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.