The 14 Best BBQ Restaurants In Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee is a city with a number of idiosyncrasies, cultural signifiers, and local legends. Throughout its municipal history, Memphis has incubated a long list of quintessential Americanisms, but just as important as the city's hard-earned place in blues, soul, and rock n' roll (and ... donuts?) is its rung in the long ladder of barbecue. As an important one of several defining regional styles of barbecue in the United States, Memphis has a seemingly innumerable amount of smoked meat purveyors in its area code. If you're an out-of-towner looking to visit sometime soon, you can't eat it all. That's where this guide comes in handy.

I've eaten at every restaurant on this list, and if I'm taking visitors out for barbecue, there's no doubt I'm headed to one of these places. This guide is not a ranking, but rather a recommendation of some of the best barbecue restaurants in Memphis. I expand on what I look for further down in the methodology, but ultimately no two restaurants on this list are near the same, and every item is unique. Use this as a reference point to navigate you through the Bluff City's sprawling neighborhoods to some of the best smoked meat in the Mid-South.

BallHoggerz BBQ

On Airways Boulevard in the heart of Orange Mound — the first neighborhood in America to be built by and for African Americans — is a small, red and gray hole-in-the-wall with smoke billowing from its chimney several days out of the week. BallHoggerz BBQ is the brainchild of pitmaster Merritt Bailey, son of the late lawyer and civil rights activist D'Army Bailey.

BallHoggerz's ribs are made Memphis style, relying only on smoke and the restaurant's special dry rub spice blend to flavor the pork. The meat is tender and juicy, requiring only a gentle tug with the teeth to pull it from the bone. Bailey's pulled pork is an even more succulent option, soft and melty from the slowly rendered fat that coats it. But for those looking beyond the hog, BallHoggerz's pulled turkey is just as delicious. For $20, you can try all of Ball Hoggerz's top dishes in a belly-busting sampler plate (at the time of publication).

As a smaller, more off-the-cuff barbecue joint in an oversaturated market, this Black-owned business hardly gets the credit it deserves. But it should be duly noted that BallHoggerz's barbecue can easily stand up to the bigger, older barbecue bastions in this town.

(901) 279-1758

1404 Airways Blvd, Memphis, TN 38114


In 1983, the Pollard family entered the pit of Memphis' barbecue scene and opened A&R BBQ. They now have two locations — one on Elvis Presley Boulevard in the South Memphis neighborhood of Hamilton, and another on Hickory Hill Road in the neighborhood of the same name. The pork served at A&R is cooked over coal-fired pits, giving it a depth of smoky char flavors.

The usual suspects are up for sale at A&R BBQ, but its sandwiches are some of the best in the game. Among the most notable is the rib sandwich, in which an entire quarter slab of ribs (about four) — including bones — is piled with coleslaw and tangy sweet sauce and stuffed between two slices of white bread. The ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and make for a rather interactive eating experience.

A&R also has plenty of porkless options, including catfish, kielbasa and brisket, all of which are treated with just as much care and flavor. All the classic sides are on the menu, too, including crunchy coleslaw made with a house-made mayonnaise-based dressing and fresh, pickled okra, breaded and deep-fried on the spot. Save room for the peach cobbler, still made fresh daily following Rose Pollard's secret recipe.

(901) 365-9777

Multiple locations

Bain Barbecue

Bain Barbecue is an outlier in the Memphis barbecue scene: The only thing Memphian about it is its location in town. Bain is the Texas-style barbecue joint located in the heart of Memphis' lively Cooper-Young neighborhood. Bryant and Heather Bain, a husband and wife pitmaster duo, hail from Texas and are the co-owners behind the meaty delights of Bain Barbecue.

In true Texas tradition, beef is king at Bain. The focus is brisket, which is pink-ringed, smoky, and dripping in melted fat. When Bain was just a pop-up, folks used to line up down the block and camp out to get it. Bain also has several recurring specials, including burnt brisket ends (sure, a bit more Kansas City than Texas or Memphis barbecue) on Saturdays and smoked dinosaur beef ribs on Sundays. Sides like sausages — lovingly made in house from brisket and pork — are not to be overlooked, nor are the quirky and spicy "Texas Twinkies," which are bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers. Unfortunately, Bain no longer operates its bakery, but the meat is so good that you don't have to miss it too much.

