Q in The Lou returns to downtown St. Louis Sept. 21 to 23

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Pit masters are firing up the grills for the fourth annual Q in The Lou Sept. 21 to 23 at Keiner Plaza. About 30,000 people are expected to descend upon downtown St. Louis for the free barbecue festival, which features eight renowned barbecue eateries.

Barbecue has been ingrained in Leslie Scott Roark of Ubon’s Barbeque  in Yazoo City, Mississippi from a young age thanks to her father, Garry Roark, who passed away in late August.

“At 19, I was the first female pit master on the Memphis in May circuit, and for a long time, if I was doing a presentation, people would look to my dad to see if I was getting it right, and he’d kick it right back to me,” Roark said. “It took a long time to stop being the little girl of barbecue.”

Now, Roark feels right at home and is proud of the growing faction of women in the barbecue community. “Just looking at Q in The Lou, the female talent there is proof of how things are changing,” Roark said. “Everywhere you go for competition, more and more women are getting dirty and smoky and climbing right in that fire pit.”

Although men still outnumber women in the pit, Brooke Orrison of The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, attributes the influx of women in barbecue to greater exposure via national news outlets, as well as online educational opportunities.

“There are time and temperate formulas you must follow to have a superior product, but after that, the sky is the limit,” Orrison said. “There’s so much creativity to have within your flavors, whether through woods, brines, injections, sauces, rubs and glazes.”

St. Louis native Christina Fitzgerald of Sugarfire Smoke House specialized in French-influenced fine dining until she met (and recently became engaged to) Sugarfire founder Mike Johnson. “It’s nice to stand up with some of the best barbecue-ers in the world and know I know how to do it, too,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said she’s working to gather women pit masters from across the country for upcoming competition. “I’m putting together an all-female competition team that will hopefully compete at Memphis in May next year,” she said. “We’re still tossing around a few ideas.”

Q in The Lou founder Brian Wahby called Miriam Wilson the “creative juice” behind The Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas.

“You have to earn your respect. You gotta walk the walk, hold your own, know what you’re talking about and perform just like anyone else,” Wilson said. “It makes me feel very proud that I can stand with some of the top in the nation; I’m honored and humbled.”

St. Louisans can sample barbecue from these pit masters and others at Q in The Lou. Wahby said most food offerings are available from $5 to $7, so visitors can try a few different items. If you’re looking to taste more than a few, Wahby suggested indulging in a $75 VIP pass, which includes unlimited barbecue tastings during a two-and-a-half-hour time frame of your choosing, among other perks.

In addition to meats galore, from beef and pork to chicken and salmon, the festival also features live music and plenty of beverage options, including cocktails, beer and special wine-and-barbecue pairings.

In the end, Q in The Lou aims to highlight St. Louis’ place on the national map of barbecue. “It’s a great way to project St. Louis’ brand of barbecue,” Wahby said. “As barbecue expands its footprint globally, we want to make sure St. Louis is top-of-mind.”

Lauren Healey is associate editor at Sauce Magazine.

Sauce Magazine is a sponsor of Q in The Lou.