A Complete Guide on St. Louis Style BBQ

What makes St. Louis barbecue so unique and delicious? If you want to recreate those flavors at home, here’s a complete guide on BBQ, St. Louis style.

One of the most cherished foods on the planet has absolutely nothing to do with the nutritional food pyramid.


A time-honored tradition of creating mouth-waterin’, finger-lickin’ good food over an outdoor fire, BBQ is not just a meal. BBQ is a way of life!

Depending on our backgrounds, our roots, our traditions, and even where we live – barbecue can take on a whole different taste and a whole different meaning.

There are 3 main types of BBQ that can turn any pig into a gourmet feast: St. Louis BBQ, Kansas City BBQ, and even Korean BBQ.

Each type offers an easy to recognize taste for those with a trained BBQ-tastin’ palette. However, there are quite a few differences that make each of these BBQ options some quality down-home cooking!

There are dozens of reasons that BBQ St. Louis style is world-famous! But, to truly appreciate the amazing BBQ that is from the Gateway to the West, we have to take a look at the biggest competitors of BBQ.

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With about 250 miles separating these BBQ hometowns, BBQ St. Louis style and BBQ Kansas City style are worlds apart.

Most people assume that the difference in the BBQ taste is from the delicious, sticky sauce that is painted on the meat. But it’s not the sauce that makes this BBQ genre so popular.

Show Me the St. Louis BBQ

St. Louis skyline with arch - home of famous St. Louis style BBQ
The famous St. Louis arch.

St. Louis BBQ has a certain way of butchering the meat. It’s all about the cut of the spare ribs that make this style of BBQ so addictive and world-famous. The founding fathers of the original Saint Louis BBQ decided to take out the sternum bone, the cartilage, and the rib tips to create a near-perfect rectangle of pure meaty goodness.

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This type of BBQ not only tastes heavenly, but it also gives the meat a nice, clean-cut appearance before it’s devoured.

Another element that put the Show-Me State on the map of every BBQ fanatic on the planet is the way this pork is cooked.

Most of us get ready to barbecue our meat of choice with a good rub. But, in St. Louis that’s not standard protocol when prepping their meat.

St. Louis BBQ grills its meat first, and then slathers on a healthy dose of sauce. That sauce is a perfect blend of sweet, tomato goodness that sometimes adds a little kick with a touch of vinegar.

Any way these BBQ St. Louis style ribs are cooked, they draw crowds from all over the globe!

But, there are some other types of BBQ that have tried to steal the thunder from the St. Louis pork steak!

Here are a few competitors striving for the world-famous BBQ title.

We’re Not In St. Louis Anymore – Kansas City BBQ

Missouri is a state that takes BBQ pretty seriously.

Weekend grill-outs can turn into turf wars when Missourians begin to talk about their meat and barbecue methods.

BBQ in St. Louis follows a certain method of preparation and basting. But when you drive a few hours to the left, there is a whole new way of BBQ life.

Kansas City BBQ doesn’t really focus on the type of meat or the cut of the meat. Meat is meat to these folks.

However, when talks of BBQ are on the table, sauce is religion in this city!

Whatever meat is used to get the barbecue party started, it just needs a good dry rubbing. Then, the most crucial ingredient of Kansas City BBQ is introduced.

The sauce is the piece de resistance when it comes to BBQ Kansas City style. With a secret saucy weapon described as being both harsh and peppery, the molasses and tomato-based condiment drives the desire in this type of BBQ.

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Although both St. Louis and Kansas City have a pretty tight hold on popular BBQ recipes and preps, there is one more strong BBQ competitor. This one, though, is across a few bodies of water and based out of Asia.

The Korean BBQ Contender

Sure. Bringing in a barbecue from another continent seems like a far-reach when evaluating American BBQ faves. However, Korean BBQ is a definite contender in the American battle for the best BBQ.

The type and cut of meat isn’t a huge focus. The type of sauce used isn’t a driving factor. The biggest reason that Korean BBQ has become a fan favorite is that the food is just a part of what should be called an eating experience.

Korean BBQ is pretty non-discriminatory when it comes to meat selection. Beef, pork, and chicken are pretty standard options. However, there is one native slab of meat that steals the show in this genre of BBQ.

Bulgogi is a traditional Korean meat dish that translates to fire meat. If that doesn’t spur an interest in this type of meat for your BBQ party, I don’t know what will!

Bulgogi is top-quality grilled beef that’s prepped in a wildly delicious sauce. Using soy sauce, sugar, and Korean pear juice, this Asian condiment adds a totally new meaning to finger-lickin’ good sauce! 

America definitely offers some serious BBQ options, but there is a reason why St. Louis BBQ is a top favorite.

Here are some ways to bring this delicious cutting and saucing style to your backyard BBQ.

The Pork Makes the Cut

St. Louis Style BBQ Spareribs
Spare ribs cut St. Louis style.

BBQ St. Louis style is all about how you cut the pig.

When tackling the prep process, it all starts with the parts that need to be removed from the meat. Then, it’s time to grill or smoke that rack before adding the sauce.

St. Louis BBQ focuses on the process, which makes it a cut above other types of BBQ.