Though Memphis is known for its dry-rubbed ribs and pulled pork, Bain Barbecue's finesseful prowess in Texas barbecue undoubtedly earns its place among the best of the best in Memphis.

(901) 310-4141

993 Cooper St, Memphis, TN 38104

Payne's Bar-B-Que

In the search for the best barbecue in the South, one would be hard-pressed to overlook Payne's Bar-B-Que. Located on Lamar Avenue in Orange Mound, this simple, old-school cinder-block building is home to some of the best (and sloppiest) barbecue pork sandwiches you can find. Born in Memphis in 1972, Payne's unassuming building is an understatement to its product, but it lets its pork do the talking.

The chopped pork barbecue sandwich at Payne's is a smoky, saucy dogpile of ingredients and flavors. Smoked pork shoulder is chopped up and piled mountainously on a simple white bun with a tangy, yellow slaw. The mustardy slaw, an old Payne family recipe, notably deviates from some of the sweeter and mayonnaise-based slaws typically found around Memphis. It cuts the sweet richness of the melty chopped pork and adds a ton of texture to an otherwise soft sandwich.

In the grand canon of Memphis barbecue, Payne's has certainly put in the quality work for its time-honored and hall-of-fame-worthy food (in 2023 Flora Payne was inducted to the American Royal's Barbecue Hall of Fame). Few places in town make as good of a pork sandwich, and any tourist would be remiss to miss it.

(901) 272-1523

1762 Lamar Ave, Memphis, TN 38114

Central BBQ

With eight locations — including one in Nashville, Tennessee and another in Fayetteville, Arkansas — Central BBQ is a well-represented staple on the contemporary Memphis barbecue scene. Award-winning pitmasters and Central BBQ founders Craig Blondis and Roger Sapp met while competing on the barbecue contest circuit in the '80s. The first Central BBQ popped up on Central Avenue in 2002 and was such a hit that the duo opened three other Memphis barbecue outposts and two Nashville locations. The original location has, however, since been razed during extensive renovations. Luckily, locals and tourists alike can still enjoy Central's provisions at one of its other many locations — one of its most popular being Downtown on Butler Avenue.

Central has plenty to choose from, but the chain has gained some notoriety for its heaping plates of barbecue nachos. Layers of warm tortilla chips, cheese, sweet and vinegary barbecue sauce, and meat tango in this towering meal. Central's pulled pork nachos are the most popular order, but this behemoth of a meal can be ordered with pulled chicken or turkey, or sliced beef brisket all the same.

Multiple locations

Tom's Barbecue

On one of his multiple trips to Memphis, Guy Fieri made a trek down to South Memphis to get a taste of Tom's Barbecue. On the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate, the celebrity chef put Tom's rib tips on his list. Tom's Barbecue was originally called Taylor's Grocery when it was built by Wahela Taylor and her father in 1950. It has since undergone several changes in ownership and is now owned by Adam Itayem, who bought Tom's Barbecue from Tom Stergios — the man who renamed the business — in 1995.

The meat at Tom's is finished over hickory wood and charcoal after being smoked for hours. The rib tips at Tom's were likened to by Fieri as "rib nuggets" (via YouTube) — because the meat is soft and tender on the outside with a considerably textured bark on the outside. The tips of the pork ribs are marinated in Tom's house dry spice rub for 24 hours before being smoked and grilled, adding the signature charred flavor and texture without drying out the meat. When finished with some of Tom's barbecue sauce, it's easy to see why this is a celebrity favorite.

(901) 365-6690

4087 New Getwell Rd, Memphis, TN 38118

Cozy Corner BBQ

Among Memphis' oldest barbecue spots, this Black-owned business was opened by Desiree and Raymond Robinson in Uptown Memphis in 1977. To this day, the restaurant is still a family-owned and -operated establishment, collectively run by four generations of the family. Cozy Corner has garnered some contemporary buzz around its name as of late, having appeared on television shows like Somebody Feed Phil.

