The Memphis Barbecue Myth Melissa Cookston Says You Should Stop Believing - Exclusive

If you've never been to Memphis, you may believe a widely-circulated myth about how the city does barbecue, particularly ribs. When you look up recipes for Memphis-style ribs online, it's likely that they will be dry rub-only though the exact methodology varies. The ribs may be coated in rub at the beginning of cooking or brushed with a vinegar mixture while smoking, and sometimes they're finished with extra rub right before serving. Most importantly, barbecue sauce is never involved in the process — at least, that's what the internet would lead you to believe. 

While that's what the internet thinks Memphis-style ribs are, seven-time world barbecue champion and judge of Netflix's "Barbecue Showdown" Melissa Cookston says it's a myth. When you order barbecue in Memphis and are served ribs covered in sauce, don't dismiss the restaurant as inauthentic. In fact, the opposite is true. 

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Cookston helped us debunk common barbecue myths, and she said that the vast majority of Memphis barbecue is sauced. "The region itself is wet barbecue. We may cook the sauce down on the meat for 10 or 15 minutes, but we like sauced ribs."

In this respect, Memphis-style barbecue is somewhat similar to Kansas City-style, which also typically involves meat that is coated in barbecue sauce before serving. However, the sauce in Kansas City is usually sweeter and thicker than Memphis-style sauce.

Wet and dry barbecue in Memphis

Cookston says this Memphis barbecue myth is the result of an over-generalization. According to her, "There's one restaurant in Memphis that serves dry ribs," and this style was erroneously attributed to Memphis as a whole. So you can, in fact, get so-called Memphis dry ribs in the city, they're just not as popular as wet ribs and don't reflect the area's true regional barbecue style.

If you'd like to try ribs in Memphis, you can buy them straight from Cookston herself. Her restaurant, Memphis Barbecue Co, is located just outside the city in Horn Lake, Mississippi. She lets you order your ribs however you'd like them — wet, dry, or "muddy." What are muddy ribs, you ask? Per Cookston, "It's sauced with some extra dry rub." That way, you get the best of both worlds. Just make sure you remember to grab a few extra stacks of napkins.