ZAGAT Talks West Tennessee Bar-B-Que with Pat Martin

We were pretty darn flattered when Zagat stopped to talk barbecue with us about our process. We love West Tennessee whole hog BBQ, and we were proud to talk about process and how we've been able to spread the Gospel of Good 'Cue far-and-wide. We even got to talk a little bit about our Nashville operation.

As the proud host of the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, held annually at the citywide Memphis in May festival, Blues City is also Tennessee’s most famous barbecue town. Because Memphis has been a highly populated river city for centuries, its style of ‘cue has been adapted to the urban landscape. Unlike in rural West Tennessee, where whole hogs are slow-smoked with wood, charcoal briquettes are regularly used in Memphis ‘cue, sometimes with wood added to the mix. “You just don’t have that much space,” says Pat Martin, Memphis native and award-winning pitmaster of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint.

The tight density has also affected which cuts of meat (i.e. pork) dominate the city’s scene. Instead of whole animals, the city’s pitmasters favor smaller, primal cuts like Boston butts, but “Memphis is known as a rib town,” says Martin. Those ribs are best known for their now ubiquitous rubs, a blend of seasonings applied to the racks when they’re pulled off the heat. The famous rubs were influenced by the city’s large Greek population and made famous by Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, many of which combine a mix of salt, garlic powder, oregano, paprika and other spices. Ordered “dry” with a dusting of the pitmaster’s proprietary recipe, the ribs are almost tacky when it gets moistened from the fat. Rubs are a newer tradition in Memphis barbecue, “especially in the last two decades,” says Martin. “Memphis in May started around 1980, that’s when rubs started getting heavier in use.”

Ribs can also be served “wet” in the area’s vinegary, tomato- and mustard-based sauce or “muddy” with a light dusting of rub topped off with a layer of barbecue sauce. The other local specialty, slow-cooked Boston butt, is served pulled on plates or in sandwich form with coleslaw.
— Zagat
Jesse Goldstein