Kansas City BBQ vs. Memphis BBQ – What’s the Difference?
By Cleo James
There’s nothing quite like sitting at a table that’s covered with slow cooked ribs, pulled pork and other barbecued meat treats. To the average chef and average eater, they don’t care about what style they’re making or what style they’re eating – they simply enjoy being around family, good friends and good food. If you dig a little deeper into the art of barbecue, you’ll see that there are very different regional styles and very different approaches to how meat is handled, prepared, barbecued and served.
This is what separates the “average” chef (better said – “pit master”) and barbecue connoisseur from those that “talk the talk and walk the walk”! Today we’ll compare Kansas City style BBQ and Memphis style BBQ.
Kansas City style BBQ – Kansas City barbecue is considered the most dominant style and most recognizable style of barbecue in America. Your local grocery store more than likely has shelves packed with Kansas City style barbecue sauce. Kansas City style barbecue is so well recognized and so celebrated that the world’s largest barbecuing and grilling organization, The Kansas City Barbecue Society, purposely includes the name of this BBQ Mecca city. Kansas City style barbecue is ruled by the sauce – you’ll experience a sweet and thick sauce that is usually made up with tomato and molasses base. Although it was just mentioned, it should be mentioned again, Kansas City style sauce is sweet! Many believe that this mixture of a sweet (which is also known to include brown sugar) and tangy sauce that results in a Kansas City style barbecue sauce creates barbecue perfection that cannot be matched. Kansas City style barbecue also is home to a barbecue “holy grail” – burnt ends. These are the tips from a fully smoked beef brisket that are usually thrown back into the smoker for additional cooking time and to get a nicely charred exterior. Burnt ends have become a staple menu item at almost every Kansas City style barbecue restaurant because of their “cult like” following. Almost everyone who has tried a well prepared burnt end usually becomes a believer in this barbecue delicacy! Kansas City style barbecue is sweet with emphasis on the sauce. Kansas City is home to the world’s largest recognized barbecue and grilling organization and also the original home of the meat treat known as burnt ends.
Memphis style BBQ – Memphis barbecue is distinguishably different from Kansas City style barbecue. When preparing or eating Memphis style barbecue the first thing you will notice is that the sauce isn’t as sweet as Kansas City style sauce and actually may have a bit more “spiciness” to it. The other thing you’ll notice is that your ribs don’t have any sauce on them at all and the sauce is on the side. That’s because Memphis style barbecue focuses on barbecuing the meat dry – only with a spice rub that is done before cooking the meat. A Memphis style barbecue rub usually has far less sugar than a Kansas City style sauce or rub and a Memphis style barbecue rub sometimes won’t even include sugar or a sweet addition. The sauce, which is usually served on the side for dipping or pouring onto meat, is generally thinner than a Kansas City style sauce and typically is tangier and spicier than a Kansas City style sauce. Although it’s normally not served on the meat, a good Memphis style barbecue sauce is still a highlight! It’s more than a just a condiment and provides a good compliment to a pulled pork sandwich or a dip for white bread. Memphis style barbecue is usually served “dry” without any sauce included and only a dry rub added to the meat prior to smoking or cooking. The sauce is tangy, thin and sometimes delivers a kick from being spicy.
Barbecue has regional influence and regional styles. No one would ever say one is better than the other, but each regional style has a different presentation, different taste and different followers. Both Kansas City style barbecue and Memphis style barbecue are very different but they both provide an amazing barbecue experience and amazing barbecue flavor. Now, the real fun begins – grab some Kansas City and Memphis style barbecue and see which one is your favorite!