The Tastes of USA BBQ: St. Louis style BBQ
Barbecue is one of the most unique and delicious flavor sensations you can experience. The smoke, the meat, the spices; all are essential in making it what it is. But did you know barbecuing isn't the same everywhere you go? St. Louis style BBQ is very unique.
Different parts of the United States have different techniques and flavors they use in their barbecue. Today in our Tastes of USA BBQ series let's take a trip to St. Louis, Missouri and see what they do differently that makes their barbecue so delicious. How is it made? Can you reproduce it at home? Let's find out.
St. Louis Barbecue
The most unique thing about St. Louis-style barbecue is the method of cooking. Rather than slow smoking over many hours, St. Louis barbecue is might simply be grilled. This isn't universal, though, and many places do still utilize the traditional smoking method. Pork ribs, especially the St. Louis spare bbq ribs that take their name from the city, are a popular meat of choice, as are pork steaks.
Elsewhere in Missouri, especially Kansas City, many different kinds of barbecued meat are eaten, including beef, chicken, and fish. Burnt ends (caramelized, double-smoked pieces of brisket carved off whole pieces) came from this city and are a favorite of many across the country. Additionally, no matter where you are, one hallmark of Missouri's barbecue scene is heavily sauced meat.
Before we can cook, we need to gather some supplies. Fortunately for us, none of the necessary materials for making St. Louis ribs are hard to come by.
The kind of wood used in St. Louis barbecue can vary from place to place. Some of the most common kinds of wood for smoking in the city are hickory, apple, and cherry. You can always modify it to your personal preference, too.
Smoking the Meat
Once you've gathered your supplies, it's time to begin cooking.
Step 1: Prepping the Ribs
To begin, you'll need to remove the membrane on the underside of the ribs. Simply make a cut near the top of the bone side of the ribs into the white membrane, peeling back slowly and cutting away beneath it as needed until you're able to pull it off completely. This will ensure your ribs cook up to be as tender as possible.
Next, you'll need to make a spice rub. Just mix together 4 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons paprika 1 and a half teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon each of coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin, and 1/4 a teaspoon nutmeg and cayenne pepper. For the finest consistency, blend everything in a food processor for about thirty seconds, at which point you're left with a fine powder.
Coat your ribs on both sides with brown mustard (it should take about 1/3 of a cup in total) and rub them down with your spice mix, ensuring the spices are adhering firmly on both sides. Wrap the ribs with plastic wrap and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight or up to 12 hours to let the flavors develop.
Step 2: Lighting the Smoker
As your ribs sit out waiting for the heat (it's a good idea to let them warm up to room temperature before cooking), it's time to light your smoker. While this recipe specifically uses a charcoal smoker, you can also adapt this recipe easily for use with both a gas and charcoal grill with only a few alterations.
Load in your charcoal and light it, closing the lid and letting the heat build up. Your target temperature will be 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you've reached that temperature, add your wood chunks and close the lid again, letting smoke build up as you grab the meat.
Step 3: Smoking the Ribs
Once your smoker is up to temperature, place your ribs meat side down on the smoker. Total cooking time will likely be between four and five hours. Make sure you're checking the meat as well as monitoring the charcoal and wood levels during the entire cooking process. Your ribs are done when the internal temperature is 185 degrees in the thicket part and the meat has started to recede from the bones.
During the last half hour of cooking, brush on the St. Louis barbecue sauce. This is easy to make, with just 3 cups of ketchup, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup of brown mustard, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon of your favorite hot sauce simmered until thickened in a pot. If you don't feel like making your own, though, many stores sell premade St. Louis barbecue sauce in bottles.
Step 4: Resting the Ribs
When you've determined your ribs are fully cooked and your sauce has nicely caramelized, remove the ribs from the heat and wrap them in aluminum foil for at least 15 minutes to rest. Resting allows your meat to relax, tenderizing it and helping to enhance the flavor. It also allows the cooking to finish, heat distributing evenly throughout the entirety of the meat as the temperature raises another few degrees.
Step 5: Serving
Once your ribs have rested, it's time to eat. You can cut between the bones with a sharp knife to separated them into individual ribs, but it's a lot more fun to simply lay out the slab and let people tear off what they want. However you serve, though, make sure to supply extra bbq sauce for dipping for maximum flavor and authenticity.
Like all barbecue ribs, St. Louis style barbecue is delicious. With this recipe, you should have no problem recreating the city's signature flavors in your own home.
Did you like this recipe? Have any tips on how to cook real St. Louis ribs? Tell us about it in the comments, and don't forget to show a friend in need of some good barbecue cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are St. Louis Style Ribs?
St. Louis style ribs are different from Baby Back ribs. St. Louis-style ribs begin as spareribs, the ribs that come from the section closer to the belly than the baby backs. They’re larger and fattier than Baby Back ribs, but they’re trimmed down so the rib tips are removed. They’re rectangular in shape, which some says make them easier to cook and eat.
What is St. Louis Style BBQ?
In general, St. Louis style barbecue is grilled rather than sauced. It’s a flavorful and juicy meat that comes from grilling it over direct heat. It usually involves grilling pork, as opposed to beef or seafood.
Is Kansas City BBQ and St. Louis BBQ the Same?
No, Kansas City barbecue is generally characterized by slowly smoking meat and covering it with a sweet barbecue sauce. St. Louis barbecue is generally grilled, and is often not covered in sauce.
Does St. Louis BBQ Have a Barbecue Sauce Style?
Yes, even though St. Louis BBQ is often grilled and not associated with a sauce, they do have a characteristic sauce that accompanies their BBQ. The sauce is very sweet, acidic, and sticky. It is a tomato-based sauce and is usually made without liquid smoke.
Can You Trim Pork Spareribs into St. Louis Style Ribs?
Yes, you can trim the ribs yourself by removing the flap of meat at the end of the rack and making a horizontal cut along the breastbone and cartilage. It is easier, though, to ask your butcher to cut the ribs for you.