Q • Would Sugarfire Smoke House share its recipe for Coffee Barbecue Sauce? That stuff is so good, I could swim in it. — Pattie Tierney, St. Charles
A • During its mere two-year existence, Sugarfire Smoke House has racked up awards and accolades for barbecue. But “anybody can do barbecue,” says master chef, serial restaurateur and Sugarfire co-owner Mike Johnson. “There’s no secret. Season it, then cook it slow.” That’s why Sugarfire, he says, starts with a “better product” then puts it in the hands of more than a dozen chefs who joined Sugarfire already accomplished in their own rights. “We’ve got really talented chefs here; we push each other to be better.”
Still, Johnson concedes, the business is harder than he expected when Sugarfire opened its first place in Olivette in 2012, then another two in quick succession in St. Charles and in O’Fallon. Even sourcing meat is a challenge. Since Sugarfire cooks so much meat — 3,000 pounds a day; yes, a day — Johnson buys it from Missouri and nearby farmers a year ahead to source enough at a good price.
Johnson and his partners are scouting future Sugarfire locations, but don’t get your hopes up for one in the neighborhood unless you live in Columbia, Mo., or Chicago. “I won’t do another Sugarfire in St. Louis,” Johnson says. “People like to make the trip; it’s special.”
Coffee Barbecue Sauce is just one of Sugarfire’s everyday housemade condiments. After that, Johnson’s chef-cadre goes crazy, one pun pot at a time with sauces like D’Mango Unchained (mango) and Bomb-a-Granate (pomegranate juice). The honey-sweetened and coffee-deepened sauce pairs exceptionally well with brisket. This might explain why Sugarfire cooks the sauce in 50-gallon batches. If there’s a signature meat at Sugarfire, it’s the brisket, cooked more Texas style, Johnson says, a little slower, a little further, retaining the cut’s natural moisture and flavor.
To avoid the lines at cafeteria-style Sugarfire, Johnson recommends timing visits during the afternoon. “There’s usually a lull between 3 and 4.”
Oh. And best leave room for dessert, think homemade pie, smoked chocolate chip cookies and grown-up milkshakes. Dainty eaters are in real trouble; this fall, Sugarfire will open a place called (probably) Sugarfire Pies next door to the Olivette restaurant.
Special Request is written by Town and Country resident Alanna Kellogg, author of the online recipe column KitchenParade.com and “veggie evangelist” at the food blog about vegetables, A Veggie Venture.
Sugarfire Smoke House
Three locations, Olivette, St. Charles and O’Fallon, Mo.