The Memphis Barbecue Tour

Last summer, we hit the road to Memphis to see a friend get married, visit the King, and eat some ‘cue…  Lots o’ barbecue.  We did reviews of all our stops when we returned to NOLA, but haven’t had a chance to get them up.  Since our trip, the Cozy Corner suffered a tragic fire, but thanks to the support of the local community, it looks like they are about to reopen this Spring!  The other tradegy of our trip was Central BBQ, which was hopefully an isolated experience, but alas, our only experience.  If we have time on another swing through Memphis, we might give them another shot.

Other than that, please enjoy all the hard work we suffered through to research these joints…

 

A&R BBQ

 

We rolled into this ‘cue joint after visit with the King at his house down the road.  Honestly, we debated not reviewing this little bit of awesome, as we didn’t want this hidden gem to be found.

The place has all the makings of a classic joint – old and little bit worn out.  It also has that former service station feel that a lot of awesome barbecue places seem to have.  Someday, I’ll probably try to figure that one out.  The inside is clean, well worn, and bright.

The ‘hood probably isn’t the greatest, so avoid going there to eat in the middle of the night.  That and they’ll probably be closed anyway.  During the day, all was good in the ‘hood.

We wandered in at the start of lunch and ordered something small – and sadly it was not the ribs.  We got a hot chopped sandwich with coleslaw and a side of potato salad.  The potato salad was another rookie mistake – the beans are the way to go.  We also ordered two fountain drinks.  The total was under ten bucks.

Anyway, let’s get on with it!

THE MEAT!

Chopped Pork Sandwich – This was pretty clutch.  An excellent texture, not mushy, and it had the nice crunchy pieces of bark.  This with the lightly toasted bun was delicious.  The slaw appeared homemade, but was not mustard-based like a lot of them around town.  It worked great with the sandwich.  Anyway, back to the meat – it was smokey and ‘cued perfectly.  No complaints.  Since we ordered “hot” the sauce had a nice kick, but not enough to singe your tastebuds.

THE SIDE!

The potato salad was standard issue of the mayo/mustard variety.  We are guessing it was not homemade.  It did the job, and made us regret not ordering the beans.

THE VERDICT!

We leave with only regrets and a promise to return – the rest of the menu will be dominated soon!  What’s a six hour drive for good ‘cue?  The chop was awesome, the service was great, and the atmosphere was classic ‘cue joint.  The location is fine, and everyone was friendly.  Once again, we almost hate to preach about this joint – but the gospel of the ‘cue must be spread far and wide!

This place is ringing is just shy of the promised land, and will probably be there after our next visit – a very respectable FOUR STARS!

 

PAYNES BBQ

After visiting many, many ‘cue joints over the years, a pattern is beginning to emerge – if the joint is located in a former service station, it is probably going to be pretty awesome.  Payne’s Bar-B-Que on Lamar is another example of this.

This place is far from fancy – in fact my fellow ‘cue traveler was downright scared of bathroom.  If a knock is to be had at this joint, they need to do a little work on the restrooms.  As stated earlier, this place was a service station in a previous life.  It is spartan, and the main dining area is clean with a touch of worn.  Ms. Payne was working the counter when we arrived, along with a few other family members.  The counter area is small, containing a fryer, the pit door, a fridge, and a range.  Judging from some of the pictures, the flame shooting out of the back right burner is intentional – maybe even a nice eternal flame tribute.  I don’t have a clue, but it still stood out.

We ordered half a slab of hot ribs, beans, and coleslaw.  Here’s the rundown:

THE MEAT!

The ribs were excellent, and very saucy.  It appeared to be a St. Louis Cut as opposed to a whole slab.  The silver skin was still on the back, which is pretty much the rule with just about any ‘cue joint.  That said, it didn’t hinder the hickory smoke penetration into the meat, and it had a nice snap.  The ribs were moist and had excellent pull.  Due to the sauce, we couldn’t discern any noticeable dry rub on the meat.  Overall, a straight-up great rib.

THE SIDES!

