The Seven Best Barbecue Joints in St. Louis
PM BBQ (161 Long Road, Chesterfield; 636-536-1966)
Jennifer Silverberg The smoked half-chicken at PM BBQ
After several years of winning trophies in local barbecue contests, Paul Lamers and Mark Ruck opened their first restaurant in 2010. They continue to rack up awards, including a nod from Riverfront Times as "Best Beef Brisket" in 2011. The brisket, smoked for twelve hours, is so tender that the restaurant isn't afraid to slice it a bit on the thick side. Just as delicious is the moist, peppery smoked half-chicken. PM BBQ recently relocated to a larger space a very short distance away from its original spot.
17th Street Bar & Grill (1711 West Highway 50, O'Fallon, Illinois; 618-622-1717)
Ian Froeb The baby-back ribs at 17th Street Bar & Grill
The closest outpost of the small restaurant chain owned by barbecue legend Mike Mills, a multiple winner of the Memphis in May "Super Bowl of Swine" barbecue championship. The ribs are the standout here, pork so tender and flavorful with smoke, tangy sauce and Mills' secret spice rub that chef and Food Network star Michael Symon saw fit to call it the best pork he'd ever eaten.
Sugarfire Smoke House (9200 Olive Boulevard, Olivette; 314-997-2301)
Jennifer Silverberg The ribs at Sugarfire Smoke House
The latest venture from prolific restaurateur Mike Johnson (Boogaloo and Roxane, among many others) in partnership with Charlie and Carolyn Downs of dessert palace Cyrano's, Sugarfire offers smoked baby-back ribs, pulled pork, brisket, turkey breast and sausage. The meaty ribs and the brisket, as thickly sliced and deeply flavored as a Sunday roast, are standouts. Sides include baked beans, fries, cole slaw and daily specials like grits and mac & cheese.
And for the second consecutive year our Best Barbecue Joint is...
Bogart's Smokehouse (1627 South Ninth Street; 314-621-3107)
Jennifer Silverberg The smoked prime rib sandwich at Bogart's Smokehouse
For too long now, barbecue pedants have had to explain that the term "St. Louis-style ribs" refers to how the slab is cut, not how it's cooked, that St. Louis doesn't have its own "style" in the way that, say, Kansas City or Memphis does. (Like KC, but sweeter, is the most they'll grant.) But rather than grouse about a lack of respect or wallow in self-doubt, it's high time St. Louis embraces its lack of a distinct barbecue identity. Without an arbitrary, geographically imposed idea of what meats should be smoked and how, not only can our city enjoy the best of all worlds, dry-rubbed or basted, sauces sweet or hot or vinegar-piquant, we can also allow the mad genius of Skip Steele to flower in full. At Bogart's Smokehouse, Steele follows his whims, not others' rules, and the results are superb. Witness ribs finished with an apricot glaze, which the kitchen caramelizes with a propane torch; prime rib, long vanquished to the special Sunday or holiday dinner, are here smoked with onions; smoked pastrami (yes, pastrami!). You can, if you like, enjoy a more traditional meal of pulled pork or beef brisket. That's the beauty of Bogart's and the new era of St. Louis barbecue: Anything is possible, and everything is delicious.
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