Central BBQ

Acclaimed Memphis-based barbecue joint Central BBQ will be opening its first Arkansas location at the site of the old Farmers’ Co-op at 417 W. Martin Luther King Blvd. in the new South Yard Development in Fayetteville on Saturday, May 6.

It wouldn’t be a proper grand opening without a party, and Central plans to bring the heat. There will be live music from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and rumor has it, the first 100 guests will get free pulled pork sandwiches. Additional drawings will be held every hour on the hour, with chances to win T-shirts, hoodies, hats, cups, stickers, a YETI cooler full of goodies, free barbecue for a year and more.

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Central BBQ plans to add some Memphis flavor to Northwest Arkansas’s already bustling barbecue scene, joining the likes of statewide favorites like Wright’s Barbecue, Penguin Ed’s and Lucky Luke’s.  One can expect the usual Memphis suspects from Central’s menu, like pulled pork sandwiches with slaw and dry-rubbed ribs, as well as some nontraditional items like house-made pork rinds, barbecued bologna and the famous barbecue nachos.

I recently caught up with Jennifer Keaton, general manager of the new Fayetteville location. Keaton has many years of food service experience, having owned and operated KFB Events catering company for 15 years before coming on at Central BBQ. Keaton said all the meat at the Fayetteville Central BBQ will receive treatment via two Ole Hickory pits that they’ve modified to attach to the back of the building, ensuring that the meat never has to travel out of the kitchen. It’s prepped and loaded into the smokers via a modified hole cut into the back wall to access the pit.  Everything is smoked in-house with green hickory wood.

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I asked her if she had a favorite menu item.

“Our dry-rub wings are absolutely phenomenal. They’re a little different since they’re the full wing, not the disjointed wings you typically see. We soak ours overnight in a special sauce. We smoke them, then we flash fry them to get that crispiness.”

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Founded in Memphis in 2002, Central has expanded to four locations in Memphis, two in Nashville, and one in Southaven, Mississippi. The Fayetteville location will be its eighth and the first to offer a full bar, perhaps indicating a push towards the college market in NWA.

New brick-and-mortar locations aren’t the only expansions happening at Central.  Thanks to the magic of the internet, modern distribution, and a partnership with Goldbelly.com, one can order a rib pack, pulled pork by the pound, or a combo pack from Central’s website and have it shipped directly to you anywhere in the United States straight from Memphis. Speaking from experience, those combo packs, which include a bottle of rub and a bottle of sauce, are pretty awesome.

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I asked Keaton her thoughts on our friendly barbecue neighbors to the east opening up shop in Fayetteville.

“I think we’re bringing a whole new culture up here. Some of the well-known barbecue up here sort of focuses on Texas-style barbecue whereas we focus on more traditional Memphis-style barbecue. So bringing that flair to Northwest Arkansas, I really feel like we’ll do well with it.”

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