you happen to order. While this is very simple food, in the best "meat-and-three" restaurants, your vegetables are likely to be fresh (and there's always a wide variety of choices). Perhaps because of the Southern affinity for traditions, Memphians, both young and old, flock to "meat-and-three" restaurants for meals just like Mom used to fix.
What if you don't like barbecue? Thankfully, there are plenty of other tasty indulgences. Memphis has a diverse dining scene that includes top-tier gourmet restaurants, moderately priced cafes, and scores of Asian, Mexican, and Italian eateries. Burgers, steaks, seafood, and vegetarian options are also available in nearly every area of the city.
But still, there's no escaping the pervasive aroma of sizzling pig meat.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.