CHICAGO - More than a dozen of the nation's top pitmasters are here through the weekend, slow-smoking ribs, chicken, brisket and pork shoulder.
And the Hungry Hound says one of them is going to be smoking up some of the best ribs he's ever had.
There are three great pitmasters from Chicago participating yet again this year - Smoque, Lillie's Q and Bub City. There's even the legendary 17th Street Barbecue from downstate Murphysboro participating. But a well-known smokehouse from St. Louis caught his attention on this year's lineup, so he took the train down recently, to see for himself what they planned on smoking here in Chicago.
The smokers run non-stop at the nine-year-old Pappy's Smokehouse in St. Louis, just west of downtown. Lines form early. But this is new territory. St. Louis doesn't have the long, respected barbecue history of a Carolina or Texas or even Kansas City.
"Old school St. Louis would be taking cheap cuts of meat and cooking it on the side of the road and selling it. Rib tips and snoots," said Skip Steele, Pappy's owner.
But calling on his experience in Memphis, Vegas, downstate Illinois and Kansas City, Steele has ushered in a new era here.
"New tradition of St. Louis is pulled pork, which means cooking pork butt - which is the top part of the shoulder of the pig - until it falls apart," said Steele. "Our major influence here in St. Louis for my style of cooking has been influenced by Kansas City and Memphis."
That means back ribs, first stripped of their membrane then dry-rubbed in a secret blend, but also some brown sugar, to counteract the salt and spice. After a few hours in the smoker - fed only by cherry wood - they brush on some brown sugar water about 15 minutes before they're pulled off. Hard to find a better rib than this: tender, with a perfect smoke ring intact, they pull from the bone pretty easily. They also do burnt ends here, and while in Chicago this weekend, will smoke a couple of whole animals.
"We're gonna do a couple of whole hogs on Saturday and Sunday and then we're gonna do our back ribs which is what Pappy's is known for," he said.
Steele says coming to the Smokeout gives him and his crew a chance to catch up with colleagues from around the country, and maybe get a few new ideas.
"You get to not reinvent the wheel but you get to jack up a car and take the tires off of it if you get the opportunity, cause you actually get to see what they're doing," he said with a wry grin.
And in Steve's "Extra Course," he takes a look at yet another St. Louis anomaly - the "St. Louis-style" pizza, namely, from the originator, Imo's. The key difference is the use of something called Provel cheese.
Extra Course: St. Louis-style pizza
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