Born and raised in West Tennessee to parents born and raised in Mississippi, I have definite ideas about what is good barbecue.
Good barbecue comes in two forms - pork shoulder and pork ribs. Pork shoulder is probably my favorite, cooked long and slow over charcoal, pulled from the bone by hand, and never contaminated by a knife. Sauce is red-brown, not too sweet, not too vinegary, smoky, and always served on the side, never ever stirred up with the meat.
I like it piled high on a platter. If served as a sandwich, slaw is absolutely required as a topping. (When I first moved to Georgia, I dropped in a barbecue joint and ordered a pork sandwich. As I watched them prepare it, I noticed they were wrapping it up without putting slaw on it. When I stopped them and asked for slaw, you would have thought I asked them to pour chocolate syrup all over it by the look on their faces. Of course, after I took one bite of it, I realized Georgians have much bigger barbecue problems than just omitting slaw.)
I am not a complete traditionalist - I like pulled pork on baked potatoes and big salads as well. I love Coletta's barbecue pizza and barbecue spaghetti, and somewhere I even tried barbecue nachos.
When it comes to ribs, I generally prefer the dry ribs of my Memphis homeland, but I enjoy wet ribs as well. For the uninformed, dry ribs are prepared with a dry spice rub, but the ribs themselves are still very juicy. Again, sauce is on the side for dipping. I believe that Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous was the birthplace of the dry rib, and this is one of my favorite restaurants. Their cheese plate used to be a frequent workday lunch, but I digress . . .
Having settled in east Tennessee, I am happy that even east Tennessee barbecue is pretty close to what I was raised on, although I generally find I still prefer west Tennessee sauce. There's a little take-out place down the road from my house where they smoke their barbecue out back. I'll pick up some takeout there, but I'm not wild about their sauce. That's why I always keep a bottle of Corky's on hand. Corky's has also opened locations across the state, so I am never too far from good barbecue.
Sticky Fingers is another good source for Memphis style barbecue, and they even cater to those who like other styles, even that wacky Carolina mustard thing. Another favorite is Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, AL, of all places. They have won the prestigious Memphis in May Barbecue contest repeatedly, as well as several other lesser contests. I have to admit, I even have come to really like their white sauce, but only on chicken, never pork.
I was inspired to write this after seeing this video on CNN today. It is a hoot.