Welcome to Plate Of The Week, a journal about memorable dining experiences in the Twin Cities. Which plate can’t you stop thinking about? Let us know @growlermag.
It’s a common refrain from Twin Cities diners, a problematic mindset, born of nostalgia for better plates in better cities. “The X in Minneapolis is nothing compared to the same in Y.” We don’t have ramen like New York does, or dim sum like San Francisco, we weep into our lacking noodles and sad steamed buns.
And with the barbecue, perhaps North America’s most important native cuisine, regional preferences are only intensified. While the Twin Cities are hardly the barbecue wasteland they once were, no one would confuse us for a mecca of smoked meats (although, no one was visiting us for Korean-inspired pizza until recently either, so things can change in a hurry.)
One might survey the BBQ joints in the Twin Cities and think wistfully on visits to Kansas City, Austin, or Asheville. But remember this: there’s no such thing as perfect barbecue. We discovered as much when we toured the competitive barbecue circuit last summer. No matter where you’re eating barbecue, there’s “better barbecue” somewhere else, unless you happen to be in Lockhart, Texas—but even then, I doubt those pitmasters would admit to having perfected anything.
The right mindset for barbecue generally, and brisket specifically, is to do it just a little bit better the next time. Tweak the seasoning, control the temperature, consider the results, adjust and improve, and never think you can stop improving.
Which brings us to a recent visit to StormKing Barbecue, the new next-door barbecue joint from Black Sheep Pizza. The menu is arranged like that of any good smokehouse: meats by the ounce, sides by the cup. The spare ribs are fine if a tad pricey, the pulled pork is speckled with lovely bark, and the cold broccoli salad rivals your Aunt Linda’s.
But brisket is the star of the show here, perhaps the one meat that our pork-centric Minneapolis barbecue scene has yet to fully embrace. Opt for the fatty cut over the lean—it’s moist and well-seasoned, but it’s not perfect yet, and they know it, and that’s a good sign.
During a recent visit, our slices of brisket were replaced mid-meal, unprompted. They weren’t happy with the cook—too much caramelization on the exterior led to some of the leaner pieces drying out. Our fatty pieces would have been gobbled immediately, but were replaced with ones slightly more moist, and slightly less burnished. The result was a slight improvement in taste, but a dramatic improvement in experience.
Come back, they said, the brisket will be better next time. So we did, and it was. The bark was more even. The meat was more tender by fractions of a degree.
A barbecue joint is only as good as its most recent brisket, and StormKing has shown steady progress since they’ve opened. Yes, there’s better barbecue in Kansas City. But it’s good to know that the barbecue on 26th Street is intent on actively improving.