The Beans – They were excellent!  They contained a nice amount of porky delicious, and were out favorite side (okay, so we only had two).  One word of warning – ours were served hot.  Like flashpoint of the room hot.  Took those suckers a while to cool down.  This was a problem because they were so good.  We may have left with burnt mouths.

The Slaw – It was accurately described in other reviews as a “neon” color.  It appears to be a creation native to Memphis – a Mustard Slaw.  The stuff at this ‘cue joint was a finely chopped slaw as opposed to shredded.  Either way, it was very tasty, and one of our favorite examples of this kind of coleslaw.  At some point, we’ll probably experiment with this recipe.  Good stuff.

THE VERDICT!

Good, cheap eats.  Strike that – Awesome, cheap eats.  Talking to some of the other patrons, the Chop Sandwich is awesome – and available in Huge as well.  While we did not have one, it looked and smelled amazing.  The bologna also looked good – while me fellow ‘cue explorer is not a bologna fan; this half could easily take one down.  Both of these are on the list to get next time.

Anyway, a bit off the subject…

The place is awesome, and in a former service station.  It is also cheap.  The only knocks being we didn’t try the entire menu and the restroom could use a good amount of work.  This being the case, and the overall greatness of this family ‘cue joint, we’re dealing out (with a hit for the facilities) FOUR STARS.

 

CENTRAL BBQ

 

While we appreciate the role of this joint in spreading the gospel of barbecue to the masses, it was not a pleasant experience.

Central Barbecue appears to be in an up-and-coming ‘hood of Memphis, with a pretty decent sized parking lot.  The building itself is relatively small, with half being the kitchen/service area and the other half an air conditioned dining room with a drink and sauce station.  Outside they have a large, covered patio, and an adjacent open dining area.  They appear to be building something around the pit – not sure if it is being enclosed, or if they are expanding the kitchen.  The space was pretty clean, and the staff was on top of the very busy dining room.

When we arrived, they had a line out the door, so it took about twenty minutes or so to order.  We ordered a quarter rack of ribs (dry) and a pulled pork sandwich (hot) with coleslaw.  The prices were reasonable, if a little on the high side.  We also ordered two fountain drinks.

Probably about time to get to the actual review…

THE MEAT!

Dry Ribs – Sadly, the ribs were way past their prime.  They were dry in about every way, with the meat overcooked and almost a jerky-like consistency.  The second issue with the ribs was a noticeable flavor from incomplete combustion of wood – very much like a creosote taste.  Probably one of the worst racks we’ve had in a long time.  On the flip side, they did have a nice smoke ring.

Pulled Pork Sandwich with Coleslaw – First, the sandwich arrived sans coleslaw.  We went up to the counter and they gave us a generous side of slaw.  Second, it is actually a chop sandwich as opposed to pulled – not sure that technicality matters, but we’re throwing it out there.  The pulled pork was room temperature, and a bit mushy – a little more pronounced since it was cold.  The coleslaw had a very off flavor, which filled us with instant regret after eating some.

THE VERDICT!

This was one of the very, very few experiences where we left food on the plate at a ‘cue joint.  This was hopefully an experience that can be filed under “when it rains, it pours”, and hopefully was the definite exception to how this place is normally.  Hopefully we won’t use hopefully as much in the next sentence (hopefully).

While we were eating the dining room they hit one of my all-time pet peeves.  They refilled the ice in the soda dispenser, and set the lid on the ground for a couple minutes while they did.  The ice lid and the off tastes replayed constantly the next day while enduring some extreme system distress.

In summary, with all the issues compounded one on top of another, this ‘cue joint is headed into dark territory – ONE STAR.

COZY CORNER BBQ

   

This ‘cue joint represented from the moment you walk in the door.  To the left of door when you enter is an old photograph of a woman who looks exactly like the young lady behind the counter.  And two of the other women running around the dining room, counter, and kitchen look like progressively older versions of that young lady.  Four generations are represented, with three still working at the Cozy Corner.

