Grub on the GreenLine: Big Daddy’s BBQ

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The scrumptious rib tips from Big Daddy’s were absolutely divine. Photo by Ben Schwed ’15.

The scrumptious rib tips from Big Daddy’s were absolutely divine. Photo by Ben Schwed ’15.
The scrumptious rib tips from Big Daddy’s were absolutely divine. Photo by Ben Schwed ’15.

Let’s talk about art. When a piece of art is made, the artist controls every aspect of it, from beginning to end. A painter knows just when and where to add a speck of blue to make the sky look real, a cinematographer knows just when to cut from one scene to perfectly build drama, and a novelist knows what words to use to express ideas. In the same way, a pit master is an artist, though not with paint, a camera, or a pen, but with meat. The best pit masters know exactly when to add a log of wood to their fire and when to move the wood around to maintain the steady, low heat that makes barbecue so succulent. And just like art, barbecue has an incredibly wide variety of styles, varying regionally. The Carolinas are known for their vinegar-based sauces and chopped meats, Memphis is famous for its dry rubbed pork ribs, Texas is recognized for their beef based barbecue, especially brisket, and the list goes on and on, from Oklahoma to St. Louis and even Korea. Unfortunately, Minnesota is not a hotbed for any of these styles. However, there is one style that has at the least one very strong representative in Saint Paul: Kansas City. Kansas City style barbecue focuses on the meat, which is typically smoked with a dry rub and is served with a tomato-based sauce on the side. And if you are hankering for some meat, there is no place in the Twin Cities I would recommend more highly than Big Daddy’s BBQ.

Upon walking into Big Daddy’s the first thing that you’ll notice is the smell. Oh, that smell! From the moment I first stepped inside Big Daddy’s, I was happy because of it, and I wanted, more than anything, to taste the meat to match the smell. While waiting in line, pitmaster Ron Whyte (one of three, along with Bob Edmond and Gene Sampson) took out a delicious hunk of short rib and sliced it onto a sandwich for the customer ahead of us. Just from looking at it, you could tell that it was tender, falling apart and delicious. We ordered the Big Daddy Flintstone Sandwich immediately; though a little bit by accident, after seeing one of them, I had no complaints. We completed our order with a small order of pork ribs and rib tips with sides of collard greens and mac and cheese.
As we sat down to eat it, I was nervous. I really wanted to like this food; I love barbecue, I loved the smell, and I enjoyed the conversation I had with Ron as he served me my food. But none of that would matter if the food didn’t live up to my very high expectations.

I bit into the sandwich, and the meat tore apart incredibly easily. It was amazingly tender and full of smoky flavor. With the addition of a little bit of their spicy barbecue sauce on top, this sandwich was nearly impeccable. I was already really happy about the sandwich when I tried the rib tips, at which point my elation only grew. The rib tips had a nicely crisped exterior bark that gave way to a soft, tender, fatty inside. The combination of textures, crispy and chewy, made these little three-bite-sized nuggets delectable. In my mind, every barbecue place should be judged first and foremost by their ribs. And if you are going to judge Big Daddy’s by their ribs, you will think incredibly highly of this local institution. These were some of the best ribs I have ever tasted. Like the rib tips, the outer bark was crisped nicely, and these absolutely fell right off of the bone. There was not one little speck of meat left on any of the bones by the time we got through with them, though one bumble bee kept trying to find little bits to nibble, and I couldn’t blame it.

And the flavor! These were succulent, with the taste of the hickory smoke embedded in every bit of the pork. The meat itself also shined. The rub did not mask the flavor of the pork; it only enhanced it. The meat didn’t need any sauce, as Big Daddy’s says on their website, “The only time you put sauce on the meat is to cover up a mistake.” There were definitely not any mistakes made in the preparation of these ribs. But if you want to put a little sauce on your ribs, nobody will blame you, as the sauce adds an additional element of both sweetness and spiciness to the ribs. Just be careful that it doesn’t splatter everywhere when the meat falls right off of the bone! The only disappointment with any part of the meal was the sides: the mac and cheese was pretty bland, as were the collard greens. But to focus on those minor issues at this barbecue joint would be akin to finding fault in the Mona Lisa because of the painting displayed alongside it. Sure, it matters, but you’re not there for the sides, you’re there for the meat, and this meat was smoked by a master. Big Daddy’s BBQ is a real treat, and a little slice of Kansas City in Minnesota. With friendly service, an amazing smell, and most importantly, incredible barbecue, it would be a real shame to miss out on some of the most enjoyable barbecue this side of the Mason Dixon. And hey! It’s really easy to get to on the Green Line.

Big Daddy’s BBQ 625 University Ave West Dale St. Station Hours: Wed, Thu, Sun: 11:00 – 6:00 pm Fri, Sat: 11:00 – 9:00 pm (651) 222 – 2516