“Barbecue (BBQ) in Tennessee is serious business, with a long history that is intimately wrapped up in local identity and authenticity,” wrote James R. Veteto and Ted Maclin, authors of the book The Slaw and the Slow Cooked: Culture and Barbecue in the Mid-South.
CNN named Tennessee as the #1 state for expertly smoked meats. This summer if you are on a road trip to Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville, check out some of our 7 best BBQ stops in Tennessee:
Memphis International Airport (MEM) is only 12 miles from the Memphis city center. Memphis is known for its barbecue and of course Graceland – the former home of Elvis Presley.
1. Central BBQ
Open 7 days a week from 11 am to 9 pm, Central BBQ has three locations. You’ll find slow smoke ribs, pork, chicken, turkey, beef briskets, sausages, and bologna. Started in 2002 by two business partners, Craig Blondis and Roger Sapp, Central BBQ has consistently ranked as Memphis’ #1 place for BBQ.
Besides slow smoke meats, Central BBQ offers BBQ nachos and smoked hot wings. Peanut butter enthusiasts may want to leave room for their famous peanut butter pie after a hearty entree.
Note: Every year in May, Memphis hosts the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
2. Corky’s BBQ
For over 30 years, Corky’s BBQ has been voted as one of the best places for BBQ in Memphis. The company has expanded to other cities in Tennessee and also neighboring states like Arkansas and Mississippi. You can even purchase Corky’s BBQ online!
Corky’s BBQ on Poplar Street, Memphis has a laid-back 50s-style setting. Try their slab (half a rack) of ribs slow-cooked over hickory and charcoal, and their fried delta catfish, known as the killer rib combo, served with beans and slaw.
3. Cozy Corner BBQ
This down-to-earth, family-owned Memphis BBQ joint is a must stop for anyone looking for authentic Memphis BBQ. Though small in space, it serves up tasty ribs, wings, and cornish hens. Try their special BBQ spaghetti and banana pudding too.
Note: Cozy Corner BBQ is closed on Mondays.
After spending time in Memphis, hop on the highway and drive east (about 212 miles) to Nashville. Nashville, also known as Music City, has an array of summer activities and free concerts – and of course plenty of BBQ joints to dine in.
4. Peg Leg Porker
Peg Leg Porker’s owner, Carey Bringle, has “deep-seated roots in West Tennessee BBQ culture,” according to the company’s website. His award-winning restaurant is located on Gleaves Street and was named as one of the “Top 10 BBQ joints in the U.S.” by Travel Channel and many other media outlets.
Try Peg Leg Porker’s pulled pork sandwiches, dry ribs, and Peg Leg wings. The restaurant also has selections of whiskey, bourbon, and local craft beer to accompany their delicious BBQ.
5. Martin’s BBQ
The side dishes and sauces in Martin’s BBQ are made from scratch every day, seven days a week. Martin’s BBQ is known for its whole hog BBQ. Their slow barbecuing process starts a day before any food is served.
A family of four can feast on Martin’s BBQ’s “Big Daddy Sampler” consisting of a 1/2 rack ribs, 1/2 lb. pork, 1/2 lb. brisket, 1/2 chicken, 6 wings and 3 pints of sides.
The next destination for great Tennessee BBQ is Knoxville, 181 miles east of Nashville by car. In the early 1900s, Knoxville’s nickname, “The Marble City”, was coined due to the city being a major marble distribution center. Today, Knoxville is located at the crossroads of I-75, I-40, and I-81, three of the major interstates in the United States.
If you find yourself passing by Knoxville, stop by these two popular BBQ joints:
6. Archers BBQ
Founded by Memphis native, Archer Bagley, Archers has five locations in Knoxville. Their newest joint on Gay Street is located in downtown Knoxville. Everything in Archers is made in-house and their meats, sides, and sauces are gluten-free and MSG-free.
Archers BBQ offers six varieties of sauces on each table. You’ll find sauces with names like XXX Moonshine, Holy Jalapeño, and Memphis.
7. Sweet P’s Barbecue and Soul House
Sweet P’s original location at Maryville Pike is off the beaten path, next to the marina where locals hang out for good local BBQ and music. Diners have a choice of casual and relaxed indoor or outdoor seating.
Leave room for their banana pudding or bacon chocolate chip cookie for dessert.
If you are flying off from Knoxville, head over to McGhee Tyson Airport Knoxville, located 14 miles from the city center.
Do you have a favorite BBQ joint in Tennessee? Is it listed here? Let us know.