Years ago, I used to work for a company out in the far western St. Louis suburb of St. Peters. Across Interstate 70 from our office was a Super Smokers barbecue restaurant. It was probably the first of what has turned out to be a number of excellent barbecue places in the St. Louis area. But nearly 9 years ago they all just sort of disappeared. Only one remains open today - the Super Smokers in the southwest St. Louis suburb of Eureka. Coming back to St. Louis from a day trip to Springfield, MO, I stopped into Super Smokers to get reacquainted with their barbecue.
Terry Black was an Arkansas native whose day job was as a pharmaceutical representative, but on weekends he'd team up with his old college roommate, Walter "Skip" Steele and their friend Ron Skinner to compete in barbecue competitions. Like many competitive barbecue teams, they decided to start selling their award winning barbecue to the public. In 1995, the trio started to do catering work with their barbecue before opening their first restaurant in Eureka in 1997 featuring Memphis-style (dry-rubbed) barbecue to the people of St. Louis.
And with their success, they grew and grew at a dizzying rate. Super Smokers had 7 locations in the greater St. Louis area by 2000. It was, by far, the most popular barbecue place in St. Louis. They also had satellite locations in local grocery stores where people could pick up pre-cooked meat, and each home game for the St. Louis Rams they'd have a tent with a smoker set up outside the stadium.
During all of this, they continued to enter competitions. In 1999 at the prestigious World Barbecue Championship Cooking Contest as part of the Memphis in May celebration in Memphis, TN, the group garnered second place in the whole hog competition. A year later, with a hand-picked hog, they trio won first place in the same category.
Now, if you're a regular reader of Road Tips, you may recognized Skip Steele's name. After selling his shares of Super Smokers, Steele ventured to Las Vegas to help start a barbecue place there. In a short time, however, he was back in St. Louis helping develop Pappy's Smokehouse with former Super Smokers general manager Mike "Smokey" Emerson. Steele was the first pit master for Pappy's and Emerson had been learning from Steele for years at both Super Smokers and on the competition trail. (Click here to see the entry on Pappy's Smokehouse.)
In late 2010, Steele and one of the partners in Pappy's, Brian Scoggins, broke away and started Bogart's Smokehouse in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. (Click here to see the entry on Bogart's Smokehouse.) You can flip a coin to see which place has better barbecue - both are winners in my book.
While things were going great for Super Smokers going into the 21st century, the economy tanked in 2001 causing some financial problems for the small chain. In 2003, Ron Skinner passed away from a heart attack. Super Smokers was feeling the effects of post 9/11 with high gas prices causing people not to venture out as much and they had two unprofitable years in a row. Toward the end of 2005, Super Smokers' bank called in the loan and Terry Black was forced to declare personal bankruptcy. The bank took over the Super Smokers locations in January of 2006 closing them all.
This is where friends came in to help Terry Black regain his footing. The landlord of the original Super Smokers in Eureka, Bob Gudermuth, rebuffed many attempts of other restaurants to take the space that Black gave up. Paul Endraske, the president of River Town Food Corporation, bought the rights to the Super Smokers name and began to sell the myriad of barbecue sauces that Black had helped develop over the years. (After Super Smokers closed, River Town Food was selling over 2000 cases of the barbecue sauces in a month to local grocery stores.) He leased the Super Smokers name back to Terry Black. And Jerry Ackerman, the owner of Ackerman Toyota in St. Louis, came in with financial backing. By March, everything was in place for Super Smokers to reopen in the original Eureka location, and in May, Black re-opened the doors to Super Smokers hiring back 16 of his original workers.
I believe that the group has opened a couple of other Super Smokers locations since they reopened in 2006. I know that they had a Super Smokers location in the planned community of WingHaven in St. Charles County, but that closed in 2013.
It had been a long day on the road with a couple meetings in Springfield when I got into Eureka around 7:30. I knew that Super Smokers was a B.Y.O.B. place, so I stopped off at a liquor store in Eureka to pick up a six pack of my current favorite beer Kona Big Wave Golden Ale. I pulled into the parking lot at the corner of N. Central and Stockell Dr. just north of Interstate 44 and where old Route 66 used to be. (see map)
I had not been to this Super Smokers location in my previous visits to one of their many locations. It seemed like it was a true barbecue shack with hand-written menus on paper stuck to the walls by the front counter. Trophies of their previous competition wins were on display up front. All the barbecue staples are available - ribs, pulled pork or chicken, brisket and turkey. I ordered up one of their combo plates with the pulled pork and brisket. I got a couple sides with that and I remembered their beans were always pretty good, so I went in that direction. I was going to get their sweet and sour cole slaw - also a favorite of mine from years ago - but I was informed that they were out of the cole slaw that evening. Bummer. So, I cut my losses and went with the fries.
