Disappointing…in KC it trickles down

Yes, I realise I was eating BBQ at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis. This is not perhaps a “food first” place of business. I’ve been to B.B. King’s before, but never eaten–just listened to the blues while having an adult beverage. Well, this time I needed some food, so I thought I’d listen to the blues while having a little Memphis-style BBQ. Nice musical experience, not so nice with the food.

I’m from Kansas City, so I have a little BBQ bias. That said, I have always given Memphis its BBQ props. I like some heat in my food and Memphis dry-rub BBQ hits the spot. The only problem I have with Memphis BBQ is the tendancy to not only not use sauce, but to violently oppose sauce. I like some spicy rub on he meat and for it to be finished with a little sauce. Not a ton of sauce, not a drowning of sauce, but a bit of slightly sweet Kansas City style BBQ sauce.

Now, my rack of ribs at B.B. King’s could have been ordered dry. But for reasons outlined above, I was not going to do this. For the critique, I don’t think this matters–I have an above average palate and I believe I am fair in my critiques of most things. The ribs at B.B. King’s Memphis are passable at best. This is disappointing. I didn’t expect Memphis’s best BBQ at a music joint, but come on.

In Kansas City even the pretenders get a lot of things right. There are the kings of KC BBQ: Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, Danny Edwards. But there are also about 300 other guys who think they can do BBQ. And you know what, most of them can, at least to a well above average competancy. There’s Oklahoma Joe’s, Fiorella’s Jack Stack, Joe’s Rib Shack, and on an on. While I don’t think that all of these places have mastered BBQ the way the old guys have, I really like them. I even think that some of them do certain aspects of BBQ as well as or better than the masters.

I expected the same in Memphis, making my disappointment acute at B.B.’s. The meat wasn’t even close to falling off the bone. It could have used a couple more hours in the smoker at a slightly lower temperature. I actually had to use my knife to separate the meat from the bone. This, of course, meant that it was slightly tough and chewy. The rub was present under the sauce, but was not very spicy–or memorable. It was spicy in the way that paprika is spicy–not at all. And the sauce–blah. Some brown sugar, some molasses, some tomato…who cares, there was no stand-out flavor.

Come on Memphis! One of the signs of quality of a culture or life-style is how deeply it has penetrated the community. I must say that Memphis may have good BBQ on the top end, but that no one is riding the bench. If Memphis is to contend for BBQ Capitol of the World, you’ve got to get the marginal food places to do decent BBQ.



Filed under Food and Drink, Travel

2 responses to “Disappointing…in KC it trickles down

  1. Wyoming

    Well said! Having had a bit of memphis BBQ, I believe your critique was quite kind. At one point I thought I was gnoshing on caribou jerky. When a person has to gnaw at the bone, he knows that the establishment was trying to take short cuts with the preparation process. And if he didn’t have to use a warm, wet towel after the meal, the sauce is lacking. I like lots of sauce and Gates, as I remember it, had some good sauce but there was a sauce used by Zarda’s, don’t know if they are still around as I haven’t been to KC for a good long while, was the perfect BBQ sauce. The taste of the meat came through a spicy sauce but the sauce laid gently on the tongue afterward leaving a lingering great after taste. (The sauce was great for dipping fries as well. Zarda’s meats weren’t up there with the big boys but the sauce was the best in town. My wife and I have tried a lot of BBQs in the last 25 years and only Bubba’s in Greeley Colorado is in the same ballpark. I think the proper conjugation of BBQ is KC BBQ has rocked, KC BBQ rocks, and KC BBQ will continue to rock.

  2. Oh, I like the top end of Memphis BBQ, don’t get me wrong. But apparently the drop off is way huge.

    And this will make all my KC friends and restaurant buddies cringe, but the best BBQ I’ve ever had was in Texas. Yikes, that still makes me cringe.

    Well (blipey sucks it up), it’s true. It’s a place called Thompson’s in the southeastern city of Crockett, TX. His specialty is pecan-smoked ribs and they are so tender that if you hold a rib by the end and tap it lightly with a fork–all the meat just falls into a pile on your plate. The service and atmosphere are second to none as well. The place seats 14 people and Mr. Thompson and his wife do all the cooking. I highly recommend Thompson’s if you’re ever on the way to Houston from points north.

    Hey, he kept an entire company of touring Kansas City actors and stage management people completely satisfied (and in tears); gotta be doing something right.

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