Unpack the car and cancel your trip to Austin, Tex. You don’t need to leave town, drive 20 hours down I-35, or stand in line with a bunch of other bleary-eyed tourists at 7 a.m. in the hope of spending 30 minutes eating great barbecue. StormKing Barbecue (16½ W 26th St, Minneapolis) has brought Central Texas barbecue to your hometown, and it is fantastic.
StormKing is the brainchild of Jordan Smith (Black Sheep Pizza) and was based on his love of Central Texas barbecue. Faithful to the style, they use a dry rub, smoke the meat low and slow using local Minnesota-grown oak, and serve everything sauceless. The results are stunningly good.
Nearly everything we ate was intensely smoky (except the pulled pork — more on that later). Even the spicy sausage ($7), coarsely ground and flecked throughout with herbs and spices, had a smoke ring under the thin but substantially snappy skin. It had a pronounced but pleasant kick and a tremendous amount of flavor. The ribs ($14/half), likewise smoky, were cooked perfectly. They were tender and pulled easily off the bone in rich and chewy bites. The spice mixture had a numbing quality on the lips, like Sichuan pepper, but without the pain.
We thought we tasted the same numbing spices on the chicken ($11/half), which was the only item that provoked any dissent from the otherwise universal approval of our tasters. Like the brisket, sausage, and ribs, the chicken was campfire smoky, but against the blank slate of the white meat, one taster found the smoke overwhelming. Interestingly, the skin took on a snappy bite, like a sausage casing.
StormKing’s brisket ($11.50/half pound) is their pièce de résistance. It is all those words that the barbecue thesaurus can’t improve on: juicy, tender, smoky, and spicy. The bark is thick, dry, and pure, concentrated flavor. The connective tissue that causes many a tough brisket is totally gelatinized. On our two visits to eat in, we were offered our choice of lean or fatty (flat or point, for those of you smoking at home) but when we ordered takeout, we weren’t offered a choice. We were served a piece of brisket cut from both parts still conjoined, and while it was wonderful (and tender) served all three ways, we liked having both cuts best. Brisket is the linchpin of Central Texas barbecue and StormKing nails it.
The pork was good but didn’t ascend to the same level as the brisket, ribs, and sausage. It was (like everything else at StormKing) tender and flavorful, but it wasn’t quite as smoky, and it cut a different, more subdued flavor profile. They spike the pulled meat with apple cider vinegar that gives it a unique tang and subsequently makes it a soul mate for their Asian coleslaw, which is tossed with vinegar dressing and flavored with ginger and sesame.
Speaking of coleslaw, the regular coleslaw was up to par with everything else at StormKing. Long-cut cabbage, tangy and crunchy, with a creamy mayonnaise dressing, is the perfect thing to eat with smoked, fatty meat.
The interior of StormKing is decidedly no-frills, yet it manages to be abundantly welcoming and warm. All of the meats and sides are available a la carte (as priced above), or you can order a meal for one person ($19 for two meats, one side), two people ($36 for four meats, two sides) or four to five people ($80 for nearly all the meat). You order at the counter and they dish up your food on a piece of paper on a metal tray. Sides are served in a paper cup. You get a soft, sweet roll, a few slices each of onion and pickle, and few pickled jalapeños that pack a mean punch. Nothing is served with sauce, but the bottle is on the table if you’re so inclined, along with a bottle of hot sauce. We wouldn’t bother putting sauce on brisket or ribs that are this good, but to their credit, the house-made barbecue sauce is quite good, with a little sweet and a little heat.
StormKing enthusiastically encourages to-go orders, even offering to bring your food out to your car parked in the lot next door or at one of the 15-minute street spots at the front door. We had the food both ways — on site and to go — and can happily report that it suffered no loss in quality during the 20 minutes from their front door to our dinner table. StormKing is a living-wage and gratuity-free establishment, and without opening up that whole can of worms, it makes their prices seem more reasonable, and it is worth noting that everyone we interacted with was as friendly and outwardly happy as can be.
In case you haven’t heard, we are in the middle of a barbecue boom in Minnesota. Adding to old standards like Big Daddy’s in St. Paul and Q Fanatic in Champlin and Minneapolis, we have recent arrivals like Revival St. Paul, which is doing phenomenal work and the terrific OMC Smokehouse in Duluth. Dave Anderson of Famous Dave’s has a new chain, Old Southern, that modernizes and improves upon his old chain, Black Market is tearing up the streets (look for a story about them by Joshua Page next week) and there is more to come. If StormKing, with its allegiance to the Lone Star State, has anything to contribute to the conversation about an emerging “Minnesota style” of barbecue, it is that excellent, world-class barbecue has arrived. By way of Texas.
Central-Texas-style smoked meat and sides in Minneapolis
16½ W 26th St
Minneapolis, MN 55404
OWNERS / CHEF: Nick Walsh, Colleen Dorran, Jordan Smith / Jordan Smith
Sun-Thu: 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat: 4 p.m.-11 p.m.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: No
ENTREE RANGE: $7-$19
NOISE LEVEL: Smoky roadhouse
PARKING: Lot and street