Chasing BBQ: Kentucky, Illinois, and St Louis Meats & Spices
with Samuel Garrett
Chasing BBQ Illinois Kentucky St Louis
On the second-to-last leg of his Chasing BBQ journey, Savory founder Mike Johnston visited three different barbecue regions, each with its own special take on barbecue. Mike sampled barbecue from Kentucky, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, each region showcasing its own signature style of ‘cue, but also dabbling in their versions of classics from around the country.
Barbecue in Kentucky highlights a meat that often gets overlooked—mutton. Mike tasted a barbecue sauce so unique to Kentucky that we absolutely had to feature it in our new line of barbecue sauces! Our Black Dip Barbecue Sauce is a thin sauce, based on allspice, vinegar, and Worcestershire-like flavors. The combination of mutton and black dip is known locally as “chip and dip” and is a must-try if you’re visiting the Kentucky barbecue scene.
Illinois is a melting pot of barbecue with influences from both the South (whole hog, pulled pork) and the Midwest (ribs, rib tips). Mike only had time to visit one barbecue joint in Illinois, 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro, where he found southern-inspired whole hog cooking. He also fell in love with the “magic dust” spice mix they use on their spice dusted sour cream potato salad.
St. Louis might be the most famous of the three regions. It has been said that St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce per capita than any other city in the nation. They’re best known for smoked pork ribs covered a sweet and sticky barbecue sauce. Though Mike had his share of ribs, he also enjoyed Texas style brisket, a unique preparation of pig snout, and barbecued meatloaf. Another specialty of the St. Louis region is smoked sausage, inspired by the cuisine of the large German-American population in the area.
Of the more unique dishes that Mike discovered, he took an exceptional liking to a spicy stew known locally as burgoo. Tradition goes that whenever burgoo is served, a social event is normally being held. Burgoo stew is Kentucky’s version of the Brunswick stew enjoyed in Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. There are many regional recipes for Burgoo; some are soup-like and others are thick enough to stand a spoon in. The common ingredient is meat, lots of different kinds and often from leftover barbecue. Added to that are various vegetables, such as lima beans, corn, okra, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes. Numerous cities claim the unofficial title of “Burgoo Capital of the World”, including Franklin, IL, Lawrenceburg, KY, and Owensboro, KY.
While the combined regions of Kentucky, Illinois, and St. Louis might not possess the same barbecue fame as Texas, Memphis, or the Carolinas, they still pump out fantastic barbecue menus.
Here is a list of proteins and spices inspired by the Kentucky, Illinois, and St. Louis leg of Mike’s Chasing BBQ road trip. Give these a try and we know you will want to take a road trip of your own to experience this delicious BBQ.
While Mike was in Kentucky, he was able to try a meat that you rarely see on barbecue menus, mutton. Kentuckians treat mutton just like Texans treat brisket, with love and care, as they’ve both turned their preparations into an art form. Mutton is certainly an acquired taste, but is always worth a try for its unique quality and rarity on barbecue menus.
By definition mutton is the meat from a sheep, but more specifically from a mature sheep. Mature doesn’t mean ‘old’ in this case; instead it is used to describe sheep that are older than one year. A sheep younger than one-year-old is typically referred to as lamb. Mutton is often given a bad reputation, as many people assume it is tougher and gamier than traditional lamb. However, when mutton is handled properly (like they do in Kentucky), you can be sure the result will be nothing short of delicious.
Speak with your local butcher about purchasing mutton. Mutton is not often found in local grocery stores and is one of the more difficult meats to find. Once you can get your hands on some mutton, use the spices below to recreate an authentic Kentucky barbecue.
- Table Mountain All-Purpose Seasoning: This paprika based all-purpose blend is great for nearly any savory dish, but we especially love it on our Smoked Mutton Leg.
- Salt & Pepper Tableside Seasoning: Salt and black pepper are key to properly seasoning any dish. This balance of kosher salt and coarse black pepper is great for seasoning before cooking. It’s easy to use so keep it in reach whether at the kitchen counter or tableside.
- Limnos Lamb Rub: This is our rendition of a spice blend used in Greece and throughout the Mediterranean for roasting lamb and poultry. Rub a leg of lamb (or mutton!) with olive oil, coat it with Limnos Lamb Rub and roast, smoke, or grill it.
- Yellow Mustard Powder: This pure yellow mustard powder is the ground product of the seeds from a large bush native to Asia. The strong flavor of mustard does well in cutting through potential off putting flavors that might come from mutton. We offer varying levels from mild, regular, and hot oriental for our spiciest mustard powder.
- Ground Jamaican Allspice: Originally known as pimiento, and then Jamaica or Myrtle pepper, the taste of allspice is described by most as a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Allspice does wonders to cut through any gamey flavors that mutton may have.
Spare Ribs & Pork Chops
It should come as little surprise that both of these delicious cuts of meat come from our tasty friend, the pig. As we showed with the pig diagram included in our blog about Memphis meats & spices, the spare ribs and pork chops come from the broad side of the pig. Spare ribs comprise the lower portion of the ribs, while pork chops are higher on the back. The cut of a pork chops is structurally similar to that of a T-bone steak from a cow.
One big difference between spare ribs and pork chops is the protein-to-fat ratio these two cuts have. Since the spare ribs are lower on the side, their muscles aren’t used as often. As a result, the meat is more tender and has a higher fat content than pork chops. The muscle that pork chops come from is used quite frequently by the pig, so the fat content is lower and the meat can be tough if cooked poorly.
The pork chop is a cut that is more often grilled or pan fried than it is barbecued. However, as Mike has discovered from his Chasing BBQ adventures, every meat tastes better when it is barbecued. For our Dinosaur Chops (don’t worry, it isn’t real dinosaur) recipe, we took huge bone-in pork chops and smoked then until they were tender and juicy. If you’d like to smoke your own pork chop or spare ribs, try using the spices below for your next cookout.
Long’s Peak Pork Chop Spice: It is called a pork chop spice for a reason, it is delicious on pork chops! This smoky garlic blend provides exceptional flavor for any protein and is great for your next grilled or smoked meal.
Garlic Salt: With just a few ingredients, we gave an old time favorite an improved taste. Using roasted and regular granulated garlic to provide depth of flavor, this simple but essential blend is handy to have in your cupboard for anything that needs a salty garlic kick.
Red Rocks Hickory Smoke Seasoning: Named after the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the red color of this blend is symbolic of the rocks found around the area. Use Red Rocks to create a great smoky taste even when you can’t barbecue. You can get the same results by brushing a steak with olive oil, dusting it with Red Rock and pan-frying in a cast iron skillet.
Organic Ground Cumin: Cumin, also known as comino, is native to the Nile valley in Egypt. Often used in Latin inspired dishes, cumin is widely used in numerous cuisines throughout the world. Cumin provides an earthy, and slightly spicy flavor that adds depth and richness to many dishes.
Sweet Smoked Spanish Paprika: Sweet red peppers, indigenous to Spain, are dried over an oak burning fire for weeks to produce a sweet, smoky flavor. Smoked paprika is great for adding smoky flavor without smoking anything.