Barbecue: Sugarfire Smoke House

At Sugarfire, you’ll find barbecue staples like ribs, brisket and pulled pork alongside more unconventional fare like smoked duck, fried catfish and pork belly hush puppies with jalapeño jelly.

Sugarfire Smoke House was voted the runner up for best barbecue in St. Louis in the 2015 Feast 50.

The Midwest region is experiencing something of a barbecue boom these days, and in St. Louis, you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that proves this better than Sugarfire Smoke House. Chef-owner Mike Johnson – who’s worked with Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter, and also owned several St. Louis restaurants over the years – opened the original location of the barbecue joint in Olivette in 2012. Soon, he’ll claim six restaurants, including a few franchise locations, in the area.

“What’s cool about St. Louis is we’re kind of in this triangle between Kansas City, Memphis and Texas,” he says. “We’re pulling the best from each region – Texas-style brisket, or Kansas City-style pork – instead of being locked into one specific way of doing things.”

Johnson draws from those different traditions at Sugarfire, where you’ll find barbecue staples like ribs, brisket and pulled pork alongside more unconventional fare – think smoked duck, fried catfish and pork belly hush puppies with jalapeño jelly.

Together, Johnson and his chefs will brainstorm daily specials, each trying to come up with something crazier than the next. Sometimes the name will come to them first – the “Off the Beetin Path” sandwich featured smoked chicken, smoky beets, goat cheese, arugula and lemon aioli. “Grit-ter-Done” piled burnt-end gravy, chili, fried egg, bacon and cheddar atop a Chipotle-cheddar grit cake.

“It’s mostly just us sitting around coming up with ideas, and whatever totally cracks us up or sounds awesome, we’ll go with,” Johnson says. “We’re always trying to wrap things in bacon.”

When Sugarfire featured bacon-wrapped burnt ends on a recent Tuesday, in fact, Johnson says 100 people were already in line when the doors opened.

“I went through 75 pounds of burnt ends in 45 minutes – that’s a lot,” he says.

In addition to the menu’s massive sandwiches like the beloved Big Muddy – brisket, smoked sausage, horseradish sauce, barbecue sauce, lettuce and pickles – Sugarfire’s daily specials are dotted with everything from tacos and nachos to gyros.

Johnson is quick to point out that not all of them will stretch your waistline, either – sides have included a kale Caesar salad, roasted cauliflower and a “Super Slaw” with bok choy, edamame, kohlrabi, buttermilk, tarragon and dill dressing.

“Every day is a big contest between all the chefs to come up with new stuff and challenge each other,” Johnson says. “I think people recognize our passion for what we’re doing.”

Sugarfire Smoke House, multiple locations including 9200 Olive Blvd., Olivette, 314.997.2301, sugarfiresmokehouse.com.

Heather Riske is the digital editor at Feast.