There’s a smokin’ hot BBQ scene in St. Louis. The Show-Me State’s love affair with BBQ ribs began more than a century ago, when a steamboat cook named Henry Perry picked up discarded slabs of ribs from the Kansas City stockyards and used locally harvested hardwood trees to slow-smoke them.
Today, St. Louis residents consume more BBQ sauce per person than anywhere else in the country. Enthusiasts consistently include St. Louis on their “rib road trips” that take them to other BBQ meccas like Memphis and Kansas City. The next time you head out on the town, consider a visit to a local smokehouse restaurant. It is the perfect way to complement a Cardinals baseball game, brewery tour, or a pilgrimage to the Gateway Arch, the nation’s tallest monument.
Read on to learn about the fascinating history of BBQ in St. Louis, MO.
St. Louis-Style Ribs: A Brief History
Originally, “St. Louis-style” referred only to an upscale way of cutting ribs. In the years following World War II, local butchers started removing the pointed end of the rack beyond the 13th bone. This eliminated much of the fat and gristle. The meatier ribs commanded a premium in local butcher shops.
Local meatpackers soon embraced the cutting technique to distinguish their ribs from those of competitors. Eventually, butchers nationwide advertised “St. Louis-style ribs.”
Great Places for St. Louis BBQ
Today’s local BBQ scene includes a potpourri of seasonings and cooking methods, adding intrigue to the quest for sublime new taste treats. Meat is either cooked on a grill or slow-cooked using indirect heat and smoke. The savory flavor derives from tasty ingredients like brown sugar and even apricots. Sauces may be thicker and sweeter or thinner and more vinegary.
St. Louis ribs certainly dominate the BBQ scene. However, the Gateway City is also known for its pulled pork, burnt ends, snoots, and pork steaks. Pork steaks are also very popular. Butchers cut half-inch to inch-thick steaks from the shoulder. “Burnt ends” refer to cubed brisket braised with BBQ sauce. Melt-in-your-mouth pleasure is guaranteed. Crispy pig snoots are also a big part of the St.Louis BBQ scene. They have the unique advantage of being 43 percent protein and just two percent fat.
Today, St. Louis residents consume more BBQ sauce per person than anywhere else in the country.
There’s been rapid growth in St. Louis eateries specializing in BBQ ribs. Today, there are dozens of restaurants worthy of a visit. Here are some of the most popular BBQ joints in St. Louis and its surrounding suburbs:
Pitmaster Mike Emerson co-founded Pappy’s in 2008. Since then, more than three million hungry customers have passed through the doors. Relax amid a casual, down-home ambiance, where signed photos of celebrities-turned-diners grace the walls.
Food Network rates Pappy’s full slab of ribs as the best in the country. How do they achieve the remarkable flavor? By dry rubbing the ribs with brown sugar and smoking them over cherry and apple wood. This delivers a caramelized coating that contrasts with the moist meat inside. The restaurant is also known for succulent sides and heaping servings. Pappy’s midtown location is less than two miles from Busch Stadium.
Salt + Smoke
Smoke + Salt serves up tasty trashed ribs and dry-rub smoked wings. Both the pulled pork and brisket sandwiches are terrific as well. For dessert, don’t forget to try a slice of pecan pie. Salt + Smoke is in the University City area. There’s also a new location to the southwest in St. Louis Hills.
At Bogart’s, apricots are the secret, believe it or not. Apricot brûléed ribs are a specialty at Bogart’s. The pulled pork and smoky beef brisket get a lot of attention, but the sides are also noteworthy. Baked beans bathe in a sea of thick, rich sauce. The deviled egg potato salad is another house specialty. Bogart’s is in the historic Soulard neighborhood, where the iconic Soulard Market dates to 1779.
Look to Sugarfire Smokehouse for scrumptious BBQ ribs, beef brisket, and pulled pork sandwiches. Select from ⅓, ½ and full racks of house-smoked baby back ribs. Don’t forget to add a side of creamy mac-n-cheese! Sauces run the gamut from a Texas Hot to a Carolina Mustard. Sugarfire Smokehouse has multiple locations in Missouri, and more in five other states. The downtown location is near the National Blues Museum, a half-mile from the Gateway Arch.
At Dallie’s Smokehouse, try a savory rack of ribs that are dry-rubbed and then slow-smoked. Or, select from three kinds of wings: BBQ, Cranberry Cayenne, and Dry Rub. Dallie’s adds variety to the BBQ portion of the menu with BBQ nachos and BBQ ham-n-cheese. There’s lots of variety on the menu: try a vegan sub or the “Ultimate Reuben” piled high with two kinds of pastrami.
As the name Gobblestop suggests, the focus here is on BBQ-smoked turkey and chicken. The poultry is dry-rubbed before it is -smoked over smoldering hickory wood. Thrillist rated it the best place for wings in Missouri. You’ll find the Gobble Stop in Creve Coeur, just west of the I-270 beltway.
For the duration of the pandemic, be sure to check for dine-in availability before visiting.
Q in the Lou: An Ultimate BBQ Festival
Not surprisingly, St. Louis celebrates its love of BBQ at the annual Q in the Lou Festival. In 2019, a cadre of legendary pitmasters smoked some nine tons of ribs. That’s 18,000 pounds of mouthwatering goodness! In response to the pandemic, Q in the Lou went virtual in 2020. Residents await the festival’s full return in the future.
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