For the 50+ Traveler

If you’re in a restaurant in, say, Phoenix, and you see “St. Louis Ribs” on the menu, what does that mean? Is it a special sauce? A method of cooking ribs?

“St. Louis-Style Ribs” actually refers to a cut of meat popularized by butcher shops in St. Louis years ago. The rectangular pork rib sections with the rib tips removed simply became known as “St. Louis Style.” This way to cut and present pork ribs spread across the country. You can go into restaurants in all 50 states and order “St. Louis ribs.”

But the rib scene in St. Louis isn’t restricted to just one specific cut or one specific preparation style. If you find yourself in St. Louis, here’s a journey you can take to experience many different varieties, starting with the restaurant the Food Network ranks as having the best ribs in America. That’s right, the best ribs in St. Louis are also the best ribs in America. Here’s where to find them.

1. Pappy’s Smokehouse

The Food Network set out to find the best ribs in America, and they ranked the ribs from Pappy’s Smokehouse at #1. And who am I to argue? I live in St. Louis, and they’re the best ribs I’ve ever had. I could easily be convinced that they’re the best ribs in the country.

Because of that, a few things to know: Pappy’s is going to be busy, and they’re likely going to sell out at some point in the evening. They smoke enough meat for just one day (they don’t want to reheat it later), so once they’re out of food, they’re out. In fact, when the meat is gone, they put up the closed sign. So it’s best to start your rib crawl here because if you came here last, Pappy’s might run out of ribs before you arrive.

You’re going to have to wait in line, but trust me -- it’s worth it. While you eat, you can enjoy looking at the menus on the wall signed by famous people from all over the world who have come to St. Louis and tried Pappy’s Smokehouse.

2. Sugarfire

Since you started at Pappy’s, the best place to go next is the Sugarfire location downtown. Pappy’s is located on the west side of downtown St. Louis in an area known as Midtown, and Sugarfire has a location directly downtown at the corner of Washington and 6th Street, only 23 blocks from Pappy’s.

Sugarfire Smokehouse has all kinds of barbeque. Their smoked turkey with white barbeque sauce is my wife’s absolute favorite, but you’re on a rib crawl, so you want to try their ribs. You can order them as a full rack (12 ribs), a half rack (6 ribs), or even a third rack (4 ribs). Sauces come on the side, so you can either eat them sauce-less (the dry rub on the ribs is good enough by itself) or add one of their seven sauces. You’re in St. Louis, so you might as well try the St. Louis Sweet sauce.

3. Bogart’s Smokehouse

From Sugarfire, you’ll head just south of downtown to a neighborhood called Soulard. Soulard is one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Louis, with buildings dating back to the early 1800s. It’s famous for its farmers market (Soulard Market), and right across the street from the market you’ll find Bogart’s Smokehouse.

Bogart’s ribs always seem to involve a bigger, much wider cut. So when ordering a full rack, be prepared for a massive amount of food. For sauce, I would recommend the Sweet Maegen Ann sauce. Sweet and smoky. Bogart’s is a no-frills kind of place, so be prepared to sit at a picnic table as you enjoy their amazing ribs.

4. The Shaved Duck

From Soulard, head west to the Tower Grove East neighborhood. At the corner of Virginia Avenue and Pestalozzi Street, you will find The Shaved Duck. This small, neighborhood restaurant is very different from the places you just visited in that you’re now in the middle of a neighborhood, and it’s the only restaurant around. But don’t worry -- you’re still getting some amazing ribs.

The ribs at The Shaved Duck are “sticky”, meaning they’re glazed before being served. Like most places, you can order a half rack or a full rack. But if you wanted to try something else on the menu, you can add three ribs to any meal for $6. I would suggest ordering the Loaded Smoked Potato Wedges as your “meal” and adding three ribs as a side.

5. The BBQ Saloon

Next, we’re headed north to the Central West End neighborhood to try the ribs at The BBQ Saloon. As you approach the restaurant, you’ll likely smell the ribs because the smoker is located on the street right next to the front door. When you walk in, you may be tempted to grab a whiskey from the bar because the entrance really does feel like an old saloon.

The BBQ Saloon has standard St. Louis-cut pork ribs. Your order will come with two sides. I went with the Old Glory coleslaw and the bourbon baked beans. The BBQ Saloon is known for its whiskey collection, so if you’re ordering the bourbon baked beans, maybe try one of their whiskeys alongside.

6. Salt + Smoke

For our final stop, we’re going to cross just over the city limits (by maybe 100 yards) and go to Salt + Smoke in the suburb of University City. Salt + Smoke has several locations now, but this one is the original. It’s located in the famous Delmar Loop area, an eclectic street with coffee shops, gift shops, bars, and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to end your rib crawl because there are so many places to visit once you’re done.

Salt + Smoke is at the corner of Delmar and Melville boulevards. You’re probably going to be pretty full at this point, so there’s a unique way to enjoy the ribs at Salt + Smoke: Order the Trashed Ribs. They’re on the appetizer menu, and they’re cooked a little different from typical ribs, but they’re a must-try. They’re very sugary-sweet, so it’s almost like you’re having ribs for dessert. Which is how a rib crawl should end every time, right?

After dinner, you’re going to want to walk off all the food you just ate, so check out the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The sidewalks on either side of Delmar Boulevard contain the stars of famous St. Louisians. If you sat outside at Salt + Smoke, one of the stars might’ve been visible in the pavement next to your table. From Chuck Berry to Bob Costas, Tina Turner to Vincent Price, you’ll see plaques embedded in the pavement representing many famous characters from St. Louis. Perhaps there should be one for the ribs.

Want more on St. Louis cuisine? Here’s everything you need to know about St. Louis-style pizza, and where to get a slice when you’re in town.