The building is nothing to write home about, and falls into the category of well worn.  The exterior wouldn’t complain about a coat of paint, but is not falling down.  The inside is clean and high mileage.  The carpet has seen better days, and the wood panel walls are a bit dated.  Then again, dated and good ‘cue seem to go hand in hand.  We decided to go for a quarter slab of ribs and a couple wings, sauced hot.  More on this in a moment.  We also order a side of beans and coleslaw.

Time for exciting stuff and a few words of warning…

THE MEATS!

The Ribs – The ribs were tender and juicy, and definitely sauced.  They were cooked about perfect, with an excellent pull.  As far as the dry rub and smoke flavor, it was hard to tell.  This was because we ordered them hot, with mocking disregard of the rather substantial warning signs to the contrary.  We’ll go ahead and chalk that up to lessons learned.  Half of the ‘Cue Adventure Squad could (barely) handle the heat, the other half dove straight into the slaw.  Unless you like really, really hot stuff, stay away from ordering hot.  No shame in no pain, just order the mild.  The heat was in the realm of habanero.  That diatribe now complete, you should have a better understanding of the poor review of smokey flavor and dry rub.  Still pretty awesome stuff.

The Wings – They were excellent.  As a self-proclaimed Wing Authority, these were smoked to perfection.  The skin was bite-through, with the meat tender and juicy.  As stated above, they were also up there on the spicy scale.  They definitely inspired us to throw some wings on the pit in the next few weeks.

THE SIDES!

The Slaw – This was a pretty standard shredded slaw.  It was definitely on the very creamy side.  Most of it was used and abused for its fat content to help extinguish the fire in our mouths.  That being said, it seemed pretty awesome, but it would be safe to say we were biased due to the comfort provided.  We’ll need a return trip to give a complete review.

The Beans – We were not a huge fan of the beans.  This might be due to our taste buds being waylaid by the hot ‘cue sauce.  They had a taste to them we just didn’t enjoy (clove or some odd spice).  They just were not on the same level as the ‘cue or slaw.

THE VERDICT!

The intersection of insanely hot and barbecue is a very difficult place to find, let alone master as they have at the Cozy Corner.  The beans were the lowest point, and they were not half bad.  This is one place where you should heed the heat warming signs at the counter.  The meat was great, the sauce was excellent (and burny!), and the sides were run of the mill.  Taking the average, this ‘cue joint is a solid FOUR STARS.

The Infamous Mississippi Barbecue Run!

I am sure you all feel the same way I do when someone mentions Mississippi Barbecue… That feeling of slight confusion, mixed with that “did I miss part of the conversation?” feeling. It just doesn’t have that Carolina/Texas/KC/Memphis vibe. Albeit for good reason. I put it on par with Louisiana-style Barbecue.

Exactly.

The strange thing is, the Mississippi Gulf Coast does seem to have a unique identity – and it is a sauce style. They do not appear to have an allegiance to any particular meat, just the usual pork, beef, chicken, and occasional smoked sausage. Most of the smoke they rolled was hickory, and the meats were cooked well to varying degrees at the four joints we stopped in.

Overall, no one appears to believe in doing anything to prep the meat. No dry rub, no mop, no real seasoning to speak of. Another generalization is that they cook the crap out of their ribs. While “fall off the bone good” sounds great, it is overly over cooked. Believe it or not, ribs taste better when you can pick them up and eat them on the bone. Anyway, I’ll save you the diatribe – just trust me that a couple places went too far.

Off to the sauce – Mississippi Style!

The sauce is a tomato-based barbecue sauce, and most of them had a heavy sweet aspect – Pleasant’s Barbecue in Pass Christian had a nice molasses bite. A number of them also had a heavy tomato flavor. With this profile, it is definitely distinct from any other region of ‘cue I’ve tried. Being a huge fan of bringing out and enhancing the flavors in the meat, I am a bit biased against sauces (like these) that cover up the (sadly unseasoned) meat.

