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What defines Kansas City and St. Louis styles of BBQ ribs?

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As a big BBQ fan, I've been trying to figure this out definitively - especially because a lot of BBQ restaurants I eat at say they have Kansas City-style BBQ or St. Louis style-BBQ, and it turns out to be nothing like what I *think* both styles are:

I thought that Kansas City-style BBQ meant ribs that are slow smoked with a thick, sweet BBQ sauce applied fairly liberally during the smoking process (as opposed to ribs served only with a dry rub or think glaze and BBQ sauce on the side).

I thought that St. Louis-style BBQ ribs were similar to Kansas City-style in that they are heavily sauced during cooking but are distinct in that they are always spare ribs (as opposed to baby back) that are cut a certain way.

Am I right or am I missing something?

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  1. I don't know about the saucing but St. Louis style rib has the riblets and flap meat removed. The trimmed ribs look similar in size to a rack of babybacks.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cameraman

      Actually, St Louis style BBQ isn't ribs at all. St Louis Style BBQ is Pork Steaks - Sliced Pork Butt is cooked much as the OP described.

      Cameraman is also correct as to what St Louis Style ribs are - how the spares are trimmed, NOT how they are cooked.

      Fact is, St Louis is NOT a big BBQ city - KC and Memphis are though.

    2. KC style to me has always meant hickory smoked meat with a thick tomato/molasses based sauce and plenty of sauce at that. The sauce usually has a balanced sweet-spicy profile.

      St. Louis style ribs are as described by Cameraman - squared off spares with the sternum, flap and rib tips removed. I never thought much about St. Louis style BBQ being different than KC so I looked it up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Loui...

      St. Louis style is potentially grilled with a sweet/sticky/acidic tomato based sauce without liquid smoke added.

      3 Replies
        1. re: sueatmo

          I saw that sauce in the article. If you have had it how would you describe the taste? Does it compare to any commonly available brands?

          1. re: CDouglas

            It is very sweet and tomatoey. The chief flavor I notice is sweet. Maul's makes several different flavors. I have found those that I have tried-- sweet. I don't know what brand it would compare to, honestly.

      1. "Am I right or am I missing something?"
        I think you are missing something.

        I don't mean this in a bad way, and don't mean your rib expectations are off.
        As some posters mention "St. Louis" is perhaps not a style of BBQ, but rather a style of butcher cut (like "baby back" or "country style" etc)

        To add to the confusion, I think restaurants put names to dishes just to sound good and not necessarily reflect the generally accepted version of the food they're offering. Maybe a restaurant in Idaho will offer Eastern Texas Style Chile (I have no clue, I'm just saying). People come in, order, enjoy. Then someone who knows Eastern Texas chili tries it and knows its a sham, just a menu gimmick.

        Does this mean theres no definitive Kansas style or St. Louis style? No, it means a menu title does not guarantee the genre...
        just my 2c.