Matt Moore, Southern Eats & Drinks Expert
Ribs. Just the thought of this smoky, meaty, tender BBQ staple makes my mouth water — and for good reason. When the rub is just right and the meat is bite-off-the-bone tender, it’s easy to understand why ribs frequently top the list as a favorite in the BBQ world.
While traveling across the country eating BBQ, I’m always on the hunt for unique and authentic food and stories. Luckily, Down South, one doesn’t have to dig too deep to find either, because as Southerners, we have always celebrated what makes us unique. From our bluegrass melodies to our Southern drawls, our people, our culture, and our heritage are worth savoring. That’s one of the many reasons why I love Dixie Vodka, the first Southern vodka to incorporate truly regional flavors, like peaches and honey from Georgia to citrus from Florida and mint from Kentucky. The South’s Best Tasting Vodka is something special — made even better with a cocktail in one hand and a meaty rib in the other.
On one of my trips, I came across pitmaster Skip Steele in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. Skip is a true master of his craft, operating the famed Pappy’s, a restaurant in the top of the Zagat review that’s known for serving thousands of hungry customers each day. But it’s his other spot, Bogart’s Smokehouse, that Skip claims as his “test kitchen.” Here, you will find house-cured pastrami, smoked wings, and an array of BBQ classics. That’s all fine and dandy, but I’ve come for one thing only: ribs.
Prior to his work in BBQ, Skip spent his days traveling the world as a captain on large transport ships. Out on the open water, a good skill to hone is your ability to weld, should the ship spring a leak.
You might be wondering how that skill translates to cooking the perfect ribs. Well after Skip pulls his baby back ribs off from a 4-hour smoke, he glazes them with his own apricot sauce, and then fires up the blowtorch. What happens next is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in the backhouse of restaurant.
The ribs are kissed with the flame from the blowtorch, causing the fruit and sugar to caramelize immediately. The resulting dish is one that Skip affectionally named “meat-candy.” After the playground of sight, sounds, and smells, it is time to eat. Honestly, this is one of the best bites in America, not just in BBQ.
Speaking of best bites, most rib aficionados would also point you toward Memphis, one of the most iconic BBQ towns ever. Here, you will find Charlie Vergos Rendezvous restaurant, a spot that is most widely known for its dry rub ribs. The rub is sweet, smoky, and spicy — and sauce is NOT needed. Millions of people have enjoyed this well-known spot for more 70 years, and for good reason: this dry rub rib is a true original.
With football season upon us, we’ll be diving into some of the greatest tailgate scenes and traditions throughout the South. And rest assured, while each place is unique, there are some commonalities that you won’t experience outside the region (and can’t be beat). The best spots are those that have racks of ribs slowly smoking and plenty of cocktails flowing (like one of my favorite Dixie Vodka cocktails, recipe below).
So, here’s to the home team. Or just the ribs and drinks . . .
Dixie Mint Tea
- 2 oz. Dixie Mint Vodka
- 4 to 6 oz. sweet tea
- Sprig of mint
- Lemon wedge
Fill a Collins glass with ice, and add sweet tea and Dixie Mint Vodka. Stir. Garnish with a sprig of mint and lemon wedge.