Memphis BBQ Part 1: A General History with Brian Crenshaw

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In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Rebecca seeks out the history of barbecue instead of just eating it. In this first part of what will become a series of Memphis BBQ stories, we hear from Brian Crenshaw, a gentleman who has spent a good time diving into the history of where it originated and how Memphis’s culture really generated the satisfying flavors we thoroughly enjoy today.

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Let’s start with the first pigs that came to America. They were 13 black Iberian pigs and were brought to Tampa Bay, Florida in 1539 by Hernando de Soto. They joined the Spanish conquistadors during their journeys through the Southeast and were used to start pig farms for the new Spanish colony. As you can imagine, people loved the taste of them. It’s even been reported that American Natives were so fond of the taste of pork that attacks to acquire it resulted in some of the worst assaults on the expedition.

An image Brian uses for his BBQ history presentation showing the origins of pit barbecue.

Brian talks about where the word barbecue or barbeque originated from (barbacoa) and the simplicity of beginning as an actual pit people would walk up to. It would eventually evolve into a drive-in and then into a sit-down restaurant. A good example of a place that likely developed through this process is Corky’s BBQ because of its apparent expansions.

Front and side view of Corky’s BBQ on Poplar Ave., 2018.

A favorite of Brian’s and another great example of this primitive style of barbecue resides in Brownsville, TN, called Helen’s Bar BQ.  

Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee via stories.yeti.com

Wonder which barbecue restaurant in Memphis is the oldest?

Brian believes that would be Leonard’s which has served original Memphis style pit barbecue since 1922. Leonard’s Pit Barbecue is honestly the only place I’ve ever heard of that offers a barbecue buffet. Even more interesting, is when Brian tells us that Leonard’s is where the custom of putting coleslaw on the sandwich may have started. It was a way to stretch their meat when times tough economically, however it turns out the mix of flavors is quite a marriage and thus coleslaw stands as a traditional topping.

Photos of Leonard’s signs by one of our Instagram favorites, Drew Walker @wawalker1978

Finally hear about how new BBQ innovations started in Memphis, like barbecue nachos and pizza. Hear from Brian why Memphis barbecue is much more than just a good meal. It is so rich in Memphis history. There are so many different places to eat barbecue and each has their own rich history and relationships that make them unique from each other. It says something that this city can support so many of these local “mom and pop” shops. It’s because they are true culinary artists.

Looking for a list of places to find good barbecue? Maybe you’re curious now to try a new plate of barbecue or want to know what is in your neighborhood. Here’s an extensive list we found online at memphisbbqguide.com!

 
Links Mentioned:

A History of Pigs in America

Helen’s Bar BQ Photography and Story by Andrew Thomas Lee

Memphis Barbecue: A Succulent History of Smoke, Sauce & Soul

 

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Rebecca Phillips

I am a female born in the United States though I generally fear the border patrol. Buy me an ice cream cone and maybe I'll paint you something.

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