RL Reeves Jr visits Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis

Until we visited Bar-B-Que Shop In Memphis, the old Hickory Hut in Birmingham, Alabama held the ignominious title of “worst barbecue we’ve ever eaten.”

You know it’s bad when you can still recall details of the meal 30 years hence. Hickory Hut’s crime against barbecue was serving cold, under-cooked pork ribs with gobs of cartilaginous fat clinging to the bones. Memories of that meal gave us a sort of smoked meat PTSD.

“What’s your favorite barbecue in Memphis?”

Abandon hope all ye who enter here: Bar-B-Q Shop In Memphis

A friend has been traveling to Bluff City for the past few months to get laid and visit with a native who was born and reared in southwest Tennessee.

“Bar-B-Que Shop puts out the best rib tips in the whole city” he replies.

When Gonerfest, Memphis’s quasi-version of Ponderosa Stomp dropped their lineup we noted that Oblivians were headlining so we immediately bought tickets and went into research mode.

Quaint dining room at Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis

Since New Orleans barbecue is pitiable and the city has zero edible Mexican food we dedicated the bulk of our scholarship to finding the best smoked meat and finest tacos.

After six hours on the road we pulled around the corner of the former Brady and Lil’s, and beat a quick path into Frank and Eric Vernon’s Bar-B-Q Shop.

I’m baffled as to how Food Network arrived at this decision.

Had we known then what we know now we would’ve made a similar hasty exit.

“We’ll get a platter of the rib tips please”

“Sorry, they’re sold out would you like ribs instead?”

“Sure, dry-rubbed please”

A half hour later a platter of dried-out, desicated pork bones with meat that looked like it was cooked in the Eisenhower administration is brought to table.

Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis is owned by Frank and Eric Vernon

A gentle tug pulls a bone clean smooth with nary a scintilla of resistance. We estimate these ribs to have been cooked while Elvis was still alive. Had we not known that he passed away prior to Bar-B-Q Shop’s founding we would’ve been deeply suspicious that this joint played a role in his untimely death.

Frank Vernon purchased Brady and Lil’s in 1983, and perhaps this half rack of ribs was thrown in to sweeten the deal?

Perhaps Vernon had them mounted on a wall in the restaurant for the last 35 years and pushed them into service upon our arrival. Maybe that’s why it took 30 minutes to ship them out of the kitchen?

We also had side dishes.

A few teaspoons of pinto beans, and a miserly portion of cole slaw constitute accoutrement at Bar-B-Q Shop. Each one is so sweet as to be inedible.

Pig arcana dots the walls of Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis

A glimmer of hope.

The Texas toast is divine; well-buttered and served warm from the griddle. It’s some of the finest we’ve ever encountered, and we were weaned on the stuff in the motherland of Texas.

Our meal was roughly $20 so that works out to $10 per slice of bread.

Service is fine if slow. The ribs took a solid half hour to come from the kitchen, and there were perhaps a half dozen diners in the establishment. The cook may have brought them from a state of diamond-hardness out of the freezer then blasted them in a convection oven to bring to temp.

Ambiance befits that of an old barbecue parlor. James Carr is on the hi fi, and the old room has plenty of appeal with soaring pressed-tin ceilings, and lovely old hardwood floors.

But the part where the rubber meets the road-the smoked meat-is sorely lacking.

Bar-B-Q Shop put us off barbecue so hard we didn’t even bother trying any other smoked meat parlors in Memphis. But after this initial blast of godawful food, we ate like country kings for the rest of the trip.

We will be issuing a few field reports on what is one of the best under the radar eating cities in the South.

Leaving Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis

Bar-B-Q Shop
782 Madison Ave
Memphis, Tennessee


Hours of operation
always call ahead

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