He Said | She Said: Tickled pink by St. Louis ribs

Dennis: You should be warned, I get a little animated on the subject of ribs, and I take them very seriously. But then I’m sure many of you do, too; after all, it is the second-most magical part of the Magical Animal (c’mon, everyone knows bacon graduated first in its class at Hogwarts).

Emily: I like meat well enough. But I find myself pretending it wasn’t once attached to a bone. That means when it comes to barbecue, I lean toward pulled sandwiches and an array of sides. Still, I went into our assignment with an open mind … not to say I didn’t yank most of the meat off the bones before eating it.

Emily’s ribs profile: Tear-able with a spicy-sweet sauce.

Dennis’ ribs manifesto: I believe that ribs should be cooked very slowly. I believe that nearly all traces of fat should be rendered during the cooking process so I may enjoy maximum flavor. I believe that there should be a smokiness imparted to the sweet flavor of the meat. I believe that if ribs are par-boiled, someone is stealing flavor from me. I believe the ribs should be tender, but not so much that all the meat comes off the bone at the slightest provocation. If the ribs are served in a pool of sauce, I believe that someone’s trying to hide something. I believe that most of the saucing should be at my discretion. I believe that some heat in the sauce is a very good thing. I believe that the best sides for ribs are coleslaw, fries and/or potato salad (though, I’ll concede, this is up to the diner). Finally, I believe that if any of these points are ignored, eating said ribs could cause irreparable damage to my psyche.

Charlotte’s Rib BBQ
15467 Clayton Road, Ballwin ∙ 636.394.3332
Tue. – 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wed. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.,
Sun. – noon to 8 p.m.

D: I tend to have a dim view of restaurants west of 270. It’s not that they can’t be good, but rather the vast majority of my dining experiences there haven’t been. To this end, Charlotte’s went a long way to repairing the damage.
E: But skip the mediocre jalapeño poppers and onion rings. Instead, save all your hunger for the main course.
D: So true. These ribs were impeccably smoked and had that wonderful smoky-sweet flavor. In fact, the only hindrance I encountered was the mild hickory sauce, which was nothing but sweet, without any real tang or smoke.
E: No big deal. After scraping it off, we simply hijacked a bottle of the spicy Southern sauce from the servers’ station.
D: Much better. This tangy, lightly sweet, spicy sauce built to a pleasant warmth in the mouth.
E: It’s perfect for fry-dipping, too. And speaking of, don’t pass up Charlotte’s version of the classic side, with perfectly fluffy insides. Delish.

Three Monkeys
3153 Morganford Road, St. Louis ∙ 314.772.9800
Mon. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sat. – 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.,
Sun. – 9 a.m. to midnight

E: I felt like a good mother, with our baby nestled on my lap with a towel over his head for protection. (He’d braved several sauce-in-hair experiences already.) But it turned out the towel was unnecessary, as these ribs weren’t messy at all.
D: That depends on your definition of messy.
E: What do you mean?
D: I mean, sure, it wasn’t like some of the places we’ve eaten at where tough ribs resulted in sauce flying across the room when they finally separated.
E: Then you agree. The ones from Three Monkey’s aren’t messy.
D: The problem with these ribs is that the entirety of the meat fell off the bone and onto your plate before it reached your mouth.
E: I like fall-of-the-bone ribs. It means I can use a knife and fork and am saved from gnawing meat off a bone.
D: Who cares when the result is gray meat and gray bone? This is the single biggest giveaway that the ribs have been boiled. And, just as I figured, once I took a bite, the meat had a mushy texture, overcooked.
E: But I sort of love mushy food – mashed potatoes or biscuits and gravy, anyone? Plus, I liked the sauce: brown-sugar sweet with a little spicy kick.
D: Were they all right? Mmm, yeah. But could they have been better? Definitely.

Pappy’s Smokehouse
3106 Olive St., St. Louis ∙ 314.535.4340
Mon. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. – 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
(It often sells out earlier than stated closing time. Please call ahead to assure availability.)

D: Let’s talk about Pappy’s original barbecue sauce. This is can’t-miss stuff, sweet with some nice floral, peppery, lingering heat that accented but did not obscure meat so tender that it held the bone until I decided when and where it would part ways.
E: The memory of it stuck with me, too, long after the last rib had been devoured. Although in a near-tragic course of events I almost didn’t try it.
D: Now, now, there’s no reason to air our dirty laundry in
public …
E: See, we’d ordered two half slabs of ribs to go and one pulled-pork sandwich, but somehow ended up with only one small container of the spicy and another of the sweet (which was OK, but not as good). Tunnel-vision rib-boy Dennis immediately slathered his plate with almost the entire spicy container when I wasn’t looking.
D: Fine. I admit I got a bit caught up in the moment. But the worst part was she figured it out right as I was going for my last rib (so close) and I was forced to surrender it.

17th Street Bar and Grill
32 N. 17th St., Murphysboro, Ill. ∙ 618.684.3722
Mon. to Thu. – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

D: There I was, spewing Mike Mills success stories at my wife (Did you know his Apple City Barbecue team has won three world grand championships at the Memphis in May Barbecue World Championship? Did you know food writer Jeffrey Steingarten once had an order FedExed to him in New York? Did you know Bon Appétit designated his ribs as best in America?), when, around Pinckneyville, the air started to have a certain ribiness to it. Of course, when I asked Emily if she felt it too, she gave me her patented “I have married a crazy person” look.
E: I have no such look. Although apparently I did marry a crazy person.
D: I immediately ordered the full slab upon arrival and fidgeted like a junkie until it arrived. Oh my sweet porcine god! I simply cannot excuse myself for not making this pilgrimage sooner. I hadn’t yet encountered a combination of such tenderness and firmness in a rib. The smoke ring was no ring but a beautiful rosy pink all the way through. I slaughtered those ribs. Had you seen my plate afterward you would have sworn it was the detritus of a National Geographic special. I joked when we were ordering that I should start with the four rib appetizer. Stupid, stupid, stupid. You never joke about things that can come back and bite you later. This is truly the standard by which all ribs should be measured.
E: Yes, yes. I enjoyed the ribs, too. But I was more interested in this man sitting across from me. He looked like my husband, but was acting like a kid in a candy store, one who chants, “Mine, mine, mine!” while gobbling up the inventory. How obsessed can one get? He even told the woman refilling sweetener packets that we didn’t want them in the room if they weren’t made of ribs.