BBQ Chicken Tips from Memphis


Memphis is known for a very special kind of BBQ and is also home to the famous Memphis In May BBQ cook-off competition. When it comes to BBQ chicken in Memphis, these hometown heroes know what makes Memphis-style BBQ chicken make the grade!

Melissa Cookston- Memphis Barbeque Co.

Winningest Woman of BBQ

The self-claimed Winningest Woman of BBQ’ that came from the roots of the Mississippi Delta may better be known as the Wingiest Woman of BBQ Wings! Memphis BBQ indeed has a couple types of BBQ rubs, but when it comes to chicken, Melissa likes to use a wet rub. Her award-winning chicken hot wings are the best-smoked chicken that uses the classic Tabasco Chipotle sauce.

The Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Chipotle BBQ Sauce in glass jars

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil (or peanut oil)
  • cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1⁄4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons Tabasco Chipotle sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard (your choice)
  • 1⁄4 cup honey (your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

For the Wings

  • 2 Lbs. (whole jumbo) chicken wings
  • cup hot sauce (your choice)
  • 2 tablespoons Melissa’s BBQ Rub
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne chili powder (adjust for spiciness)
  • Ranch or Blue Cheese Dressing when serving (your choice)

Preparing the BBQ sauce

  1. In a saucepan, you add the oil and onions on medium heat until the onions begin to get glassy looking. This takes 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Now you can add the remainder of the BBQ sauce ingredients and whisk them together.
  3. At this point, you’ll let this simmer on low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, which allows the sauce to thicken. During this time, you should stir the sauce every 5 minutes or so, to help it reduce and thicken further.
  4. After this sauce is finished, it can be stored in your fridge inside a sealed container for at least one month.

Sauce rub for the wings

  1. Begin by washing your chicken wings with clean water and allow them to air dry or use paper towels to dab them dry. Place your wings into a large bowl and add the hot sauce, rub, and cayenne chili powder. Rub these all over the chicken wings and coat them thoroughly.
  2. Get your smoker ready so you can cook these wings at 275F degrees. Since this recipe can be spicier depending on the amount of spice you add, use cherry wood to accent these spicy flavors. But you can also use other types of wood if you prefer.
  3. When your smoker has reached the target temperature, place your wings onto grill grates and cook for two hours. The skin should be crispy enough on the outside, yet the joint on the inside should separate easily.
  4. After you remove the wings from the smoker, you can add them to a new bowl and coat them add the Chipotle BBQ sauce over the top of your chicken wings. Swirl the bowl so that the wings get evenly coated. This is then served with an optional blue cheese dressing sauce.

Gary Glen- Memphis-style BBQ chicken

Memphis-style BBQ chicken on wood tray

Gary Glen isn’t originally from Memphis but knows a lot about cooking up BBQ chicken. He’s spent a lot of time as a judge on the Kansas City Barbeque Society, so he certainly knows what makes Memphis-style BBQ pleasing to the BBQ fans. And even though, chicken isn’t the top choice for Memphis barbeque, Gary has a recipe that is certainly award-winning in its own right.

The secret is found within his dry rub, however, the mop sauce might change your mind.

Let’s find out what makes this unique style of Memphis BBQ chicken so special.

What you’ll need first

  • 1 whole chicken cut into pieces (select the parts you want for equal servings)
  • 1⁄4 cup Memphis meat rub
  • 1⁄4 cup Memphis BBQ sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup white vinegar
  • Vegetable oil (your choice)
  • 1 cup of both hickory and apple chips (Optional: soak in water for 30 minutes)

Note: Replace with this rub if you’re looking for something a little more traditional.

Preparing your chicken

  1. The first thing is to trim your chicken and remove any excess chicken skin or fat. Section all the pieces as you like so each section is self-serving. Wash it under clean water and pat it dry with paper towels.
  2. Now you can take a chip brush and coat all of your chicken parts with vegetable oil. This is so the dry rub will stick to your chicken parts. Add a generous amount on all sides and even under the skin if it’s possible. Pat all the surface area so you get good adhesion and then place into a fridge for hour.
  3. This is when you fire up your smoker grill so it will reach a medium-low heat. This should be 250F degrees and plan for at least a 2-hour cooking time.
  4. This is also a good time to prepare your mop sauce while your grill is warming up. Into a large bowl, add your BBQ sauce ingredients and vinegar, and whisk it together so it’s well mixed.
  5. On your grill after you’ve reached the optimal temperature, you’ll have the side that is reserved for the cooler grilling and is not over the direct heat. Make sure the breast and wings are the farthest from the direct flames. Legs and thighs can be closer to the heat source.
  6. At this point you want to add your wood chips that are wrapped in foil packs. These need to have holes poked in them so the smoke can come out. This is placed onto the burning coals so it will start to burn the wood. The pre-soaking will delay the smoke until the wood starts to burn at a later point. Keep the heat at 250F degrees all through the cooking time.
  7. After one hour, this is when you add your mop rub and baste all the sides of your chicken on the top and along the sides flipping the chicken to get the bottom half. These need to be flipped so they sit skin side up. Adjust your chicken as needed so nothing is burning. Cover the grill and continue cooking.
  8. When another 15 minutes have passed, you should check your chicken with a meat thermometer. For the breast meat you’ll want to see 160F degrees, and all other pieces, this should be 180F degrees for it to be totally cooked. Obviously, it won’t be that temperature just yet, so at this time you can rearrange your chicken and then cover the grill once again.
  9. You can check your chicken after another 15 minutes or until you reach the core temperature that tells you the chicken is finally cooked. When the chicken is finally ready, place your chicken onto the hot side of your grill. This helps to sear the top and bottom of each piece so it has sear marks from the grill.
  10. Now you can brush some more mop sauce over your chicken and the remaining rub on top of that. Remove the chicken from the grill and cover your chicken with aluminum foil. It’s best to let these pieces rest for 10 minutes so the chicken becomes very tender.
  11. If there’s any sauce leftover, you can add this to the chicken, since it should be served with lots of sauce. This is when your Memphis-style BBQ chicken is ready to be served.

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