As a southerner, I’m no stranger to BBQ. The south is full of good BBQ. It’s so good here, I’m hesitant to even try it in other parts of the country. So when I visited St Louis and found out about “St Louis BBQ”, I went searching for the best BBQ to see how it stacked up against what I know. Turns out, pretty darn good. In fact, you might even say I liked it better. Will they take away my southerner card for saying that?
St Louis BBQ Style
Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but I didn’t even know that there was a “style” of St Louis BBQ. What’s different about it? Generally in cooking terms, this means the ribs or the meat is cooked directly on a grill as opposed to slow cooked over indirect heat that uses smoke.
Another thing that sets St Louis BBQ apart is the cut. Since ribs are the most probably the most popular cut in the St Louis style BBQ line up, the rib bones are trimmed neat with the ends cut off so they present a well formed rectangle shape.
As for sauce, St Louis style BBQ is usually sauced with a thicker, but not too sweet, sauce that has vinegar in it. In fact, that’s actually one of the only differences between St Louis BBQ and Kansas City BBQ, who’s sauce is even more thick and sweeter.
One more thing I frequently saw on St Louis menus is what’s called burnt ends. The burnt ends are a cut of meat from a beef brisket. They originate in Kansas City but you’ll find them in St Louis too. The meat is cubed and braised in sauce until it just melts in your mouth.
Where to Eat St Louis BBQ
To be honest, I really don’t have too much knowledge of what makes what a certain city’s BBQ style. I just know I like BBQ so I set out to eat some St Louis BBQ. In no particular order, because I liked them all, here’s what I tried. So far.
When you say BBQ, for me, Pappy’s is what comes to mind. It’s the big daddy, granddaddy of them all. Located in the midtown area of St Louis, don’t be surprised to find a line out the door when you go.
Because I had read about how busy it is at times, I decided to go early in the evening on a week night to beat the crowd. Thank goodness there was only a short line because I was hungry. Most of the people there seemed to be locals and knew what they wanted so the line did move really fast.
After moving through the line you come to a counter, place your order, find a place to sit down and they will bring your food out to you.
Pappy’s BBQ Style
Interestingly, instead of St Louis style BBQ, Pappy’s serves Memphis style BBQ. This means the ribs, which are their specialty, are dry rubbed and then smoked over apple and cherry wood. Pappy’s has all the other popular meats and cuts – pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked turkey, smoked chicken, sausage and burnt ends.
I ordered a pulled pork sandwich – which is my favorite thing. I was not disappointed. Pappy’s sandwich is perfect with meat spilling off the bun. The meat was so tender and cooked just right. How you sauce your BBQ at Pappy’s is up to you.
The choices include an Original traditional sauce, a Sweet Baby Jane and a hotter Hoo Doo sauce. I’m more of an acidic or vinegary sauce than sweet, so I preferred the Original and the Hoo Doo.
Some places focus so hard on the BBQ that they forget the sides. Not Pappy’s. Their sides are the perfect complement to their meats. That means they accompany – not outshine the BBQ. They serve baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, fried corn on the cob, sweet potato fries, green beans and apple sauce.
I had the baked beans and potato salad and loved them both. Pappy’s was definitely a favorite and some of the best BBQ I’ve had ever.
Sugarfire is an local award winning Missouri chain of BBQ restaurants with locations in St Louis and a few surrounding states. Their website describes their BBQ as “taking all the best traditions of the best BBQ cities in the USA to create a St Louis style BBQ that’s all its own”.
With locations throughout the city, I decided to go to the original Olive Street location in Olivette west of town for lunch. Even though it wasn’t as crowded as Pappy’s – and it was earlier in the day – it was still pretty busy.
Sugarfire’s BBQ Style
In addition to BBQ standbys of ribs, pulled pork and brisket, Sugarfire serves burgers, salmon and salads. So even non meat eaters and the pickiest of kids should be able to find something they like to eat.
This time instead of a sandwich, I ordered a pulled pork plate and a couple of sides. The pork was really good. It wasn’t the best St Louis BBQ I tried but I did enjoy it. Of all the places I sampled, I will say Sugarfire served the least amount of meat. Maybe that’s not the typical experience but I found the serving to be a bit skimpy for the price.
Their mission statement about taking the best of the best BBQ cities, comes through in their their sauces too. A homemade Alabama White Sauce, a tangy Carolina Mustard and a classic Texas Hot are just few of the homemade sauces they make.
