Charlie Vergos didn’t invent barbecue ribs when he opened Rendezvous in downtown Memphis in 1948, but he did make them iconic. “You can smell them barbecuing from the Peabody hotel,” says Robert Stewart Jr., who for the last four decades has worked at times as a waiter, cook, bartender, and jack of all trades at the cozy red-checkered-tablecloth establishment. “The customers are my friends. I know their names and their faces, and I’ve watched their kids grow up to come in and teach their kids how to eat ribs.” Although it may seem counterintuitive since Rendezvous’s ribs are famously dry rubbed, a baste keeps the rack moist and creates a nice char as the meat slow-cooks on the grill for about an hour and a half. To make a baste at home, mix ½ cup water, ½ cup distilled white vinegar, ¼ cup barbecue sauce (Rendezvous uses a sweet tomato, mustard, and vinegar combo), and 3 tablespoons of seasoning (Rendezvous’s is a blend of paprika, chili powder, black pepper, mustard seed, celery seed, oregano, thyme, allspice, and coriander). Mop the baste over the ribs while they cook, Stewart says, and when the slab is finished (many pitmasters cook ribs to an internal temperature of 200°F, but use your favorite recipe’s guidelines), take it off the grill and brush on more baste. Or for guaranteed success: Rendezvous ships racks of fully cooked and frozen ribs, plus sauce and seasoning.
Food & Drink
Rib Tips from the Rendezvous
A Memphis barbecue institution marks seventy-five years
Illustration: Tim Bower