The 10 Best BBQ Joints In Memphis

Open your car windows as you drive around Memphis, and chances you'll catch a whiff of the signature smell of barbecue smoke. Dozens of restaurants around town serve barbecue in its various forms, pulled, chopped, wet, or dry, with an emphasis on pork ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. Memphis is also the official host city of the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest, which takes place every May along the mighty Mississippi in downtown Memphis' Tom Lee Park.

So why did Memphis become such a beloved barbecue hub? The city's central location on the Mississippi River made it an important river port in the U.S., so it's long had access to a variety of spices, fresh, ripe tomatoes, and sweet molasses, according to Memphis Travel. Every joint in town has its secret BBQ rub and sauces, and per The Tennessean, these concoctions are top secret, so you'll have to drive on down to Grind City to experience the sublime barbecue yourself. Spend a long weekend in Memphis and indulge in some of the best barbecue in the U.S.

Here are our picks for the best BBQ joints in Memphis.

Interstate Barbecue

Jim Neely of Neely's Interstate Barbecue told Memphis ABC Local 24 that he's the unofficial king of Memphis barbecue. "I'm the Neely that put Neely barbecue on the map in the state of Tennessee. It started right here. I'm still going." Since the 1970s, this old-school barbecue joint has been hawking fall-of-the-bone barbecue cooked in custom-built BBQ pits. Their highly secret sauce is finger-licking fabulous and tangy with just a touch of sweetness. 

The top three dishes here are the pork spare ribs and the beef ribs, which are hickory smoked and arrive tableside ultra-moist with a side of the signature, crunchy, creamy cole slaw. Neely Interstate Barbecue's original 'Bar-b-que Spaghetti' is a luscious mix of barbecue pork and spaghetti swirled in signature sauce and is truly a stick-to-your-ribs dinner, complete with a side of coleslaw and bread and priced under $10. Over 25 sandwiches are featured on the menu, including the unique chopped pork shoulder barbecue sandwich, a tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder roast that's chopped and slathered with sauce and then nestled in a bun. Neely's classic pecan pie is the perfect ending to a Memphis-style barbecue meal.

Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous

The Vergos family has been serving up barbecue ribs with the magical touch of their housemade dry rub since 1948 at Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous, a Memphis classic. It all began when Charlie Vergos opened up a restaurant in downtown Memphis, where he converted an old coal chute into a smoker. Not much has changed since opening day: The air is still filled with the unmistakable, smoky aroma of barbecue ribs, and the same top-secret dry rub invented by Charlie in the 40s is still used today.

Go all out and order a full slab of charbroiled pork ribs: They may be slightly messy, but the rib meat falls off the bone and melts in the mouth. You'll have to call 24 hours in advance to reserve another house specialty, the skillet of barbecue shrimp: Five pounds of mouthwatering juicy, fresh shrimps smothered in the restaurant's signature barbecue shrimp arrive hot and spicy tableside and serve up to eight. The barbecue nachos here are incredible, too, and arrive loaded with slow-cooked pulled pork shoulder, smothered in secret barbecue sauce and nacho cheese, and topped with spicy jalapeños. Bring the bounty home: Charlie Vergo's sauces and rubs are available to go, and they also ship their barbecue bounty nationwide.

A&R Bar-B-Que

Andrew and Rose Pollard founded A&R Bar-B-Q as a take-out-only restaurant in 1983. Today, two Memphis locations serve the couple's original barbecue dishes to hundreds of hungry patrons every day, including a location down the street from Elvis' Memphis home, Graceland. The dining area may be no-frills, but the barbecue served here is nothing short of sublime. Menu highlights here include the pork rib sandwich, slow-cooked and smoked pork rib meat smothered in a perfectly spiced, signature sauce that packs just enough heat; hickory smoked wings doused in the housemade, tangy, and juicy wing sauce; and the rib tips, which are grilled to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. All the classic sides are on the menu, too, including crunchy, tangy cole slaw made with a housemade mayonnaise-based dressing and fresh, pickled okra, breaded and deep-fried on the spot. If you're looking to feed a family that loves Memphis barbecue, A&R Bar-B-Que sells its slow-smoked meats by the pound. Save room for the peach cobbler, still made fresh daily following Rose Pollard's secret recipe.

Bain Barbeque & Bakery

Despite being born in Texas, Bryant Bain set off to master Memphis barbecue when he moved to the mid-south city for an IT job in 2012. Bain Barbecue & Bakery began in his home kitchen, where he shared his love of barbecue with his friends, then moved to a food truck in 2021. In January 2022, Bain and his wife Heather opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Memphis's historic and hip Cooper-Young district.

On the bakery end, specialties include kolaches, butter cookie rounds baked with jam, and light yet large cinnamon rolls. All the pastries here are baked fresh daily. On the barbecue side, the meat here is sourced from Creekstone Farms in Oklahoma and slow-smoked in the largest offset smoker in the south, custom-built for the restaurant. The brisket here is perhaps the most prized menu item, made with top-quality Wagyu beef, and according to I Love Memphis, people used to camp outside the restaurant just to experience it, as it sells out quickly. It's ultra-tender, juicy, and best served with a side of housemade, rich, and melty five cheese mac n' cheese. Top your barbecue with your choice of three sauces: sweet and tangy Texas sauce, Carolinas-inspired mustard sauce, and spicy Memphis sauce.