Cozy Corner slings some of Memphis' finest classics, like smoked ribs and wings, and barbecue spaghetti, but there are a few choice menu items that set the Corner apart. At the moment, Cozy Corner is the only barbecue restaurant in Memphis that offers a smoked Cornish hen. This tiny bird is a lovely combination of smoky, tender, and gamey — akin to that of a miniature smoked turkey. Even better? The whole bird comes in a dinner plate with bread and two sides for only $12.25 (at the time of publication).

(901) 527-9158

735 North Pkwy, Memphis, TN 38105

Germantown Commissary

Germantown Commissary's story dates back to 1981 when owner Walker Taylor purchased the original building and converted it into a barbecue restaurant. Prior to its current state, the restaurant was an actual commissary — a Southernism for a general store — selling all sorts of goods, from "blue jeans to bologna." In its new era, classics like pulled pork, smoked sausage, ribs, and even burgers and salads are served on red-and-white checker papered metal trays. 

If you're hungry enough, the combo platters are some of the best in town, and allow you to sample multiple fall-off-the-bone meats. Barbecued pulled pork shoulder and beef brisket may also be ordered by the pound, and make great options to feed swathes of hungry folks.

(901) 754-5540

2290 S Germantown Rd, Germantown, TN 38138

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous — known locally as simply "Rendezvous" — has been around for decades. The original 1948 concept by Charlie Vergos was known as a "meat and three," that is, a plate of one type of meat and three sides. Eventually, Vergos diversified his menu and added ribs, cooked today how they were then, which, per the restaurant's website, is to: "Throw the racks in 18 inches from the fire, grill them for an hour and fifteen minutes to seal in the flavor, and add a vinegar wash kept them moist."

Rendezvous' ribs are noticeably different from many other barbecue restaurants' in Memphis. Because of its quicker cooking technique, the rib meat looks and tastes lighter and less smokier than most. But they're still rather delicious, especially with the extra spice rub added on the exterior of the meat. Rendezvous has plenty of entrées to choose from on its menu, from skillet of shrimp to red beans and rice. The Downtown space is large and lofty, and perfect for larger groups to catch a break from walking up and down the bluesy haunts of Beale.

(901) 523-2746

52 S 2nd St, Memphis, TN 38103

The Bar-B-Q Shop

The Bar-B-Q Shop has been in Eric Vernon's family for generations. When his father called him and told him that he was thinking about selling the restaurant, Vernon headed over to keep the affair alive, and remains involved to this day. The Bar-B-Q Shop is located in the heart of Midtown Memphis and is consistently one of the best places to get downhome Memphis-style barbecue in an endearing, homey setting.

The Bar-B-Q Shop has a legacy rooted in one of Memphis' most idiosyncratic food items: barbecue spaghetti. This pasta dish is more or less spaghetti bolognese, but substitutes ground pork and beef for barbecue pulled pork, and tomato sauce for Memphis-style barbecue sauce. It might sound strange, but it works. The inventor of barbecue spaghetti, Brady Vincent, taught the recipe to Frank and Hazel Vernon when they bought his restaurant Brady & Lil's. The Vernons later renamed the restaurant Bar-B-Q Shop.

While you can find barbecue spaghetti on most barbecue menus in Memphis, the best is at Bar-B-Q Shop. Your best bet is to split a slab of ribs with a pal and get the pasta as a side to try.

(901) 272-1277

1782 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

Arnold's BBQ and Grill

Arnold's is another popular and conveniently located Downtown Memphis joint. The restaurant is known for cooking up barbecue (of course) and beyond, with plenty of deviation outside of the realm of smoked meats. Southern soul food is equally up for grabs here, with braised collard greens, candied yams, and catfish making considerable noise on Arnold's menu.

Arnold's BBQ and Grill opened its first location on East Shelby Drive many years back, but has since closed it and operates solely out of its Downtown location, opened in 2018. Because of the eclectic menu, it's a good opportunity to try more than just barbecue. Definitely grab an order of the ribs or rib tips, but just as well try the cornmeal-fried catfish, meatloaf, or Philly cheesesteak eggrolls.

