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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

St. Louis' Pappy's Smokehouse growing larger in size and stature

On one of the walls of Pappy's Smokehouse is a signed menu that says, "Well worth the heart attack, thanks!"

Thankfully it was in jest, as penned by late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, on one of dozens of similarly signed menus posted on the walls throughout this venerable St. Louis restaurant.

There are signed menus from St. Louis Cardinals past and present, including World Series heroes David Freese and Adam Wainwright (also aself-confessed foodie), as well as Super Bowl XXXII MVP and Denver Bronco Terrell Davis. Flavor Flav, a member of Public Enemy and a fellow "restauranteur," also has been here, as been Paulie Shore.

But Pappy's Smokehouse is far from being a destination to see the hip and trend (or in the case of Paulie Shore the formerly trendy).

Since opening in February of 2008 at 3106 Olive St. in St. Louis, Pappy's has been on a fast trajectory to becoming one of America's best barbecue joints. 

Within six months, Pappy's was Sauce magazine's readers' choice as the best barbecue in the Gateway City. That September, it was chosen as Riverfront Times' best new restaurant as well as the best barbecue spot.

Burnt ends, pulled pork and ribs at Pappy's

Word then started to get out beyond the Gateway Arch. The Zagat Survey of America's Top Restaurants included Pappy's in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and ranked it among the 10 best barbecue restaurants in the countr

"St. Louis-style ribs are found on menus across the country, but it’s a Memphis-style joint (think slow-smoked meats, easy on the sauce) that seems to be the consensus favorite for barbecue in town," the New York Times' Dan Saltzstein wrote of Pappy's in 2010.

The Travel Channel included it among its "101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown in America." Man vs. Food host Adam Richman came to Pappy's in December of 2008 and attempted to eat but did not finish the "Big Ben" meal, which includes a full slab of ribs, 2 sandwiches, a quarter-chicken, and four side dishes.  

Earlier this year, owner Mike Emerson, appeared on the national food-talk show, "The Chew," and for the second straight year, Pappy's was among's top 20 barbecue joints in the nation.

All of the national attention is most deserving.

Like another, more famous mecca, Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, people come early to Pappy's and wait in line all day for what is prepared in its four pits.

After a 30 minute wait, you should know what you want.
And you need to come early, because when Pappy's runs out of menu items, they go off the chalkboard. On our first visit in mid-October, chicken was not an option. When everything's gone, they close the doors. He reportedly is a fanatic about never reheating barbecued meats and only cooks what is needed each day.

In our case, the wait lasted between 30 and 45 minutes each time we visited, including after 1 p.m. on a Monday. Servers do an excellent job of getting tables ready for diners as they order and receive their food.

I'm wondering how a building expansion announced a week after our visit will affect how long customers wait.

A competitive barbecuer, Emerson was encouraged to put out his shingle after receiving encouragement from his former employer, the owners of another venerable St. Louis area institution, Super Smokers BBQ. Together, they competed and received top honors at the Memphis in May international competition. Right before you order, you pass by the MIM trophies.

Pappy's is named for Emerson's oldest brother, Jim, who died about a dozen years ago and who was his hero and mentor.

Most barbecue restaurants will offer a selection of meats, but realistically only master one of them. Pappy's versatility with everything it offers -- baby back ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burnt ends, turkey breast and sausage -- comes through. Tender and smoky with a bark that needed no sauce, the Memphis-style, dry-rubbed ribs perfectly came off the bone with each bite.

A look inside the pit.
The taste profile is complex. Brown sugar and Pappy's rub create a wonderful bark. As you bite through the meats, you encounter a sweet aftertaste resulting from hours of smoking over cherry and apple woods. If you chose to use one of Pappy's three freshly prepared sauces, you won't be disappointed.   

Complementing the main dishes is a delicious array of sides, including fried sweet potatoes, deep-fried corn on the cob, baked beans and cole slaw.

We agree with Zagat's assessment of Pappy's as one of the best barbecue meccas in the country. It has become the standard against which we judge other barbecue.

Because of Pappy's and another renowned restaurant, Bogart'sSmokehouse, located at 1627 South Ninth Street in Soulard, St. Louis may become America's next great barbecue city. 

Location we visited:
Pappy's Smokehouse
3106 Olive St.
St. Louis, Mo.

Willie Nelson and I have something in common.

Pappy's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon


  1. It just does not get any better than this in any location in the Midwest. Pappy's just is the best I have ever eaten outside of Texas, and there are only two in that state (Smoke's in Lexington, Franklin's in Austin) that are on the same par as Pappy's. Stu Katz Chesterfield, MO

  2. I worked a job in Saint Louis a few months back and couldn't believe how hard it was to find ribs downtown. I asked a cabbie that took me to the casino where to find some good BBQ and he told me about Pappy's, I had never heard of it. I didn't know anything about the lines. I got there and drove through the parking lot, saw a line out the door and kept driving. The smell as I was leaving was so intoxicating that I turned around and stood in that line. It weaves from outside, through the door, down a dark corridor, to a dead end where you make a turn, follow the signs. Another five yards and you pass a sign that says "you're almost there." Everyone was crazy friendly, people were sneaking in beer from the joint next door. The time goes by quickly, made easier by the pile of menus back at the turn. I decided to get what I believe was a family pack. It had a rack of ribs, a pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich, half a chicken and two sides. I spent $65.00 on BBQ! The owner was there and came up and talked to me, super nice guy, very quiet and humble. I told him I was taking the rest home to eat on over the next week. I'm from the south, I've eaten a lot of BBQ, and I mean a lot. From Nashville, Memphis, Texas, all over. But I have NEVER had anything as good as the ribs at Pappy's. I make my own slow ribs and now I'm ashamed to make them again. The brisket was ridiculously good and the pork was just the tops. Normally I skip chicken at BBQ joints as it's always dry, it wasn't, it was just as good as everything else. The ambiance is killer, and everyone is crazy hopped up on sweet meat, it's like going on an adventure with a bunch of strangers and a guy that knows how to smoke some meat.

  3. I've gotta check this out! A good excuse to visit St. Louis again.

  4. I sat down at my table, and a couple guys who work at Pappys came by to visit. I guess they dropped by to watch my reaction as I bit into a rib. I swear I had a religious experience. They are awesome, and even my favorite bbq spot here in Oklahoma (Rays in Norman, OK who by the way makes some awesome ribs) comes up short. Thank you for the ribs and I will definitely be back.

  5. Been to Pappys twice now. We were disappointing that we seen the Cardinals lose Saturday night's NLCS game, but always smile when we leave Pappy's.Dave

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