Smoke in the Pit: A first look

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David McCrindle
Succulent slabs: Smoke in the Pit delivers bold, true barbecue in Powderhorn

After a months-long hiatus to make the move from its former East Lake Street location, Dwight Alexander's fabulous Smoke in the Pit is now open in Powderhorn near the intersection of 38th & Chicago Avenue. The modest space contains a kitchen, single restroom for customers, and a small waiting area filled with the intoxicating, hunger pang-inducing scent of smoked meat.

Much like Ted Cook's 19th Hole BBQ, which is just a little over a mile down the road, Smoke in the Pit operates on a take-out only basis, though they also offer catering services for large orders.

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Mike Pomeranz Fielder's Choice BBQ sauce: for those who KARE

Categories: BBQ Tour

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Fielder's Choice
Find this bbq sauce @Target Field.
Unless you're a local broadcast junkie or sports fans, KARE 11 anchor Mike Pomeranz's announcement that he's launching a new barbecue sauce into an already crowded market might not have possessed a ton of news value. (You're going to have to do better than describing it as "flavorful, versatile, and unique" to perk up these taste buds.)

But then again, we haven't yet had the chance to try Fielder's Choice, and perhaps it has the potential to become the MVP of local BBQ.

One great aspect of the sauce is that part of the proceeds will be donated to the Minneapolis Heart Institute (maybe this will assuage some of the guilt over gorging on red meat?) and the Boys and Girls Club. Find it at the Twins Pro Shops in the stadium and at their other metro locations.

Famous Dave's vs. JJ's: A David and Goliath BBQ comparison

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Does this man make the best ribs in MN?
There's great historical resonance to the story of David and Goliath. We love to root for the underdog, the little guy, especially us Vikings fans (at least we've had years of experience doing it). So when the idea came to compare the biggest BBQ joint in Minnesota and the smallest, we jumped at the chance.

J. J.'s Ribs is housed in a car wash on Aztec Drive in Eden Prairie. It consists of a small countertop, a cash register, and one employee/owner/cook. Famous Dave's boasts 175 restaurants, thousands of employees, and revenue of $32.6 million for the first quarter of 2010. J. J.'s is only 2 years old, Dave's opened its first Minneapolis restaurant in 1995. But the question still looms, why did Famous Dave's take off to national status and so many other one-store joints like J. J.'s stay small and local.

The one thing we can say is, it's not just the quality of the food.

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Market Bar-B-Que: Twin Cities' barbecue tour

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The ribs at Market Bar-B-Que are good. So is the sauce. But the two of them combined--wow!

It's a fascinating experiment to try at the latest stop on the BBQ tour. Take a bite of the ribs: good, nice rub, firm texture. Taste the sauce: good, pleasant mix of sweet and spice. Then put them together, and the result is amazing. It's a 2 + 2 = 7 combination, even better than the sum of the parts. How can a 64-year-old recipe be so good?

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Ted Cook's 19th Hole BBQ: Twin Cities' barbecue tour

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Remember when we thought Sbarro's was good pizza? Back before Punch and Black Sheep, my wife and I would eat up those hot pies from the streets of Manhattan and think they were good. But times have changed, while Sbarro's hasn't. I found the same to be true of Ted Cook's 19th Hole BBQ. Founded in 1968 by Ted Cook, the joint was purchased by Moses Quartey in 2001, and he carries on Ted's traditional BBQ. But the world was a different place back when Ted was at the helm, and the recipes and concepts of the food at Ted Cook's need to change too.

​It would be nice to always write positive reviews. While some critics salivate for the negative piece, where they get to flex their rapier wit and slice the flesh of poor or misguided art or cooking, I like to find something nice to say. It's the old, "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all" idea.

So thusly, my review of Ted Cook's 19th Hole BBQ (38th and Hiawatha) will be relatively short.

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Big Daddy's BBQ: Twin Cities' barbecue tour

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rob barrett
Big Daddy's
We like to complain about our tax money at work, or not at work, depending on how you spin it. So often it seems like our hard-earned cash ends up in some sieve of a social or defense program that we disagree with. But every once in a while we see our government do something everyone can be proud of.

