Big Baby Q and Smokehouse

Before I came to St. Louis, I lived in North Carolina. I want to stay in this city; however, there are things I desperately miss about North Carolina. Asheville—a free spirited, hippie outpost in the Bible Belt. The scenery, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Oak Island. But above all else, I miss amazing, easily accessible barbecue.

All things considered, St. Louis is a pretty good place to land if you're jonesing for smoked meats. Places like Pappy's, Bogart's and Sugarfire routinely gain national attention for their barbecue. But there's a new BBQ joint steadily earning acclaim, Big Baby Q and Smokehouse.

The small restaurant is located in a suburban strip mall in Maryland Heights. It's a family operation run by Ben Welch, chef and former restaurant consultant, and his father, Bennie. On the line, Ben's straight to the point, so know what you want when you get to the counter. Bennie is happy to answer any questions and clearly wants you to have the best possible experience. Their interactions, with each other and the customers, are part of the charm of dining in at Big Baby Q. You have every right to take your order to go, but just know you're missing the show.

I stopped by Big Baby Q for lunch a little while ago, and as soon as I took a bite of my sides, mac-n-cheese and mustard potato salad, I was instantly back in North Carolina. They tasted exactly like the the little BBQ shacks I delighted in eating at in the Tar Heel State, which is high praise. Unfortunately, the collard greens were sold out by the time I got there. I guess I'll just have to try  again...

The main event, though, was the brisket and pulled pork sandwich. I opted for the 8 oz. sandwich, which is a hell of a lot of sandwich. I regret nothing, though.

The pork, as another reviewer noted, is not stringy and shredded to death. Rather, it's pulled coarsely so you get big chunks of pig, which are the best chunks of pig. Each piece seemed to have a good amount of char and rub that made for a balanced bite.

The pork also had just the right amount of oak-y smoke, unlike some places that smoke their meat to the point of tasting like a campfire. If I wanted that, I would just have some Scotch. And you'll note that's not exactly an acceptable lunch—unless you're Don Draper and it's also 1961.

With it, I opted for the mustard-based “Carolina Gold” sauce (yeah I'm one of those people). There are plenty of others from a “Sweet (House)” sauce to an “Alabama White” sauce with a little kick of horseradish to a “Korean” sauce.

Upon Bennie's recommendation, I used a little of the “Alabama White” with my brisket. Although I probably would have gotten it anyway because I love horseradish (also one of those people). The brisket was tender and had a crisp, rich bark. The tell-tale pink smoke ring bordered the bark, and again, the smoke was just right. It's that interplay between the juicy, milder meat and the crunchy, intense bark that you're looking for in brisket.

And I found it.

The brisket, pork and ribs are standouts, but the menu also features turkey breast, pastrami and pork steaks. If you're in a Man vs. Food mood, you can also get a heaping tray of BBQ nachos or the Herculean Big Baby sandwich, which is stacked high with brisket, turkey breast, pickles, coleslaw and two sauces. Just make sure to budget time for a quick post meal nap.

Big Baby Q and Smokehouse is definitely worth the drive out to Maryland Heights. When you get your food, don't be surprised if it starts feel more like North Carolina, though.