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The best barbeque in Memphis!

Central BBQ Memphis

There ain’t no better place for bbq than Central BBQ

Before I even got here I’d been trawling the interweb and asking folks left and right for advice on where the best barbecue in Memphis was. Because it’s only right that if you go to Memphis you eat pulled pork, ribs and smoked bbq.

I can now tell you that the one I found, and which came highly recommended AND I got to show up first thing in the morning and watch them prepare the meat is Central BBQ.

JC Youngblood is the man with the apt name who runs the newest location in downtown Memphis, just behind the Lorraine Motel and Civil Rights Museum. Two locally painted murals adorn the walls in the outdoor part and a former urinal (or something that looks suspiciously like it) now holds the tap beer.

Central BBQ beer bar

The beer “urinal” with local tap beers

The guys who started this group of now 3 BBQ restaurants are all competition barbecuers. It’s big in this town. And if you’re here in May, make sure you come for Memphis in May. 15o tents of competitors line the river bank vying for best bbq master in all the land featuring lots of different styles of cooking.

How to make spicy barbecue beans:

Central BBQ rubs

The spices are premixed. I have the full set now.

We rocked up at 9am Monday, me and 5 taggers-on that decided learning the secrets of how to make pork bbq was more important than sight-seeing or shopping. JC let us first try his barbecue baked beans. During our chat I managed to eke out at least the main ingredients of this deliciously smokey side.

To do it home, start with tinned baked beans in tomato sauce and add smokey bbq sauce, mustard, chilli, cumin, cayenne, paprika, garlic and pork fat. Ok so that last item is not something you’re likely to have in the fridge, but I reckon this’ll taste superb without the fat.

He then whipped out a basket of kettle fries that had been refried then sprinkled with his own seasoning (which I now own) and a shake of kosher salt. From what I can tell, kosher salt is what we call sea salt.

But it was the melt-in-your-mouth pork shoulder that I’d come for and JC didn’t hold back on giving the scoop.

Central BBQ Memphis

Have a seat at that bar or at one of the humble wooden tables and tuck in

Even if you don’t have a smoker, I’ve successfully made their pork BBQ at home.

How to make slow-cooked Memphis pork barbecue at home:

Dry rubs are what they use down here, which is pretty much the above flavours that he uses in the beans. Buy a good spicy dry rub with cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic and salt and rub liberally into the meat. The skin will be pulled off and thrown away (or you can whip it under the grill to make crackling) after it’s cooked.

Let it marinate in the fridge for 6-8 hours (overnight), then put it into the smoker to cook slowly on a low temperature for 12-14 hours. I put mine into the oven the next morning on about 120C for 8 hours. I covered it with foil which created juices from the meat and spices which I saved to pour over the pulled meat later. Remove the foil about halfway through cooking to crisp up the “bark” – the spiced meat on the outside.

Central BBQ pork rub

Rub the dry marinade in liberally

Memphis pork bbq

When he said he’d “bust open a shoulder” I thought it sounded like a nasty rugby injury…

They smoke everything here, chicken, pork ribs, beef brisket, turkey and the best of all the slow cooked shoulder that literally fell apart when JC got one to “bust open” for us to sample. Out came some mini burger buns and coleslaw to make little hot pulled pork sliders. That was brunch and we’ll be back tonight to try the rest of the menu!

At home, add roast veges and coleslaw and little buns if you really want to Americanise it 🙂


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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!