Central BBQ – Memphis, TN
Central BBQ – Central Avenue Location
2249 Central Ave.
Every Southern State (and sorry purists, I include Texas in the South – well, when it comes to BBQ anyway) believes their version of BBQ is the best. In travelling from State to State, I’ve come to recognize that the differences are not as great as they would have you believe. Yes, there are very fine differences in flavours, sauces, and ingredients, but most people would have a difficult time discerning these. These days, there has been so much cross-pollination of ideas and accessibility of ingredients, that i find BBQ is more about style, skill, and choice.
The greatest differences in BBQ come down to two key things: wet or dry, and choice of ingredient. While many people claim that Memphis-style BBQ is about wet (sauce) BBQ and pork, I found wet and dry preparations of ribs in most establishments. And while they also serve mostly pork, there was some beef, and there was a lot of poultry (chicken, turkey) as well. Choice of wood, temperature, time, rub, I don’t feel there is ”regional” exclusivity any longer. I’ve even seen mesquite, traditional Texas smoking wood, used in Memphis BBQ preparations.
So the question meat lovers need to ask is not “which state has the best BBQ”, but which establishment serves the best BBQ that they prefer. Central BBQ is one place in Memphis trying to stake their claim.
Central BBQ has two locations in Memphis, but I was reassured by locals that the original location on Central Ave was the one to go to. As we pull up, we see a smoke shack in the back, billowing smoke into the atmosphere, a fragrant, delicious smell. Our appetites are immediately whetted.
In the several trips we made back to Central BBQ, there was pretty much always a lineup. It speaks well of the popularity of their offering. But popular is one thing, and good is another.
When you finally get inside, there’s a counter with several servers waiting to take your order. Many choices are definitely Memphis-specific – while you have traditional Southern favorites like ribs, pulled pork, BBQ Chicken, you also have BBQ Nachos, BBQ Spaghetti, Turkey, and other more regional choices.
Orders are taken quickly and professionally, at which point you’re shuttled off to their small dining room. It’s a scramble for seats, but you have a while to wait for your order anyway. Things move at an orderly pace – people leave when they finish, while coincides well with the pace of the food arriving.
At this point my friend’s made a specific request that I give a shout out to the beer at Central BBQ. They carry the local Ghost River Brewery beer on tap, at the time I remember a Pale Ale and a Brown Ale. While the Pale Ale itself is very good, it is also the coldest beer we have ever had. On a warm day, this is honestly one of the most refreshing beers I’ve ever had. While the memories of pulled pork and ribs may fade for some of them, no one will ever forget the icy pull of the Glacial Pale Ale.
While our meat choices are pretty much exclusively slabs (ribs), we order a variety of appetizers to try. First out is the homemade potato chips – deep fried potato products are definitely my weakness. These are mostly well fried and seasoned with a seasoning salt/BBQ style seasoning, they are pretty good. Not the best chips I’ve ever had, but they aren’t going to offend anyone either.
The second appetizer was a Memphis specialty I had never tried – BBQ Nachos. Covered in pulled pork, cheese (shredded and sauce), jalapeno, seasoning, and served wet, these were amazing. Definitely not for the calorie conscious, but forget that diet for a day and give them a try.
The crisp corn chips provide a nice stable base for the mounds of pulled pork, cheese, jalapeno, and seasoning. The pulled pork is excellent – smoky, rich, with a great wet sauce – slightly sweet and tangy, with a good body to it. I can’t say enough – these nachos were great. Mostly due to the quality of the pulled pork, balanced with a nice sauce.
For myself however, the highlight of any BBQ meal are the slabs. The ribs. At Central BBQ, this is no exception.
We order ours dry – meaning smoked, without being covered in sauce. There are a wide variety of their homemade BBQ sauces available at the condiment station, and we try them all, but nothing gives us a better taste and understanding of the meat, the preparation, and the rub like a dry slab.
These ribs are awesome. Moist, pink, a great balanced rub chock full of flavour, a touch of nice char, these were awesome ribs. As good as any ribs i’ve had anywhere. In this case, less is more.
The fact that we returned to Central BBQ several more times, and even took a slab to go for friends out-of-state, I think speaks clearly of our appreciation for the quality of their BBQ. Forget about comparisons to brisket from Texas, Missouri ribs, or what they’re doing over in Arkansas. On their own merits, Central BBQ serves up a phenomenal dry slab. This is a must visit for anyone in the area who appreciates meat, because no matter your preference in style and ingredient, you’ll have great BBQ at Central BBQ in Memphis.