Time for the rundown on some of the stops…

Stop Number One: Pleasant’s Barbecue in Pass Christian

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We hit this little joint for a late lunch on a Saturday, and it marked the official start of the 2013 Mississippi Barbecue Run! Located right in downtown, the neat little barbecue shack is easy to spot. Walked right in and ordered a sampling of Brisket, Ribs, and Pulled Pork. The Brisket wasn’t half bad, as expected outside of Texas. The pulled pork was a mix of pork and the Mississippi-style sauce – which, once again, I do not find very appealing. The ribs were cooked well, a touch overdone, with a nice smokey char to them. After smoking and before serving, they are basted and put on the grill for a few minutes to caramelize the sauce. The sauce worked well with the ribs, and I would give them a thumbs up. I would definitely hit this spot again, but only for the ribs.

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Stop Number Two: The Shed Barbecue in Ocean Springs

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Ever had one of those experiences you have been looking forward to for years? One of those spots you plan a trip to visit? Well, that was the Shed for me. Now, mission accomplished and all, I must report my level of fulfillment is exceptionally low. On my journey of barbecue snobbery, I’ve outgrown what was once held high – all-you-can-eat riblets at Applebees (20 years ago), making ribs in the oven (also 20 years ago), Corky’s (10 years ago), and now the Shed. To be fair the barbecue was decent, but not worth the drive. We sprung for the sampler, which was A LOT of food – brisket, ribs, pulled pork, chicken, chicken wings, and probably a few more animals. We went for the mac salad, coleslaw, and mac n’ cheese. The sides were tasty, and the mac n’ cheese was in the vein of glorious Kraft variety. The brisket was nondescript, as well as the pulled pork. The ribs fell apart on the plater, so they were cooked to death. The chicken was okay, but not very smokey or flavorful. Given my desire to hit the Shed, it was solidly a disillusioning disappointment. I would roll back for a second try, if it wasn’t out of the way by more than a mile.

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Stop Number Three: Mother Kluckers in Gulfport

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The next day brought a wander all over the Mississippi Coast, and a theme started to develop – Gs Station Barbecue. This place was attached to a slick gas station on the beach, and it even had a pit sitting out front! They specialize in barbecue and fried chicken – what could possibly go wrong? Once again, the sampler was summoned! The ribs were over cooked Shed-style, and not very well seasoned. The regional sauce returned with a vengeance here, with a powerful molasses flavor and other sweetness to mask the flavorless meat. Sadly the fried chicken was also a devoid of seasoning. This joint is on a saltwater beach – dipping this stuff in the Gulf could only help. I would probably say this is a good joint to skip.

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Stop Number Four: Seal’s Marketplace in Kiln

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Tied for Best Barbecue in Mississippi with my sentimental favorite (Louise’s Barbecue, which in about five miles from this place). This is a straight-up gas station with a convenience store. No separate restaurant, ain’t got nothing fancy here. This is literally in the middle of nothing about ten minutes from Nowheresville. The barbecue was shrink wrapped and under a heat lamp – a cute package of chicken, pork loin (this can be tossed out), ribs, and smoked sausage. The chicken was amazing – the skin was crisp and bite-thru friendly. The ribs were cooked right, with a little tug needed to pull them off the bone. The sausage was the best outside of Lockhart, Texas. Sadly, scheduling prevented partaking in the brisket – which is ready everyday at six o’clock. I will return to tasty this brisket, if the other ‘cue is any indication. I am more excited about this gas station ‘cue joint than I am about the Mississippi Barbecue Institution of the Shed.

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Overall it was a good weekend trip. A word of advice – start on a Friday and hit the scene hard on Saturday. Most of the joints we hit were closed on Sunday – and by most, I mean more than ten joints that we closed for a day of rest. All this means is that another Mississippi Barbecue Tour will be in the works!

My favorite ‘cue joint in Mississippi is open again – the wondrous Louise’s Barbecue outside of Picayune (closer to Kiln). They deserve, and will get, their our special writeup. Speaking of which, the Texas Barbecue Road Trip will hopefully be the next writeup to come. Stay tuned, and I promise to ramble on a bit more often…

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