About a year ago the Neighborhood Development Center (not a government agency but funded by tax and private dollars) finished a building on the northwest corner of University and Dale in St. Paul called the Frogtown Entrepreneur Center. Believing in small community-owned businesses, they approached Big Daddy's BBQ to see if the guys would like a storefront spot. After 25 years in the business and over 11 locations, mainly in that same area, they jumped at the chance. Now, working out of a takeout place with a counter but no chairs, the Three Gentlemen of BBQ serve their wares to a steady stream of customers seeking a great weekend meal. That's socialism even a conservative like me could love.

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C & G's Smokin' Barbecue: Twin Cities' barbecue tour

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People often say we eat with our eyes, but tonight I ate with my nose. About a block and a half away from C & G's Smokin' Barbecue I got a whiff of that wonderful BBQ smoke aroma. By the time I got to the little four table one-year-old restaurant I was hungry as a Fannie Mae for another bailout check.

Gregory Alford (the G of C & G) has been making barbecue ribs for as long as he can remember. He would wheel down a big grill to the edge of his drive way and sell barbecue right out of his Detroit garage. He was working for Chrysler but needed extra money for the rent. I asked him how often he had his little front yard barbecue soirees, and he simply told me, "Whenever the rent was due." I know how his neighbors felt with that wafting scent filling the neighborhood. It was probably like taking money from a Tom Petter's client.

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Now Alford owns, cooks, cleans and does pretty much everything else for his new venture. After getting laid off by the auto giant in 1984 he moved to the Twin Cities, working as an auto mechanic until taking the plunge into the restaurant business last year. He'd never go back.

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Baker's Ribs: Twin Cities' barbecue tour

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Fat is our friend and foe, at least at the barbecue. The right amount of fat makes the difference between ribs that are too dry and ribs that are too greasy. If you're not careful, cooking meat for 12 hours will render it tough and lifeless with very little flavor. The opposite is equally as bad: too fatty and greasy

Al Killian has been cooking ribs and brisket in the same wood-fired smoker for 15 years at his Baker's Ribs in Eden Prairie. Originally from Texas (more on that later), Killian has worked hard on his method for tender ribs that lean on the less fatty side. Killian only gives out plastic forks, and you barely need them, since the meat falls off the bone, sometimes before you can bite it. Napkins are a necessity.

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Unlike many other BBQ places, only wood is used in the smoker at Baker's. There's no electric, no gas, just wood. You can taste the difference. If you don't like a deep, smoky flavor seeping into the marrow of a dish, Al's work is not for you. But if you do, there is not a more intense smoke flavor that I know of out there.

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All sides and sauce are made from scratch at Baker's--no corporate delivery trucks here. (It was my misconception that Baker's was a single shop, but it's actually part of a chain based in Dallas. Nine of the ten stores are in Texas.) He gets his meat from Curly's down in Iowa, which specializes in quality rib meat. All of Killian's meats are served unsauced, but bottles of warm sauce are on every table. The warming is a really nice touch.
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While the beef brisket and pulled pork were very good, the ribs were my favorite. It's nice having ribs that aren't all fat and yet have great taste and texture. Of the sides, the beans were worth trying to replicate at home. There were really smoky, really sweet, and really spicy, which added up to really good. The dirty rice and cheddar mashed potatoes were fine but not extraordinary. There are no deep-fried items at Baker's, which makes the nutritionists happy but makes those of us who can go for some rings every once in a while sad.

Baker's Ribs is at 8019 Glen Lake Road in Eden Prairie and is open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday.

Dickey's: First stop on a tour of Twin Cities barbecue

Categories: BBQ Tour

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I don't own a smoker and I don't barbecue. Barbecuing is all about low temperature and slow cooking. I'm a griller--high heat, fast cooking, instant gratification. Most of the recipes I create are meals that can be made in under an hour, so ribs aren't something I do on my show. But I do like me some ribs. When I go out to eat I want to order something that I don't make at home, so barbecue is a great restaurant meal for me.

My problem is all these southern transplants that constantly complain online about the complete lack of good barbecue up here north of the Mason-Dixon. I'm out to prove their snotty-Texan-pit-smoking-pulled-butts wrong. So for the next couple weeks I'm going to do a tour of the Twin Cities' barbecue scene. I'll do a different barbecue joint each week, always ordering the brisket, the ribs, the pulled pork, and some sides. (This is exactly the diet I was hoping for with swimsuit season approaching.) What are your favorite barbecue places? First up for me, Dickey's.

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