Best BBQ in Missouri: You need to try these 4 dishes
Explore the best of Missouri barbecue with this list of the top spots for authentic burnt ends, pig snoot and more.
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Missouri is celebrating its bicentennial — commemorating the 200th anniversary of it becoming the 24th state to join the U.S.
To help mark the occasion, KCUR Studios and Missouri Humanities Council have launched a new podcast, Hungry For MO, that tells the stories behind the iconic foods of our region. Co-hosted by Jenny Vergara, foodie and freelance writer, and Natasha Bailey, a chef, cheesemaker and home gardener, the show celebrates how local cuisine connects us as a community and shapes our region’s identity.
Hungry For MO dives deep, taking you on a food journey that highlights Missouri cuisine — the food inventors, historical events, unique circumstances and family recipes behind some of our state’s most iconic dishes.
The first episode of KCUR's new podcast covers our state’s culinary claim to fame — barbecue, of course — and focuses on the dishes that define how we do our ‘que. Missouri pitmasters have contributed some delicious dishes to the center of our plates.
Here are just a few, which you can hear more about on Hungry For MO,available now wherever you listen to podcasts.
Kansas City's Burnt Ends
Let’s start in Kansas City, where beefy burnt ends were born. Once cut off the brisket as waste and given to the customers for free, burnt ends are now the saucy jewel in KC’s barbecue crown.
Taken from the point end of a smoked beef brisket, burnt ends are just as the name implies: shattered bits of beef that are soft and succulent on the inside and charred and caramelized on the outside. Here, folks eat them chopped up in a sandwich, or just dunked into a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.
Food writer Calvin Trillin waxed poetic about burnt ends in a 1972 articlefor Playboy magazine. That piece spotlighted Arthur Bryant's Barbeque, which was founded in 1908 with ties back to Henry Perry, the “Father of Kansas City Barbecue.”
Bryant's is still a solid place to go, especially for the 3B sandwich, which is what real burnt ends are supposed to be. Spoiler: they're not perfect meat cubes. Listen to Hungry For MO for more on this and to hear how Texas is coming for our burnt ends.
St. Louis-Style Spare Ribs
More of a butcher’s cut, St. Louis-style pork spare ribs were created by meatpackers in St. Louis who were looking to promote their craftsmanship to the rest of the country.
They started by squaring off a slab of spare ribs (which are longer and fattier than baby back ribs) by cutting off the fatty, gristly tips, yielding a more uniform slab that not only looked good but cooked evenly.
Customers liked that even look, and St. Louis spare ribs can now be found in butcher shops and restaurants across the country.
The butchering process created yet another popular St. Louis barbecue specialty — rib tips — which are also served grilled or smoked and smothered in sauce in many of the city's traditional barbecue joints.
Where most traditional restaurants like to grill their St. Louis-style spare ribs first, the ones at Salt + Smoke are seasoned with their Fist Bump Rub and smoked over cherry wood, then brushed with barbecue sauce.
Owners Tom Schmidt and pitmaster Haley Riley have spent years refining the menu and expanding to five locations. Their most recent restaurant opened in May 2021 at One Cardinal Way building in Ballpark Village, with an outdoor patio that overlooks Busch Stadium.
In addition to a bourbon-heavy bar program, look for popular side dishes like white cheddar cracker mac 'n' cheese and the burnt end toasted ravioli.
Kansas City Competition Barbecue Plate
The next wave in Kansas City barbecue has come in the form of chef-driven, competitive-style plates with delicious smoked meats, perfectly plated to allow guests to eat with their eyes first. It's typically enjoyed with a quality craft cocktail or local beer.
In Kansas City, Chef Rob Magee has led the way with his own competition-style barbecue restaurant, Q39. After getting his degree from the Culinary Institute of America, Magee worked in kitchens across the country and eventually landed in Kansas City, where barbecue became his new love interest.
While working as the executive chef for Hilton hotels, he assembled a competition barbecue team called Munchin’ Hogs. Over the course of 10 years, the team traveled the county, winning an array of competitions and a national championship. Magee opened his first Q39 location on 39th Street in Midtown in 2014 and followed a few years later with a second in Overland Park.
Go in hungry and get one of their self-titled Competition BBQ Dinner Plates and enjoy a variety of meat that's butchered, smoked and prepared fresh daily. For the Judge’s Plate, you’ll choose three types of meat — out of pork spare ribs, sliced brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken or chipotle sausage — and finish with sides such as apple slaw and baked beans.
Listen to Hungry For MOto learn how chef-driven competition barbecue is changing the landscape of barbecue in both KC and STL.
St. Louis Snoots
In traditional St. Louis barbecue, no part of the pig is wasted, which is how snoots — or pig’s nose — came to be a specialty.
The process is slightly different for each restaurant, but generally speaking, the meat and fat is trimmed from the pig’s nose and head, while the nostrils (called the button) are taken off and discarded. The meat is cured overnight, rubbed with cayenne pepper and salt, then grilled until the fat has been rendered. What you're left with are crispy, crunchy and somewhat spicy bacon-like chips, that are then covered in barbecue sauce and eaten with your hands.
The best place to get snoots is Smoki O's, located just north of downtown St. Louis. Married couple Earline and Otis Walker opened the restaurant almost 25 years ago, as a tribute to Otis’ late mother, who was known for hosting her own backyard barbecues.
Smoki O’s received high marks for their snoots from TV personality Andrew Zimmern, who gave them a public shout-out on hisTravel Channel show "Bizarre Foods America." He called the unique dish one of his top 10 favorite barbecue dishes in the country. Listen to Hungry For MO to learn the top-secret technique the Walkers use to get their snoots extra crispy.
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Support for Hungry For MOcomes from the Missouri Humanities Council.