Regional BBQ: St. Louis
~Chef Perry Perkins~
St. Louis style BBQ is...unique.
First of, "St. Louis Style" most commonly refers to a specific way of trimming spare ribs, as done in the St. Louis area. The sternum bone, cartilage, and the rib tips are cut away, leaving an even, rectangular-shaped rack. This cut, referred to by the USDA as "Pork Ribs, St. Louis Style", is said to have been born in the mid 20th century, at the demand of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans, and the finished product looks very much like baby-backs.
The next (and maybe the biggest) difference, is that the ribs are grilled, instead of the traditional slow-smoking associated with the term "BBQ" in the rest of the country.
I know...it’s crazy talk!
Like Kansas City, the grilled ribs are heavily sauced...St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce per capita than any other city in the US, and, also like their neighbors in KC, they like their sauce thick and tomato-ey, though a little less sweet. The most common kinds of woods to grill over are hickory, apple, and cherry.
Lastly, these KC rebels cook their ribs over high heat, eschewing the classic "low & slow" approach, for a two-zone fire. Ribs are rubbed and grilled on both sides (indirectly), in 300F heat, then sauced on both sides, and grilled an addition 10-15 minutes.
Burnt ends (caramelized, double-smoked pieces of brisket carved off whole pieces) are as popular here, as they are in their neighboring Kansas City.
Now, the REALLY crazy thing...many pit-masters in the Gateway City will tell you that "St. Louis Style ribs" aren't even the highlight of local BBQ, it's their venerated pork steak!
Thin steaks, carved from a part of the pork shoulder known as the Boston butt, was introduced to the area by Schnucks Markets in the late 1950's, as a cheap cut of meat for the weekend grilling craze that was spreading across the United States like wildfire.
This is my take on the recipe that's been handed down to the current members of the Schnuck family, who still operate the markets...
Schnucks-Style St. Louis Pork Steaks
1 onion, minced
1 cup ketchup
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp hickory salt
1 tsp minced garlic
½ cup water
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
6 pork steaks
3 tsp. each: garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper
Hickory chips or pellets
Make the Sauce: Place fat in a medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown, about 3 minutes.
Add ketchup, water, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Simmer mixture, stirring often, for 20 minutes. Set aside.
Generously season the pork steaks on both sides with garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper.
Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.
When ready to cook, brush and oil the top grill grate, and toss a handful of hickory chips or pellets directly on the coals. Arrange the steaks on the hot grate.
Grill the steaks until cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side, rotating the steaks a quarter turn after 2 minutes to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks.
Poke the steaks to test for doneness; the meat should be firm but with a little give. As the steaks finish grilling, brush them on both sides with sauce. Cook the sauce on each side for about 15 seconds, brushing with sauce several times.
Transfer the grilled steaks to a platter, and serve with the remaining sauce on the side.
(Though not traditional, these are FANTASTIC served on a soft, white hoagie roll, with a couple of dill pickles, and topped with some slaw!)
As a third-generation chef, Perry P. Perkins focuses his love of cooking on barbeque, traditional southern fare, and fresh Northwest cuisine.
Perry runs the non-profit organization, MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, which teaches nutrition, shopping, and hands on cooking classes for at risk youth.
His cookbooks include La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, La Caja China Party, and the NEW “La Caja China Grill.”
You can follow the rest of Chef Perry’s cooking adventures at ChefPerryPerkins.com