One-Hour Memphis-Style Ribs

I lived in Memphis, Tennessee a lifetime ago…or so it seems.  I was young and in my 20’s when I first lived there.  I actually lived there twice over a period of many years.  It was never my favorite city, but they sure knew how to do Elvis and Graceland, sing the blues on Beale Street and make ribs!

I had to share this recipe for Memphis-Style Ribs with you because I was soo excited to finally find a recipe that actually tasted like the ribs I had while I lived in Memphis.  I have tried numerous recipes over the years, but this is truly the closest thing I have found to the dry rub ribs I remember so well from years ago.

It’s this dry rub that makes all the difference!

I used to eat at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous (a very famous barbecue restaurant) for lunch every Friday afternoon when I worked in downtown Memphis.  Dry Ribs were their specialty and that is what I had.  I would also go to Corky’s BBQ in East Memphis for dinner every couple of weeks and I always ordered dry ribs there.  I have never found ribs anything even close to either of those restaurants since moving away.

Maybe I just missed getting yelled at by the rude waiters at the Redezvous at lunchtime.  Maybe it was the two-hour wait for dinner at Corky’s while standing out on Poplar Avenue that made the difference.  Sometimes it is all about the atmosphere and being in a certain place.  All I know is that the ribs in Memphis were better.

Thanks to the latest edition of the Williams-Sonoma catalog, I have found a recipe that comes as close as I have yet to find to the flavors of those ribs that I have missed over the years.  I did use Sir Kensington’s scooping ketchup (as they suggested in the recipe) and I do think it contributed to creating an authentic flavor.  This recipe also requires a pressure cooker.  The ribs cooked quickly (in one hour total), were tender and fell off the bone after the pressure cooker and a quick 20 minutes of basting on the grill.

I thought I was back in Memphis!

My only suggestion is that you mix everything together for the dry rub (except for the Kosher salt). The amount of rub that you use in the pressure cooker is fine with the full amount of salt, but I would cut back on the salt that you finish the ribs with after they come off the grill. It was a wee bit salty for us. My suggestion is that you split the rub in half before adding the salt. Add half the recommended amount of salt to one half of the dry rub (which would be 1/8 cup of salt). I would use much less salt for the remaining half of the rub (about 1 tablespoon of salt).

I used St. Louis-style ribs from a local pork producer in Georgia and they were incredible!  It was almost as good as being there.  Crank up some Elvis or put on your best blues CD and you will think you are eating ribs in the Bluff City!

Happy grilling!

Bryan Voltaggio’s One-Hour Memphis-Style Ribs

Ribs rule at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, a basement barbecue joint in Memphis, TN, where pork ribs are mopped with vinegar and cooked on an open charcoal fire. In Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s spin on that preparation, he seasons baby back ribs with a medley of spices and quick-cooks them in a pressure cooker, then smokes them on an outdoor barbecue. * This has been reprinted from WIlliams-Sonoma.


1/4 cup kosher salt
2 Tbs. freshly ground pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbs. paprika
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. piment d’Espelette
3/4 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
3/4 tsp. celery seed
1 1/2 tsp. toasted and ground coriander seed
1 1/2 tsp. toasted and ground fennel seed
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup Sir Kensington’s scooping ketchup (available at Williams-Sonoma)
3 1/2 lb. pork baby back ribs, cut into 3- or 4-bone slabs (I used St. Louis-style ribs from a local pork producer)


In a bowl, stir together the salt, pepper, lemon zest, paprika, garlic powder, oregano, piment d’Espelette, thyme, allspice, celery seed, coriander and fennel.

Prepare a grill for indirect grilling over medium-high heat. If using a gas grill, set a smoker box filled with hickory chips over direct heat.

In the base of a 10-quart stovetop pressure cooker, stir together the water, ketchup and 2 Tbs. of the spice mixture; reserve the remaining mixture. Place the ribs, bone side down, in the pressure cooker. Close and lock the lid and bring up to high pressure over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the pressure dissipate naturally, about 10 minutes. Carefully remove the lid and transfer the ribs to a steel grill roaster set on a baking sheet. Pour the cooking sauce from the pressure cooker into a basting pot or liquid measuring cup. Brush the meaty side of the ribs with the sauce.

Set the roaster on the grill over indirect heat. Cover the grill and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, brushing the ribs every 5 minutes with the sauce. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board and sprinkle with the remaining spice mixture. Cut into individual ribs and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Recipe by Chef Bryan Voltaggio, inspired by Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, Memphis, TN.


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