Walk into any barbecue joint in Memphis and you’ll immediately realize that you’re in swine country. “They’re all about pork—butt, shoulder, baby back ribs,” says Myron Mixon, a champion barbecue competitor and the author of Everyday Barbecue ($24, amazon.com). But you’ll have some hard decisions to make in Memphis. The legendary smoked ribs are offered up wet (basted and served with a sweet, sticky sauce that boasts a hearty dose of molasses) or dry (cooked with just a spice rub, which often includes paprika, chili powder, onion, garlic, oregano, and celery seed). The choice depends on your palate and your tolerance for messy fingers.
However, if you’re a Memphis resident, you might skip the ribs altogether in favor of a somewhat surprising local obsession—barbecue spaghetti. Smoked pork shoulder is mixed with a barbecue sauce that’s sometimes cut with a traditional red sauce, then tossed with spaghetti for a unique meal that you’re probably not going to find anywhere too far from the greater Graceland area.
The meat mecca of the Midwest has become synonymous with a distinct style of barbecue sauce. It’s typically a flavorful, hickory, ketchup-based sauce—and locals can be pretty liberal with the pour when saucing their ’cue. More often than not, that splash of sauce is accompanying spare ribs or brisket right off the smoker. (Kansas City is also home to the world’s largest organization of barbecue competitors, so rest assured that these pieces of meat are being taken quite seriously.)
There’s one other Kansas City staple that inspires instant drooling among those in the know: A true local delicacy, burnt ends are the crunchy, crusty end bits from a beef brisket that have been cooked with a hearty dose of sauce before they hit your mouth, packing intense amounts of smoky flavor in each bite. “They’re basically cubes of delicious goodness,” says Mixon.