"Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane. Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues in the middle of the pouring rain. W.C. Handy, won't you look down over me?"Marc Cohn, songwriter "Walking in Memphis"
In Memphis it is common for BBQ joints to offer their ribs "dry", without sauce, just a liberal sprinkling of spices and herbs.
The most revered Memphis style dry ribs are served at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous (called "The Vous" by some fans). In fact, The Rendezvous is probably the most popular ribjoint in the world. It is easy to understand why. Founded in 1948, it is crammed with memorabilia, romance, history, and you can't beat the location right downtown Memphis in an alley.
Baby backs are the cut of choice, they are cooked hot and fast, and they are sprinkled liberally with their top secret seasoning. "We call it a seasoning, not a rub, because it is sprinkled on, not rubbed in," says Nick Vergos, Charlie's grandson.
Because The Rendezvous is so famous and popular, people, especially the media, are always asking the owners for their seasoning recipe. But, and I know this might shock some of you, the one they give out is most definitely not the one they use in the restaurant or sell in the bottle! Yet the bogus recipe is all over the internet.
How can I be so sure? The bottle label of Rendezvous Famous Seasoning says "Spices, paprika (color), garlic, monosodium glutamate, salt and less than 2% silicon dioxide added to prevent caking." The recipe they give the media contains only salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, celery seed, paprika, and chile powder. But if you eat there or buy a bottle and sprinkle some in your hand, you can't miss the whole coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and allspice seeds among other things. So I have tried to reverse-engineer it. My version is a lot closer to the real thing than the one so widely circulated.
Now for my disclaimer: When in Memphis, you've gotta do The Rendezvous because it is so much fun, the staff is great, and it reeks of history. But it is not even in my top five in the area in my book. One of my complaints is that the rub is sprinkled on the ribs raw, uncooked. Most other restaurants that serve dry ribs sprinkle it on the raw meat, cook, and perhaps sprinkle on some more and cook some more, but the spices lose their rawness and bloom their full flavors when cooked in the oils of the meat. And forgive me if I'm biased, but most folks think Meathead's Memphis Dust is a better BBQ pork rub.
As background for this recipe, please read my article on the Science of Rubs.
Special thanks to several readers who have also attempted to duplicate the Vous technique and offered feedback.
Rendezvous-style Dry Rub Recipe
In Memphis it is common for BBQ joints to offer their ribs "dry", without sauce, just a liberal sprinkling of spices and herbs. This recipe is my Rendezvous-style Dry Rub Recipe.
Makes. Makes a bit more than two cups, enough for about 12 pounds of ribs. You can keep in a jar for months.
Takes. 10 minutes
8 tablespoons American paprika
4 tablespoons powdered garlic
4 tablespoons mild chili powder
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
4 teaspoons whole yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon crushed celery seed
1 tablespoon whole celery seed
1 tablespoon dried crushed oregano
1 tablespoon dried crushed thyme
1 tablespoon whole allspice seeds
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Accent
About the Accent. The label of the Rendezvous Famous Seasoning states that there is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in the blend. Ac'cent is made of MSG and you can find it in the spice section of your store. MSG, also known as glutamic acid, is a flavor enhancer as well as a natural byproduct of some aging and fermentation processes. Click here to read more about it.
Where's the salt? The bottled stuff has a lot of salt in it, but I have left the salt out of this recipe. Read why in my article on the Science of Rubs.
1) Mix all the rub ingredients in a bowl, making sure to break up all lumps. Put it in an airtight jar.
2) Click here to learn how the Vous makes its mop and cooks its ribs in only 60 minutes!