Square the Pig

The most popular characteristic of BBQ in the St. Louis area is how the meat is sliced up before it’s grilled or smoked.

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The goal of this process is to make the meat as tender as physically possible. Anything that is non-essential is taken off the ribs. However, no good meat is tossed in the trash.

Most of the time, the meaty extras are used for side dishes.

Adding the extra meat to baked beans is beyond brilliant. The extra fat cut from the meat adds a flavor to the beans that cannot be replaced by any other type of filler.

Also, there are a number of St. Louis natives that use these extra trimmings to make the sausage.

Just because the meat is trimmed to look square and delicious doesn’t mean we need to toss the remnants. Keep that meat. Use that meat. Enjoy that meat.

Then, feast on the main dish.

Grill or Smoke the Pig

This choice all boils down to personal preference.

Some BBQ connoisseurs will only smoke their ribs.

Using a quality smoker can add an extra flavor boost. There is something about adding smoking chips that can create an entirely new taste. Wood chips come in all kinds of different varieties and flavors, all of which can add a new experience to your BBQ.

However, there are many St. Louis locals that would venture to say the only way to make the traditional, world famous BBQ in St. Louis is to grill that pork!

Delicious, quality BBQ can be crafted on any type of grill. Depending on your preference, gas grills, charcoal/wood grills or even electric grills can help you master your meat’s perfect BBQ taste.

Before you begin whichever method of cooking you deem most effective for your ribs, make sure to turn up the heat and secure the temperature.

Whether you smoke or grill your ribs, you want that fire to be lit and secure for a while. A BBQ kiss of death is starting the cooking process when you don’t have enough heat to bake the pork.

You want your temperature to be a nice, crispy 225 degrees Fahrenheit before you start BBQ’ing the meat. Anything less than a balmy, fiery 225 could make your feast less than perfect.

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A St. Louis rule of thumb is to keep the meat out while warming the grill or the smoker. Once your meat gets to room temperature, the cooking process will help make that pork fall right off the bone.

When it’s time to get your ribs fired up, make sure to plan about four to five hours for your pork to become primed and ready to eat. An internal temperature of about 185 degrees is your perfect goal.

Once you’ve perfected a perfectly primed pig, it’s time to get saucy.

Sauce the Pig

St. Louis BBQ sauce is usually described as sweet and savory. Depending on how much pork you’ve prepared, you’ll want to create enough sauce to baste and keep on-hand.

There are quite a few St. Louis BBQ sauces that you can find and use, but homemade is always the best.

One of the original St. Louis recipes that makes this BBQ style so delicious includes ingredients that are staples in most homes.

St. Louis BBQ Sauce Ingredients:

  • Ketchup
  • Brown sugar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Brown mustard
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Dash of hot sauce

The best time to start the BBQ saucing process is during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Baste a generous amount of sauce on the meat and keep cooking. This will lock in the flavor and add a bit of moisture to help that meat fall right off the bone when served.

When you’ve reached the end of your BBQ’ing process, remove the meat. Add a bit more sauce and wrap in tin foil for another 15 minutes, or so. This will allow your meat to keep cooking just awhile longer.

Serve the Pig

It’s official, your pig has been sizzled and your meat is ready to be served.

Ribs are messy. If they aren’t messy, then you didn’t do them justice during the saucing process. You want to baste them, taste them, and then serve them up to your friends and family.

When serving up some BBQ St. Louis style, you’ve got a few options.

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Rack ‘Em

Ribs can be cut between each bone, or they can be served as a full rack.

When serving a big group of people, it may be more efficient to cut your rack into smaller half or quarter racks. This will allow feasters to grab a handful of ribs without the meat falling off.

Slice ‘Em

Serving to kids? Instead of keeping the rack intact, you may want to consider cutting between each rib for individual, kid-sized serving. Single ribs are easier to hold, and many times, easier for the meat to fall off onto the plate.

Also, cutting each piece of meat into individual ribs can help deter the mess.

Dish ‘Em

Having some extra sauce on hand is always a great idea. Some of us St. Louis BBQ fans can’t get enough of that sweet and tangy sauce. Dipping, smearing, and just plain drenching our BBQ in that sauce is worth the wait!

Don’t forget to bring out your side dishes, too.

Remember, you can add the extra meat that was sliced off the slab to your extras. Baked beans, chili, and even nachos with the extra meat pieces are some of the best dishes to include in your BBQ feast!

BBQ St. Louis Style – The Gateway to the Belly

There are definitely all kinds of ways to BBQ some meat. However, if you want to it right and do it deliciously, you’ll want to do your BBQ St. Louis style!

Other BBQ methods offer some great options for cooking, but the St. Louis style of BBQ’ing is one of the backyard chef’s top choices.

Choosing to only use the pig for this type of cooking, St. Louis has created a version of BBQ that has become a global fan favorite. Something about smoking or grilling a pig to perfection has put St. Louis on the map!

If you’re wanting to really wow someone with a delicious backyard feast, you may want to go with the best.

Grill it, sauce it, and serve up your BBQ St. Louis style!

A Complete Guide on St. Louis Style BBQ
Homemade Smoked Barbecue St. Louis Style Pork Ribs with Sauce

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