Best Barbecue St. Louis 2003 - Smokin Al's
Readers' Choice: Bandana's BBQ
We know how people react to barbecue. We've seen 'cue lovers go to the mat over sauce vs. dry, beef vs. pork, vinegar sauce vs. ketchup-based sauce, hickory vs. all other wood. To our taste buds, the worst barbecue in town is still good, because there's nothing better than gnawing on a smoky, meaty rib with an ice-cold one nearby. Smokin Al's is a barbecue joint in the finest tradition: a gaudy building, counter service, vinyl table coverings and good blues on the sound system. More important, though, is the big drum smoker out front. Owner Al Solis says "we have knives, no scissors" -- meaning everything here is freshly prepared, not prepackaged. Cherry wood is the smoking fuel of choice at Smokin Al's. Less intense than either hickory or mesquite (a fave of Texans who like everything over the top, it seems), cherry imparts a delicate, sweeter flavor to the meat. Which is good, because the sauce is a kicker. They call it "wolf sauce" for good reason: Blackstrap molasses, vinegar, beer and the subtle added zip of ancho and pequin peppers. It's not as ketchupy as most St. Louis sauces and goes well with Al's great fries, but don't forget an order of house-made onion strings. And while most barbecue joints serve up plain old canned pork and beans, Smokin Al's uses black, white and pinto beans, slices of beef brisket (also superb!), sometimes a bit of sausage, all simmered in the wolf sauce. Makes ya want to howl!