(901) 730-0290

317 Madison Ave #2, Memphis, TN 38103

Fat Larry's BBQ

Just north of Memphis is another suburb known as Bartlett, where Fat Larry's is a diamond in the rough on U.S. 70 near Appling Road. Opened to the public in 2008, this humble haunt sells more than just barbecue, but it's the meat that is certainly the focus. Owner Larry Mayes, who once won the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, passed away unexpectedly in 2020, but his legacy lives on through his food.

Sauce is king at Fat Larry's, and don't let it deter you. Contrary to popular belief, we Memphians enjoy sauce on our barbecue. Fat Larry's barbecue sauce is thick and sweeter than most, but it adds a lot of depth to the smoky meat. Beyond barbecue, some delectable and comforting Southern outliers include the succulent brown sugar pork chop and the bourbon pecan pie. Come hungry and bring a friend so you can hit all the bases on this behemoth of a menu.

(901) 386-1900

7537 US-70, Bartlett, TN 38133

Leonard's Pit Barbecue

The story of Leonard's Pit Barbecue, a mecca of Memphis barbecue, began back in 1922 when Leonard Heuberger opened a small barbecue stand with just five stools to seat customers. He sold his signature barbecue sandwich for a mere five cents, and customers soon came back again and again as the word on the street spread that Heuberger's pit-cooked rib and pork shoulder sandwiches were the best in town. He soon saved up enough money to open a drive-in location, where even Elvis was a regular.

Try the Big Leonard, a hearty bun packed with slow-smoked chopped pork steeped in Leonards's mild, tangy, house-made sauce with a side of onion rings, which are breaded fresh and deep-fried to order. Or go for a full slab of pork ribs, served wet (glazed with Leonard's signature mild sauce) or dry (rubbed with the restaurant's special, secret blend of spices). Don't miss out on a slice of the refreshingly sweet and citrusy old-fashioned lemon icebox pie.

(901) 360-1963

1100 N Germantown Pkwy, Cordova, TN 38016

Elwood's Shack

Elwood's Shack has for quite some time been serving some eclectic comfort favorites in its shopping center spot behind a Lowe's Home Improvement on Summer Avenue. More recently, owner Tim Bednarski opened a second location of Elwood's Shack on Park Avenue near the University of Memphis. While barbecue isn't the main focus on the Shack's menu, it certainly has carved out its own little corner in the Memphis arena.

Innocuous staples like the sausage and cheese plate and barbecue bologna sandwich are juxtaposed with off-the-wall creations like the Red Headed Step Child, a sandwich stuffed with beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage, two different barbecue sauces, and coleslaw. This messy concoction is impossibly delicious, and nearly sacreligious in its nature, with its combination of pork and beef.

If you're looking for a lighter option, the steelhead trout taco is a thick, tostada-like tower of greens, pico de gallo, avocado, and flaky steelhead on a warm flour tortilla. Plus, if you happen to be at the Park Avenue location, check out the Shack's Moxie Bar for some house-made mocktails.

Multiple locations


Although the term "best" can often seem arbitrary in these kinds of lists, rest assured that we ate through Memphis' barbecue scene to make this guide, judging each restaurant on a set of criteria: The consistency of quality, flavor, meat texture, variety, and atmosphere. The restaurants we appreciated most were those that, despite the status quo, continue to blaze their own trail. Each restaurant pays homage to the tried and true tradition of Memphis-style barbecue, while being unique enough to stand out from the crowd.

In a town with seemingly as many barbecue options as there are days in the year, it's imperative to wade through the slush to find what sticks. Our favorite restaurants are the ones that have, for years, purveyed consistently delicious smoked meat at a reasonable price, distinguished themselves through their dedication to customer service and comfort, and continue to make themselves a space where originality thrives. In Memphis, it's easy to eat your weight in dry-rubbed ribs, but they're not all cut from the same hog or smoked over the same wood.