BBQ Brisket And Latkes: How One Editor's Family Celebrates Hanukkah In Memphis

The perfect combo for a Southern Hanukkah.

Menorah and dreidel

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I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and there were a lot of things I just assumed were normal parts of life. Everyone loved basketball and rooted for the, then, Memphis State Tigers. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches were in regular rotation in my lunchbox. My senior prom was held at Graceland. And for my Jewish family, we always had Corky’s BBQ brisket alongside my mom’s potato latkes for Hanukkah dinner. It was only when I went away to college on the east coast did I realize, these things were all uniquely Memphis customs. 

I distinctly remember talking to friends in college about Hanukkah and I would rattle off what I thought was the standard meal to celebrate the Festival of Lights. I explained how my mom had a whole factory-like process to make her famous potato latkes in large batches, and that she provided the latkes for all of the family gatherings we had over the eight nights. Because I had a large family, we would spend each of the eight nights with different groupings of family members or friends but whether we hosted or went to someone else’s home, Mom brought the latkes. That was the constant. But another staple that was on the menu at least twice during the week of festivities, was Corky’s BBQ brisket. I remember a Jewish friend of mine in college who grew up in New Jersey sounding completely shocked at this revelation. “You eat BBQ for Hanukkah?” he said in complete disbelief. I replied with equal astonishment, “you don’t?” So it was only then that I realized that my Jewish traditions had, in fact, been influenced by my Memphis upbringing. 

But it wasn’t unusual for anyone else who grew up Jewish in Memphis. While much of Memphis’s barbeque identity is tied to pork and ribs, pork isn’t Kosher. So for members of the Jewish community who observe this rule, Corky’s has long been our spot for BBQ because they serve delicious beef brisket. Thanks to the convenience of the drive-through window at the original location on Poplar Ave, this Memphis landmark has been providing the perfect pairing to potato latkes for Hanukkah celebrations for decades.

Corky's BBQ

Corky's BBQ

Beyond just Hanukkah, Corky’s has also routinely catered strictly Kosher events by cooking in the Kosher kitchens of the synagogues around town. Owner Jimmy Stovall told me recently that every time they get a new smoker, before it has been used for anything else, under the guidance of a rabbi to follow strict Kosher guidelines, they will prepare a round of brisket that could be sold to members of the Jewish community specifically. 

So while latkes have long been paired with a more traditionally prepared brisket, I happen to think that for the joyous festival of Hanukkah, BBQ brisket makes the perfect match for those delectable, fried potato pancakes. Y’all should try it our way this year. (They ship nationwide!)

Happy Hanukkah!

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