Barbecue spaghetti is a signature Memphis dish that you’re not likely to find anywhere else.
It’s no secret that people in Memphis love barbecued pork. In fact, for many in the city, it’s not just something to eat with a fork or pile on a bun but an ingredient that can be incorporated into just about anything.
Like pizza, for instance. Coletta’s Italian Restaurant invented its now-legendary barbecue pizza in the 1950s, using barbecue sauce in place of tomato sauce and layering on lots of shredded smoked pork. (Elvis was a big fan.)
Or nachos. The Germantown Commissary started topping tortilla chips with gooey cheese, smoked pork or chicken, and barbecue sauce in the 1980s, and barbecue nacho are now a staple at the Memphis Redbirds ballpark.
But none of these raises eyebrows quite like barbecue spaghetti. No, it doesn’t involve cooking noodles on a grill or barbecue pit. Nor is it just barbecue and spaghetti served side by side, though that combination (called a Half & Half Plate) was popular in the city’s barbecue restaurants a half-century ago.
The delicacy known as barbecue spaghetti is more than a simple mash-up of the two dishes. The city’s signature thick, tangy brown barbecue sauce is blended with traditional Italian tomato sauce, then barbecued pork is added and simmered in the mixture, creating a rich, smoky base. Instead of pouring the sauce over cooked spaghetti noodles, you stir the noodles into it so that each long strand is coated with savory orange sauce.
Craig David Meek delved into the history of this unusual barbecue dish in his book Memphis Barbecue: A Succulent History of Smoke, Sauce, and Soul (2014). Its inventor was Brady Vincent, who left his job as a railroad cook and opened a barbecue restaurant called Brady & Lil’s, where he perfected the recipe. He taught that recipe to Frank and Hazel Vernon when they bought the restaurant in 1980.
The Vernons later moved Brady & Lil’s to Madison Avenue and renamed it the Bar-B-Q Shop, but the barbecue spaghetti is still made using Vincent’s recipe. The Vernons are tight-lipped about the specifics of the formula, but they will reveal that it uses a different sauce from the one served with ribs and pork sandwiches and they cook the base in the restaurant’s charcoal-fired brick pit to give it a rich layer of smoke.
Barbecue spaghetti can now be found in restaurants around the city, both as side dishes and as full-sized entrées. Tangy, smoky, and filling, it’s an essential part of Memphis’s unique barbecue style.
- 1 (16 oz.) package uncooked spaghetti
- 9 ounces KC style barbecue sauce (make your own BBQ sauce with this recipe)
- 12 ounces traditional pasta (tomato) sauce
- 1 pound pulled pork (a perfect way to use up extra meat from The Easiest Authentic BBQ Pulled Pork Recipe Ever)
- Meathead's Memphis Dust (or try Meathead's Amazing Smoked Pork Seasoning)
These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page
- Prep. Add the barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, and pulled pork to a large pot, then stir to combine.
- Cook. Simmer over medium low while you cook the spaghetti. (For an extra smoky kick, let it simmer in a metal pan in your smoker or barbecue pit at 225°F for 15 minutes.)
- Boil. Bring 4 to 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and prepare spaghetti according to the instructions on the package. Once cooked, drain the spaghetti and return it to the pot.
- Add the sauce to the spaghetti and heat the mixture over medium-low, stirring frequently until the noodles, sauce and meat are combined and heated through, approximately 4-5 minutes.
- Serve. Plate the BBQ spaghetti for your family members and dust each serving with Memphis-style dry rub.