Memphis Special: Pulled Pork Barbecue Spaghetti
In this rib-sticking Southern favorite, smoky pork (or rotisserie chicken) simmers in homemade bbq-marinara sauce
Article, recipe, and photos by Marrekus and Krysten Wilkes, Cooks with Soul
Barbecue spaghetti is a delicacy most commonly found in the BBQ Capital of America: Memphis, Tennessee. Growing up in the Bluff City, I was no stranger to barbecue. One of my favorite memories is going to Memphis in May, a festival that is hosted every year in the city. There they have an annual BBQ Cookoff where pit masters come from all over the world to compete in different categories, ranging from Best Pulled Pork, Best Pulled Chicken, and Best Ribs, just to name a few. The overall goal is to be crowned the “King of Que” by the event’s judges and walk away with not only the crown, but also a bag full of cash and most importantly, bragging rights.
As a kid we had leftovers often, and therefore we always found ways to make a delicious dish from something that was cooked the day prior. Barbecue spaghetti was one of my favorite leftover dishes. I believe this was true for many families across Memphis. Barbecue aficionados say that this dish was invented by a guy named Brady Vincent, and that the first restaurant in Memphis to serve barbecue spaghetti was Coletta’s Italian Restaurant. It was also rumored to be a favorite of Elvis Presley. In any case, like many American classics, barbecue spaghetti is one of those creative, unique dishes that years later is still popular in Memphis, and also among pit masters around the world.
So, what is barbecue spaghetti? Well, it’s just what it sounds like. You start with a tomato-based sauce that is jazzed up with your favorite barbecue sauce, then add traditional barbecue spices and smoked meat. Some popular choices are pulled pork, pulled chicken, or brisket. Today it can be found on the menu at famous BBQ joints around Memphis such as Interstate Bar-B-Que and The Bar-B-Q Shop.
What I love most about this dish is that it can be served as a side dish during a family BBQ or it can be served as the main course for dinner with family and friends. The hearty meat sauce is made like a traditional pasta sauce and cooked low and slow. (I especially love it when the sauce is made alongside the BBQ pit, next to the delectable meats that will end up being mixed in.) This dish is amazing because it takes a traditional pasta and turns it on its head. The finished product is sure to have any guests begging for the recipe.
My favorite way to make barbecue spaghetti is with leftover pulled pork. Just in case you want to try smoking your own pulled pork, here's how I do it. I always make one or two pork butts, averaging 8 to 10 pounds each. I start by slathering them with mustard, then toss on a heavy dose of my own Memphis-style dry rub, which is made with crushed red peppers, chili powder, and a few other spices. Next, I wrap the pork butts in plastic wrap and sit them in the fridge overnight. The next day, once the smoker is fired up to 225°, I put the butts on the grates and smoke them low and slow for 12 hours.
If you don’t have a smoker to cook the pork butts, or don’t have the time, most grocery stores carry pre-cooked pulled pork that you can use, and some sell their own smoked pork. You can also substitute rotisserie chicken if you prefer.
How to make Barbecue Spaghetti
Though the ingredient list might look long, much of the recipe for Pulled Pork BBQ Spaghetti is pantry and spice cabinet items. The prep only takes about 20 minutes, and then you can start the sauce simmering.
The base of the sauce in this recipe includes diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and barbecue sauce. I also add in green, red, and yellow bell peppers, onion, and garlic. All of the vegetables are sautéed in a large saucepan together with oil and butter.
For the spices, at home I used my custom Cooks with Soul Memphis rub; however, in this recipe I’ve included a mixture of chili powder, dried oregano, dry mustard, dried basil, sugar, salt, and pepper.
I love using pulled pork for barbecue spaghetti because all I have to do is reheat the leftover pork by adding it the sauce mixture. I simmer the pork in the sauce for 45 minutes, which allows all of the spices and smoky flavor to absorb into the sauce, making it smoky, sweet, and spicy.
Once you mix in the pulled pork, cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. Finally, before serving, don’t forget to garnish your dish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley to give it that Memphis barbecue restaurant look.
This recipe is easily adaptable to fit your needs and preferred flavor profile. I use store-bought Memphis-style sweet bbq sauce; however, I encourage you to use your favorite. If the meat you go with doesn’t have any heat, then you can add crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce if you like.
If you have never had the pleasure of going to Memphis to experience our style of BBQ, then this recipe is one you should definitely keep in your repertoire. Likewise, if you know and love Memphis fare, particularly barbecue spaghetti, then this dish will make you feel right at home.
Southern cooking done right
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