Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Fri January 29 2016

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | January 29, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    The 6 Best BBQ Joints in Memphis

    The 6 Best BBQ Joints in Memphis

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    Barbecued meat is a quintessential American specialty and you’ll find versions all over the country, from Texas to Kansas City to the Carolinas and everywhere in between.

    But in all of my travels, I’ve never witnessed a place more serious about their barbecue than Memphis, Tennessee. How serious? Well, Memphis is the only town where I’ve seen people eat barbecue for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So clearly, selecting the best Memphis barbecue eateries is not a task to take lightly.

    READ MORE: Global 'Cue: The Best BBQ Spots Around the World

    There are lots of lists out there but I consulted locals and used my firsthand experience to come up with this roundup. Don’t miss these barbecue spots on your next trip to Memphis:

    Central BBQ

    Hands, down, this is the place that locals consistently mention when asked about the best barbecue in town. This was my first barbecue stop in Memphis and it was easy to figure why Central BBQ is such a consistent favorite. With three locations across the city and an extensive menu of slow smoked meats slathered with a dry rub (topped with brown sugar for a satisfying crust), this barbecue is flavorful and tender without the sauce.  Served dry or wet, (with four sauces to choose from — mild, hot, vinegar, mustard) plus over a dozen sides including homemade chips and BBQ beans, Central BBQ covers all the bases well.

    A&R Bar-B-Q

    “Anyone can put the heat to the meat but only a few can barbecue” is the tagline for A & R Bar-B-Q and when you spy the pits out back, you know they mean business. But it’s the ribs that will win you over, considered the best in the city. The smoky meat slips off the bone right into your mouth. A&R’s menu is truly dizzying, so order a variety of plates for sharing. Don’t skip the smoked turkey leg or the fried pies.

    Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous

    Ribs at “The Vous” are a Memphis hallmark, although sticklers will point out that technically, the ribs are grilled over charcoal and not smoked over a pit like true barbecue.   But that doesn’t stop Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous from maintaining its institution status. Locals have been flocking to the alleyway entrance for dry rub ribs since 1948. It’s a bit on the touristy side but it's also the only rib joint where you’ll find a big Greek salad on the menu, which is a nod to the founder’s heritage.

    Payne’s Bar-B-Q

    This no frills joint serves up Memphis’ best barbecue chopped pork sandwich, which is a local specialty. Crammed between a flimsy bun, piles of meat dripping in sauce and topped with mustard slaw, it’s Payne’s Bar-B-Q’s calling card. Don’t skip the provided plastic fork, you will need it to scoop up all the messy drippings.

    Cozy Corner

    Even though Cozy Corner supplies tasty ribs, rib tips and wings, the signature dish is the barbecued cornish hen. Cooked to a delectable brown, zesty crust and juicier than any chicken, the hen is one of the most popular non-pork barbecue options in Memphis. Expect long lines and total satisfaction.

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    Helen’s Bar BQ

    Technically, Helen’s Bar BQ isn’t in Memphis but in Brownsville, an hour outside of the city, but there’s no way I could complete a list of Memphis barbecue without including the actual Queen of Barbecue. In 2012, Southern Foodways Alliance crowned Helen Turner Queen and Undisputed Pitmaster of Barbecue. So yeah, you don’t want to miss her barbecue. One of the few female pitmasters around who smokes her meat on an open pit with oak and hickory wood, Helen’s tender barbecue is not to be missed.

    Enter Helen’s tiny shack and the tantalizing smoke  will have you salivating even before you see the meat. Try the pork shoulders ribs or chicken and prepare to lick your fingers for hours afterward.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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