St. Louis-Style Barbecue Explained [American BBQ Guide]

St. Louis-style barbecue is one of North America’s most beloved BBQ styles, and for good reason. Get ready to dial up the sauce and smoked pork with our guide to the best that the city’s barbecue culture has to offer.

smoked st louis bbq ribs

If you like your barbecue meats slathered in a sweet and sticky sauce, then Missouri St. Louis style is for you. While some American BBQ styles are defined by marinades and long, slow smokes, St. Louis-style BBQ is all about grilling the meat and finishing it with a healthy slick of sauce.

Did you know St. Louis is believed to consume more BBQ sauce per person per year than any other US city? That’s some dedication!

From the city’s rich BBQ history to its culinary traditions, discover what makes St. Louis-style barbecue so special with our culinary guide.

St. Louis BBQ History

St. Louis and its Midwestern sister Kansas City are known for their love of barbecue, largely thanks to their history as meatpacking hubs. With access to such a wealth of meat, it’s no surprise both cities honed their BBQ skills and earned their place on many meat-lovers smokehouse tours. 

St. Louis-style often makes people think of ribs as that’s what the city’s famous for. In the mid-20th century, butchers in the city began cutting their ribs differently, producing a squarer cut of ribs with less gristle and more meat – the cut is still named after the city. Pork butt is also a staple of the city’s BBQ scene and has been since the 1950s. 

As for the famous sauce, St. Louis BBQ really wouldn’t be the same without it. The most famous was created by Louis Maull in 1926 and soon found its way onto plates of barbecue connoisseurs around the city. It made its mark and is still one of the most popular local brands today.

St. Louis sauce is known for its thick viscosity, tomato base, and sweet flavor that’s tempered perfectly with a measure of vinegar. 

st louis smoked ribs

Classic St. Louis Barbecue Dishes

The gateway to the west is surely best known for its ribs, but there are a few other dishes for which this Missouri city is known. Just be sure not to forget that BBQ sauce! 

St. Louis Ribs

Where better to start than with one of St. Louis’ most famous exports?

These famous ribs are cut from the belly of the hog, meaning they’ve got plenty of fat to keep them flavorful. Their square cut makes them flatter and means they’re much easier to grill than rounded ribs like baby back because the meat cooks evenly.

As is tradition, St. Louis ribs are usually coated in a dry rub, grilled, and then covered in a sweet and sticky sauce that will have you licking your fingers and lips. 

Pulled Pork

This slow-cooked, fall apart, pork butt is a very close second for the city’s favorite. All across St. Louis, you’ll find BBQ joints dishing up pulled pork sandwiches slathered in that famous sauce and topped with creamy coleslaw. It’s a must-try. 

Burnt Ends

Although they originally hail from Kansas City, these smokey, sticky pieces of brisket are beloved across St. Louis. Any BBQ spot worth its weight in salt will be serving up these umami nuggets of charred brisket. 

Snoots

Less well-known widely but extremely well-loved across St. Louis, snoots use less popular cuts of meat that might otherwise be discarded. The name refers to the local delicacy of deep-fried pig snout and jowls. Frying transforms these cuts into delicious cracklin’-like pieces that are best eaten hot and served straight to the table.

Pork Steaks

An absolute favorite in St. Louis, these steaks are usually made from thin-cut slices of pork shoulder that are grilled and then basted with that same local sauce that goes so well with pork. 

Sides

The St. Louis BBQ sides don’t differ too much from the usual, and coleslaw with sharpness from vinegar goes perfectly with the fatty pork dishes. Potato salads, corn, pit beans, and mac and cheese are all well-loved favorites here. 

Butter Cake

Not a BBQ dish per se but a St. Louis staple that should absolutely be enjoyed after you’ve tucked into your ribs. This ooey-gooey cake was invented by a German American baker in the 1930s who accidentally reversed the quantities of butter and flour in a cake batter – it’s been a solid favorite ever since

Where to Eat BBQ in St. Louis

pappys barbecue st louis missouri

With all those different dishes to try, it’s no surprise that St. Louis isn’t short on great BBQ spots. Here are some of the city’s favorites:

Pappy’s Smokehouse

A St. Louis institution, you’ll find Pappy’s in two locations in the city. They’re both home to America’s best ribs, as voted by the Food Network and Best BBQ in Missouri by Southern Living. With awards like that, you know they’re not messing around!

Salt + Smoke

This joint really brings the flavors home with its signature brisket served with burnt-end mayo, pulled pork sandwiches and, of course, St. Louis Cut Ribs. They also have some items that break the Missouri mold, like their Cherry Smoked Salmon.

Sugarfire Smokehouse

This Missouri ‘cue spot proved to be so popular that you can find outposts as far afield as Colorado and Florida! People flock from all over to try the true St. Louis classics, but also the Cuban Reuben sandwich voted best in the world at the 2018 World Food Championships. 

Ethyl’s Smokehouse & Saloon

Sitting on the city’s edges in O’Fallon, this is the spot to come to if you’re looking for an authentic experience. This spot has been serving up barbecue for almost a century, and with its quirky decor, it retains that sense of history. 

The Shaved Duck

The pulled pork and burnt end sandwiches must not be missed here but as well as the classics, there are a number of offbeat crowd favorites like the duck confit, smothered fries, and moreish cheddar and jalapeno hush puppies.


Still hungry? Check out more BBQ posts

north carolina style bbq pit pork North Carolina-Style BBQ [American Barbecue Guide] - North Carolina barbecue combines a love of smoked pulled pork with unique sauces to create the state’s iconic regional style.… ...
best american barbecue styles 8 Best American BBQ Styles [Types of Barbecue Explained] - American barbecue is one of the cornerstones of cuisine in the USA. But with four main regional styles, as well… ...
memphis smoked ribs Memphis-Style BBQ [American Barbecue Guide] - Memphis-style barbecue’s deep-rooted history and uniquely sweet and spicy blend of flavors make it one of the world’s best cuisines.… ...
braai flame cooked meat What is Braai? [South African Barbecue Explained] - South African braai is a spin on outdoor meat cooking that needs to be seen to be believed. Best when… ...

Sign Up

Get recipes, BBQ tips & regular discounts straight to your inbox!