Barbecue: Ten spots to try

Olive Street Smokehouse
1227 Castillons Arcade Plaza, Creve Coeur,

The dry rubs used on the brisket and ribs at Olive Street Smokehouse produce a subtle flavor, and the meat is tender as can be. But there’s a little something extra that turns heads at this modest joint, hidden in the corner of a Creve Coeur strip mall. The house-made spicy barbecue sauce gets its kick from cayenne pepper, ancho chiles and Sriracha sauce, and it lets you know you’re alive, without sacrificing that sweet barbecue tang. Don’t overlook the creative sandwiches on the menu, like the After School, pulled pork with American cheese, bacon strips and an egg over-easy, and The Poletti, brisket smothered in caramelized onions, fried jalapeños and melted Cheddar.
– Byron Kerman

Lampert’s Plush Pig BBQ
2809 S. McKnight Road, Rock Hill, 314.961.8888

The cherry wood smoke used at Plush Pig creates a nice mellow sweetness in the meat, not too heavy yet very complex – and a nice change from the more common hickory. Ribs here are moist and tender, but still have a good chew to them; extra points to the Rock Hill spot for selling them by the bone and not just in full or half slabs. The sauce is a bit too sweet for my taste – and too much of it can cover up that wonderful subtle smoke – but there’s also a spicy sauce available.
– Dan Lodholz

Bogart’s Smokehouse
1627 S. Ninth St., St. Louis, 314.621.3107

From the eclectic music filtering through the sound system to the flying pig light fixture hanging from the ceiling, from the aroma of wood smoke to the incessantly friendly staff, Bogart’s Smokehouse has all the feel of a corner barbecue joint … which it is. Open since February, pitmaster Skip Steele has been packin’ ‘em in for his pork ribs, beef brisket, and slow-cooked, meat-laden pit-baked beans. There’s also the unusual, like prime rib, pastrami and a thick-sliced “Sausage Fatty.” But, oh those ribs! Steele bastes them with an apricot glaze that’s then caramelized with a blast from an industrial-sized blowtorch. Now that’s smokin’.
– Michael Renner

Piggy’s Bar BQ
327 S. Main St., O’Fallon, Mo., 636.272.7444

Have you seen the Piggy’s billboard on I-70? It’s the one that shows pink piglet rear ends and screams, “Hot Tasty Butts.” How could you not want to visit this unassuming spot that’s been voted best barbecue in Northeast Missouri for the past three years by Rural Missouri Magazine? Co-owner and Kansas City native Gary Hellyer wanted a KC-style joint, right down to the secret dry rub and sticky-sweet sauce (smoky and hot versions are available, too). Pitmaster and co-owner Mike Killian, pictured below left, stokes the smoker with hickory logs, the brisket is chopped and the green beans are specially seasoned. The best bit? On Fridays, a full slab of ribs is only 15 bucks.
– Michael Renner

Flavors BBQ
Sports Bar & Grill
4317 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.533.1288

The service can be slow, the hours inconsistent, and there’s often no sports showing on the six big-screen TVs. But all is forgiven with the first bite into one of the juicy chicken wings: big and plump, dry-rubbed with a peppery essence and deeply smoked. Loin back and spareribs benefit from the same rub and long smoke; the potato salad and sweet potato fries are a must. The aroma of hickory permeates your nostrils, fingers … everything. Even hours later, the scent of smoky ’cue lingers … everywhere. With this much flavor, the house-made sauce seems almost superfluous.
– Michael Renner

Roper’s Ribs
6929 W. Florrisant Ave., Jennings, 314.381.6200

Owner Carl Roper says hickory is the only wood you can use if you want to call it barbecue. He might be on to something: This ‘cue has the best smoke of those I’ve sampled; it completely penetrates the meat and magnifies the pork flavor. The sauce is a standout, too – it’s well-balanced, with just enough tangy acidity to keep the sweetness in check. Don’t miss the crispy pork snoots, pictured, (I’m not kidding, so step out of your comfort zone) and be prepared to wait – expect your order to take 15 to 30 minutes – though it’s well worth it. Good barbecue is all about time, after all.
– Dan Lodholz

Ms. Piggies’ Smokehouse
10612 Page Ave., Olivette, 314.428.7776
and New Town St. Charles, 314.327.3029

The cornbread is sweet, the yams, pictured at left, are candied, the okra is deep-fried and the turkey, well, you have to order ahead if you want a whole one fried or smoked. But it’s the meaty rib tips – dry-rubbed and hickory-smoked – and the tender, juicy sliced turkey breast that brings ’em back. But don’t pass up the pork steak, fried catfish, ribs and chicken, from wings to shredded. The sauce: Think a sweeter, spicier version of the classic Maull’s.
– Michael Renner

Lil’ Mickey’s
Memphis Barbeque
6716 Mexico Road, St. Peters, 636.278.4227

There’s the nice level of hickory smoke. And there’s the killer pulled pork sandwich, pictured at left, an enormous helping topped with slaw that rings in at just $7. But the story here is the sauce – it is, in my opinion, the best in the St. Louis area, if not the country. It’s got subtle sweetness, great tang and just enough heat. Even better, it’s applied with a restrained hand, allowing the quiet heat of the spectacular rub to shine through. The only downside to Lil Mickey’s is that it’s in St. Peters and I live in St. Louis – and gas is approaching $4 a gallon …
– Dan Lodholz

103 Chesterfield Towne Centre, Chesterfield, 636.536.1966

I am truly, madly and deeply in love with PM BBQ’s Carolina vinegar sauce. It begins with an übertangy punch to the back of your jaw, followed by a subtle, slow burn of heat and a final mosh pit-body check pop of sweat. I’ve encountered no better accompaniment to a great (and I don’t use that descriptor lightly when it comes to barbecue) pulled pork. Beyond the sauce, this Chesterfield spot absolutely crushes the big three of barbecue: pulled pork, brisket and baby back ribs, all Memphis-style. If they don’t already, everyone living west of I-270 should praise the gods of slow-smoked tenderness that PM chose to locate in The Valley over the city.
– Dennis Lowery

Bigg Daddy’s Fried Ribs
2812 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.531.7427

Sure, we like our ribs smoked, but Bigg Daddy’s stakes its claim as the only place in town that deep-fries them. The family-run restaurant is bright and clean, accommodating sit-down dining or carryout. On Fridays, there’s fried jack and catfish filets, and Sundays feature sweet potatoes, cornbread and greens, packing the place with the after-church crowd clamoring for the once-a-week sides. Deep-fried and delectable, turkey “ribs” are tender chunks of white meat cut from the shoulder blade. But as one friend said of the fried ribs: “It sounds so fundamentally wrong, but couldn’t be more right.”
– Michael Renner