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Regional Cuisines: The Great Memphis Barbecue

Yes, regional food is certainly on the rise.

Trend speculators predicted the rise of regionalism this year, saying that diners’ interest in regional cuisines is continuously growing, almost in equal pace as their interest in international food. If there’s one thing great about being an independent operator, it’s the fact that unlike large restaurant chains and franchisees, indies are allowed a certain degree of flexibility in experimenting with their menus and food offerings—testing what works with the customers, and what does not; removing those that do not bring in money, and adding some that might just click and become profitable.

So we’re trying to give hints to restaurant operators, hoping to give them ideas of regional cuisines that they can use in their restaurant promotions and introduce in their menus and menu card holders– we have featured Florida Cuisine last month, and now we’ll have the renowned specialty dish of the pork barbeque capital of the world, Memphis.

Memphis is the host of the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest, said to be the largest pork barbeque competition in the world where more than 250 teams from over 20 U.S. states compete and approximately 90,000 people come to attend. The competition is held in the yearly month long Tennessee festival called Memphis in May. Other than that, Memphis is also home to one of the biggest concentrations of barbeque restaurants in the world—substantiating the claim that it is indeed the place where one can find almost every technique in barbecuing all kinds of meat, primarily pork.

What then makes Memphis barbeque stand out above the others? There are, of course different notions with regards to this, but the basic principle remains the same: its meat, dry rubs and sauces.

Meat. Even without rubs and sauces, the meat that Memphis chefs use in their barbeques is always tasty and tender, be it in the form of pulled pork or ribs on a slab. Authentic Memphis pork smokers do not depend on seasoning alone to produce an outstanding barbeque—aside from using the highest quality pork, they also make sure to allow the smoking process add to the strength of its natural flavor. While Memphians each have their own flair in creating their barbecue sauce and rub, Memphis barbeque has always been about the flavor the diner gets when the meat and smoke is combined.

Dry rubs. Mephians are best known for their dry rubs, most frequently used on ribs. Dry rubs, often made up of a generous amount of paprika, garlic, cumin, onions and other spices, bring a higher flavor to the meat and is less messy than liquid rub. While there are numerous variations to making barbeque rubs, the heart of the traditional Memphis rub is paprika. Since most meats are served without barbecue sauce, the dry rub is often expected to provide all the flavors that bring out the traditional Memphis style barbecue.

Barbecue sauce. Memphis barbecue sauce is distinct as well. Ask Memphians what is the best Memphis barbecue sauce, and you will most likely get a hundred different answers. But although the ingredients vary from one cook to another, the traditional sauce is usually made with vinegar, tomatoes and a countless mix of spices. It is typically tangy, thin, light and a bit sweet.

Memphis, as they say, has a collection of great barbecue dishes, where different variations have been added over the years. These variations are the ones that have made visitors keep coming back time and again, trying out what they find in Memphian restaurant menus and menu card holders; always finding something new every time they do.

And should today’s restaurant operators be able to do this, too, customers will keep coming back as well, always ready to have a new experience each time that they do so.