Like Pappy’s, they’ve definitely put some thought into their sides. I loved their mac n cheese even though now their website doesn’t mention them having it now. Other sides they do serve are hand cut French fries, potato salad, baked beans and coleslaw. I tried the coleslaw and thought it was very well made.
My biggest regret was not trying one of their milkshakes or what they call a pie shake. The pie shake is a milk shake that has one whole piece of pie blended in. I don’t know if I’d go back for BBQ but I’d definitely go back to try a milkshake for sure.
Located in the vibrantly French community of Solard – I loved not only the BBQ at Bogart’s but the location and the neighborhood. Bogart’s website says they are open “until they sell out”. Not surprising based on the amount of people that were there the day I went.
The line was out the door and down the street. The plus side of waiting in line? They offer you smoked wings while you wait. Actually they may hand out other food as well, but on the Sunday I was there, it was wings. Smoky, tender delicious wings.
Bogart’s BBQ Style
Other BBQ classics like ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey and pastrami complete the menu. Again, I ordered my usual pulled pork and it was out of this world delicious. I like the way they pull the pork. It’s pulled but kind of chunky and not stringy. The texture was just right – tender with plenty of crispy edges.
I paired my sandwich with the deviled egg potato salad as a side. Whoever decided deviled eggs needed to be added to potato salad deserves an award. And the baked beans were some of the tastiest I’ve ever eaten. Thick, rich and chunky with meat in them.
The only and I really mean the only, down side to Bogart’s is the size of the restaurant. As with the other two restaurants, you make your way to the counter to order. Because the line was so long, people were holding seats so I couldn’t even get a seat for one. Normally, I would prefer to sit and try all the sauces but I only got to try the Sweet Meagan Ann sauce. It’s a thick, sweet and smoky sauce and was delicious. Worth the wait and the carry out.
Salt + Smoke
Update – My original article only included three restaurants but I recently was on a road trip and drove through St Louis. Even though I didn’t have much time, I decided l couldn’t be that close and not try more St Louis BBQ. So, I ordered take out from Salt + Smoke. Here’s how it went.
Salt + Smoke is a local St Louis restaurant serving BBQ, craft beer and a huge selection of bourbon. With five locations around the region, you can definitely find one that’s convenient. Since I was traveling I- 70, I should have stopped at the St Charles location but I really wanted to go downtown so I chose the one on Clark Avenue.
Disclosure: being from out of town, I didn’t know this location was at the busy Ballpark Village. I’m just glad there wasn’t a game or anything going on or it would have been a big delay. Bonus points to Salt + Smoke for convenient to-go curbside parking.
Salt + Smoke’s BBQ Style
Salt + Smoke’s BBQ is traditional St Louis style. They smoke the pork and brisket over post oak wood. Their website states that this kind of wood is very intense and creates a “deep and long finish to their smoked meats”. Besides pork and brisket, they serve BBQ pulled chicken and salmon smoked with cherry wood. They also have wings and something called fried chicken skins. Interesting.
For simplicity and comparison, I ordered my standard pork sandwich just like I did at all the other St Louis BBQ restaurants I’ve tried. At Salt + Smoke, the pork sandwich is served on a lightly toasted bun with tasty pickles on the side. At first bite, you’ll notice the rich smoky flavor from the oak. It was incredibly tasty and fall apart tender.
The sandwiches come with a side, which was very hard to choose since they offer so many options. Fries, pit beans with bacon – they smoke their own bacon by the way – potato salad, coleslaw, creamed corn and other offerings are all on the menu.
Since it was kind of a cool and blustery November day, I ended up ordering the white cheddar cracker mac because I figured mac n cheese would hit the spot on a cold day. And it didn’t just hit the spot – it was so good – it’s actually kind of life changing.
I’ve thought about that mac-n-cheese at least weekly since I’ve been home. It was even good cold. I saved about half since it was such a big portion and ate it later while driving and it was still the best mac-n-cheese I’ve ever had.
As far as sauces go, Salt + Smoke have several to pick from. I topped my sandwich with classic My Sweet Bestie and also a bit of Hotangy. Perfect! Overall, I really really loved the food from Salt + Smoke. I just need a do-over so I can actually dine in and have a beer or bourbon.
Who Has the Best St Louis BBQ?
So, final question: who has the best St. Louis BBQ? I’m not sure because I really loved them all. One thing I’m 100 percent sure of is that St Louis has some of the best BBQ in the country. And that makes me happy because I really love this town.
It really has turned out to be one of my favorite BBQ towns and now I think I need about a month to try all the suggestions people have made. Please let me know your favorite St Louis BBQ so I can keep adding restaurants to my must try list.
See you on the road!