I found a table in the back corner of the dining room. The main dining room featured a number of tables with bench seats with a dizzying amount of paraphernalia on the walls. There is the "party room" on the front of the restaurant that had large windows letting in natural light. I was happy enough where I was seated.
Not more than 5 minutes after I'd ordered at the front counter, a young lady brought out my barbecue plate. I ordered the large platter - 12 ounces each of the brisket and pulled pork. When she set it in front of me, I began to wonder if I'd ordered too much. (Smaller 8 ounce platters are available, as well.) There was a lot of food on the plate. Half slices of Texas toast delineated the two meats.
On the table - as it was in the past - were six different bottles of barbecue sauce. It was said that years ago Terry Black read that the St. Louis area was the second largest consumer of barbecue sauces in the nation. He decided during the first incarnation of Super Smokers that he'd put multiple types of barbecue sauce on the table - the first to do so in the St. Louis area. I'm a sauce kind of guy and I love to try different sauces and even make combinations (sweet and hot is probably my favorite ones to combine). More on the sauces in a bit.
The pulled pork was the kind that sort of melted in your mouth. It was tender and juicy with a lot of a good apple wood smoked flavor. It wa simply delicious. The brisket wasn't far behind. Thin cuts of beef brisket were plentiful on the plate and while the meat was tender, I didn't get the smoky taste like I got with the pulled pork. Also, there didn't seem to be much of a smoke ring on the outer side of the brisket. Still, it was very good.
The beans weren't as good as I remembered them to be. I mean, they were fine, but I seemed to remember the Super Smokers beans as being excellent in the past. Now, it had been nearly 12 years since I was last at a Super Smokers, so I'm sure that my memory may have failed me on that part. The beans were sweet with a bit of molasses and brown sugar mixed in. When I put in some of the Kansas City sauce (sweet and smoky) and the Texas Hot barbecue sauce (sneaky hot) in with the beans to zip them up, I liked them a little bit more.
The fries were crinkle cut and pretty much more of a throwaway for me. But I did use them to sample some of the different sauces before I decided which ones to use on the meats. As I said, the Kansas City sauce was a sweet and smoky thick barbecue sauce that was very good. The Texas Hot certainly got my attention, but it seemed to have a strange aftertaste along with the slow burn. Not unpleasant, mind you. But one that left an aftertaste where I wasn't certain that I liked it or not.
The Sweet Carolina was a sweet vinegar mustard sauce that I didn't like at all - I've never been a big fan of that style of sauce. The St. Louis sauce was a mild tomato-based sauce that was about as neutral as you could get in a barbecue sauce. And the Tennessee sauce was, well, I really didn't know what to think of it. First of all, I couldn't get a grasp of what types of flavors I was experiencing with the Tennessee barbecue sauce. It was good, but it was probably fourth on the list of the sauces I liked at Super Smokers.
The barbecue sauce that I really liked is Super Smokers Championship barbecue sauce. This was the first sauce that the team of Terry Black, Skip Steele and Ron Skinner came up with and it garnered them their first championship ribbon in 1989 at the Arkansas State Barbecue Championships. It has a peppery aftertaste to it that I really liked giving it a bit of a spicy bite that went well with the sweetness on the front end.
You ever have one of those meals where you know you're overeating to all get out, but you can't stop? That was my meal at Super Smokers that evening. The combination of the barbecued meats, the sauces, the beans and even the fries with the barbecue sauce on them were all very good. I think I left a handful of fries, maybe a couple bites of Texas toast and pools of barbecue sauce on my plate. I was stuffed!
It was great to get back to Super Smokers after all these years. St. Louis has been making tremendous inroads with their barbecue over the past 10 years and Super Smokers is probably the one who started the revolution. The barbecue was very good and there was a lot of it. If you ever go to St. Louis on a barbecue quest, I suggest you start out with Super Smokers and go from there.