5 Star Story: Payne’s Bar-B-Q

Published: May. 16, 2023 at 10:43 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - We’re just a day away from the start of this year’s Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, where dozens of teams will converge upon Tom Lee Park to compete.

As we continue to feature the people places and things that make us proud to call the Mid-South home, we’re focusing this 5 Star Story on one of Memphis’ oldest barbecue restaurants, Payne’s Bar-B-Q.

It’s not unusual to see constant traffic in and out of the nondescript white cinderblock building on Lamar Avenue.

“I’ll say we go through maybe seven whole shoulders a day,” exclaimed Payne’s co-owner Ronald Payne.

And sometimes, even those seven shoulders are not enough to feed all the hungry customers who show up for their world-famous and award-winning ‘Cue.

“The pork and ribs--we’re selling out and having to close up doors early because we can only cook so much every day, " Payne said proudly.

Topped with Payne’s tangy mustard-based coleslaw, a family recipe, the chopped pork sandwich is notorious.

Payne's Bar-B-Q has been serving up the goods for 51 years.
Payne's Bar-B-Q has been serving up the goods for 51 years.(Action News 5)

“Definitely our chopped pork sandwich is the biggest seller, what we’re famous for. We put a lot of love into what we do and we make everything fresh,” explains Payne.

Ronald says the secret to Payne’s brand of deliciousness is all in their pit.

“It’s the preparation, the cooking, the time. It can be time-consuming but if you want the perfect flavor it’s gonna take some time to smoke it. We say slow and low. We do charcoal, straight charcoal, and our pit is so old that I think it holds a lot of smoke and flavor,” described Payne.

Payne’s restaurant was the dream of Horton Payne, Ronald’s father.

“And he started in 1972, two years after my mom and him married. Also the same year they had their first child, my sister, and it was my father, mother and grandmother,” Ronald reminisced.

But when Horton died eight years after moving into the restaurant’s current location, the dream lived on.

“And he left us in ‘84 and my mom carried the torch along with my grandmother,” he added.

Ronald’s mother Flora is still an important part of the restaurant business. According to her son, “She’s one of only a few women in barbecue. She taught and still is teaching me everything I know about cooking barbecue and she didn’t have to do it but, she did it. She’s just an amazing woman,” Ronald said of his mother.

And since Payne’s is first and foremost a family business, Ronald’s sister Candace has an important role as well.

“Working with your family and having a legacy and something that you know is there for you and was made for you. I think my parents had my sister and I in mind when they started the business,” Ronald speculated.

Payne's Bar-B-Q has been serving up the goods for 51 years.
Payne's Bar-B-Q has been serving up the goods for 51 years.(Action News 5)

What Ronald and his family have in mind for their customers is satisfaction.

“We hope that they’re gonna go and tell a friend and a friend will tell a friend and that’s how it’s been, and we’ve always survived off of word of mouth. I always think about my dad’s vision,” Ronald said while adding, ”When he first opened, somebody told him he wouldn’t survive a year and we’re here 51 years later.”

Payne’s Bar-B-Q has also been featured on numerous TV shows and in magazines In addition to its world-famous chopped pork sandwich, Payne’s also sells ribs, bologna and smoked sausage.

For more details about Payne’s Barbecue, click here.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.