When Americans fire up the barbie, the dishes they make tend to look a little different from what you may be used to. Don't worry! While many different regions of the country lay their own claim to having the "best" American barbecue , from Texas to the Carolinas, Missouri's barbecued meats carry a special place in the hearts of many. Home to two distinct, classic styles of cooking on each side of the state — in St. Louis and Kansas City — Missouri has a flavour for everyone. Your exploration down historic Route 66 will give you the opportunity to taste both varieties and judge for yourself.
The history of American barbie
Many different locales in the United States have laid claim to being the "birthplace" of barbecue. In general historians look to the southeastern part of the country, stretching from Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, as playing a big part in the development of the "slow and low" cooking style. Farmers in that part the country began cooking their pork over a lower heat to tenderise it, as pigs tended to feed off the land and be far leaner than they are today, according to the Smithsonian Institute.
While farmers throughout the region may have developed this technique around the same time, how each of them chose to season their meat varied greatly. In Virginia and North Carolina, cooks drew on both English and Caribbean traditions to create flavours that were uniquely American. Further south, French and German immigrants infused mustards into their cooking for a different flavour profile altogether. Out West, in what is now Texas, settlers took the barbie technique used for pork and applied it to their cattle, resulting in classic Texas barbecue brisket.
It's Missouri, however, with its central location between Texas and the East Coast and cross-pollination of cultures, that emerged as the home of a hybrid style of barbie, drawing inspiration from each region to create something brand new.
St. Louis v. Kansas City
Both St. Louis, on the eastern side of the state, and Kansas City, to the west, boast famous barbecue flavours that are completely different from each other. Kansas City has earned its title as the "melting pot of barbecue" with both pork- and beef-based offerings and a distinct style of thick sauce that's heavy on the tomato and molasses.
Kansas City's ribs are truly like no other and simply cannot be missed. The city also specialises in a unique delicacy called "burnt ends." These are made from the tips of smoked beef brisket. Typically, a barbecue chef will carve them off the brisket at the end of the brisket-cooking process, and then put them back in the smoker for an extra layer of char. Burnt ends can be enjoyed on their own or as an element of a side dish like macaroni and cheese or poutine. Yum!
In St. Louis meanwhile, barbie cooks tend toward using a grill, rather than smoking their meat — a choice that brings it a little closer to Australian traditions. The classic St. Louis barbecue sauce also turns down the smokiness in favour of a sweet and slightly acidic flare.
While both cities are known for their ribs, St. Louis prepares ribs a little differently from its barbecue counterpart to the west. Chefs will use the spare ribs of a pig and cut them in a unique way that removes extra bone and cartilage, giving the ribs a trademark rectangular shape. It is believed that this style of cut has its origins in the region's historic meat-packing plants. St. Louis has also earned a reputation as the home to world-class pastrami and pork steak.
What the two cities have in common when it comes to the barbie is their dedication to tradition and craft. Well-done barbecue is an important part of Missouri's culture and a source of local pride in whichever side of the state chefs call home. In Kansas City, there's a longstanding link between barbie cooking and the city's vibrant jazz scene. Starting in the early 20th century, jazz joints and barbecues were often one in the same. It's a city where great music and great food truly go hand in hand. In fact, some of the very best barbecue n the state — and region — can be found at outdoor music festivals specialising in the blues, bluegrass, jazz, country, folk and other authentically American forms of music.
The ride of a lifetime
While barbie lovers can enjoy the best of what the state of Missouri has to offer, the adventure doesn't have to end there. The Mother Road is packed with unbelievable flavours, from classic Chicago deep dish pizza to the Mexican-infused fare of the Southwest. In addition, be sure to check out our Bike, Blues and BBQs Tour. Starting from New Orleans and focused on exploring the music, menus and memories of America's barbecue belt, this expedition takes our riders through the rolling hills of historic routes like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Tail of the Dragon. It's the American experience like you've never seen it before!
For the historic road trip of a lifetime, you simply cannot top a drive down Route 66. We can't wait to take you back out on The Mother Road once it is safe to do so. Our next planned tour is scheduled for July 2021. While you wait, you can stay connected and check out more views of the adventure ahead at www.route66tours.com.au.