Leonard's BBQ

The story of Leonard's BBQ, 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. The golden, seasoned cottage-style fries are another great side pick. 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 old-fashioned lemon icebox pie, a refreshingly sweet and citrusy pie.

Payne's Bar-B-Q

Don't let the no-frills dining room fool you: Payne's Bar-B-Q serves up some of the best barbecue in Memphis. Owner Ronald Payne, son of founders Horton and Flora Payne, lives by Virginia Woolf's famous quote, "One can not think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well," and the barbecue at his family-run restaurant has been soul-filling since it opened in 1984. The highlight of the menu here is the jumbo chopped pork sandwich, made with pork shoulder roast slow-cooked in a recessed pit over hickory charcoal and then slathered in a tangy, mild barbecue sauce spiked with mustard and slow-simmered in-house; it's one of the most flavor-rich in a town that breathes barbecue. The bright green coleslaw topping adds a tangy bite and crunch that balances the tender meat. The menu is small and focused, and the prices are affordable. Payne's Bar-B-Q is only open for a small window each day at lunch, so arrive hungry before it closes in the afternoon.

Ball Hoggerz BBQ

Located less than five miles from the Memphis International Airport, Ball Hoggerz BBQ ensures you'll never have to leave Memphis without a pre-flight barbecue pit stop. Curbside pickup is available, and two patio tables with umbrellas plus cold beer, icy lemonade, and sweet tea make for a lovely lunch. Ball Hoggerz's motto is "Yeah, We Grilli'n'," and there's always smoke wafting from the pit at this award-winning Memphis barbecue joint, where all seasons and sauces are made in-house, and meats smoked on-site throughout the day. Owner Merritt Bailey is a local legend, the son of activist and actor D'Army Bailey. The jumbo turkey leg here was voted number one in 2017, and it's no surprise. Tasty, tender, and perfectly seasoned, they're best accompanied by the house-made baked beans, potato salad, and grilled corn, a meal that has the flair of a fine Thanksgiving feast. For $20, you can sample all of Ball Hoggerz's top dishes in a belly-busting plate that includes barbecue rib tips, ribs, pulled pork, turkey, sausage, and your choice of side.

The Bar-B-Q Shop

Located in the heart of Memphis' Midtown neighborhood,The Bar-B-Q Shop's ribs were voted among the best in America by the Food Network's "Top Five Restaurants." Rubbed and slow-grilled to melt-in-your-mouth perfection paired with signature old-fashioned 'Dancing Pig' barbecue sauce (available in hot or mild versions), crunchy, creamy, housemade cole slaw, and buttery Texas toast, they're a must-eat when in Memphis. Brady Vincent, the restaurant's original owner, loved both barbecue and pasta, a passion he channeled into patron-favorite Bar-B-Q Spaghetti. If you can't decide, order a 'Half & Half' plates, which includes a taste of both the meaty bar-b-q spaghetti and your choice of barbecue pork or brisket. The Bar-B-Q Shop also caters to vegans with its Bar-B-Q veggie burger. Save room for the Bar-B-Q Shop's signature dessert, the creamy, delectable housemade banana pudding cheesecake. All of the signature Dancing Pig sauces and seasonings are available online, and the Bar-B-Q shop has kindly shared some of their classic recipes so you can bring the barbecue bounty into your home kitchen.

Central BBQ

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. Their downtown Memphis location on East Butler Avenue is located just steps away from the town's top tourist attraction, the National Civil Rights Museum. Central BBQs guiding motto, "Smoke is Our Sauce." is reflected in the smell of hickory and pecan wood-fired pit smoke that fills the restaurant. Meats are marinated for 24 hours before being slow-smoked sans sauce. The ribs might be the best you'll ever bite into: Central BBQ uses loin back ribs, and you can expect them to arrive perfectly charred, tender, and seasoned with their signature, smoky, dry rub. Slather them in one of Central BBQ's four housemade barbecue sauce varieties: mild, hot, mustard, or vinegar.

Marlowe's Ribs and Restaurant

Located down the street from Graceland, family-friendly Marlowe's celebrates the King with Elvis decor in the dining room, Elvis-inspired specialty cocktails (try the Tennessee Hound Dog, a mix of sweet Amaretto, bubbly, and pineapple juice), and even a pink limousine shuttle service that will pick you up and drive you straight to some of the best barbecue in town, in style. The booths here are especially comfy, so you can settle in and stay awhile as you dig into some of the best barbecue in Memphis. The barbecue pork sandwich here is sublime, packed with pork shoulder smoked onsite in a pit for 16 hours. One of the more unique menu items is the BBQ baked potato: Two big, slow-baked potatoes topped with chopped barbecue pork shoulder and sharp Wisconsin cheddar cheese. Start with a southern classic, the fried green tomatoes, which arrive lightly breaded and golden with a side of tangy, creamy Cajun-spiced dipping sauce.