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Baker's Ribs

Real Texas BBQ

Long before glittering gold and diamonds piqued our interest, the most precious thing in the world was meat. Atavistic humans risked their lives to get it, as the greatest sources of meat defended their own with tooth and claw. 

To tear meat from bone is still to satisfy the basest urge – the rib is the primal comfort. But in this modern world of light, you need never risk becoming skewered on a boar’s tusk like a cocktail olive on a club frill pick simply because you wanted ribs. The civilized Eden Prairiean goes to Baker’s Ribs instead. 

Baker's Ribs is owned by Al Killion. The moment Al speaks you are assured your barbecue meal is in the most capable hands in the world, for Al’s Texan accent has stayed unblemished after 28 years of Minnesota living. Curiously enough, Al got his first experience serving food at a Midwestern culinary institution – a Dairy Queen in his hometown of Rowlett. But before long he found himself under the wing of the great pitmaster Joe Duncan.

“Joe started the original Baker’s Ribs down in Dallas,” said Al. “Even back when I first met him he had been in barbecue for a long, long time. It was a long time before Joe would let me cook at his restaurant, too. At first I thought he was just a perfectionist, but after working with Joe for years and eventually opening his first franchise, I appreciate just as well as him how important it is to do everything the right way.

“Take brisket for example. Brisket has to be cut to an exact thickness – nice and even, in smooth slices, and at just the right angle or it won’t fall apart in your mouth. You want a little bit of black bark on there, but not too much. It’s kind of hard for me to explain barbecue. It takes decades of hands-on experience to truly understand it.

“We serve real Texas barbecue here. To me that’s smoked meat, pure and simple. When you mop sauce all over the meat like they do in St. Louis it only covers up the natural flavors. When you eat our barbecue you might taste a little bit of rub, but the main flavors you’re getting are meat and natural wood smoke.

“We smoke our meat with oak. We would use hickory if we were a little farther down south and didn’t have to import it, but oak is far from a compromise. I love its mellow flavor, which complements every cut of meat really well.

“We put a single, whole oak log on a bed of coals when we cook. We might also throw a couple pieces of green wood on there to help get it going. At its heart, Texas barbecue is no more complicated than tending a fire. That’s the cowboy way, very simple, just using whatever you happened to have on hand while you were driving cattle through country without another soul for miles in any direction.

“We put our whole briskets and pork butts in the smoker by 5pm. We get the fire set and let it smoke all night, heating the meat to between 275 and 290 degrees. No one has to watch it overnight because the pit is such a simple piece of equipment. When everything goes like it’s supposed to, the barbecue will be ready when we open at 11am the next day.

“Our pork ribs are done just as simple but take a little less time: 300 degrees for four hours. We cook St. Louis cut spare ribs, just because they stack a little more neatly in the pit and look a whole lot nicer on a plate.

“After all this time, smoking meat doesn’t feel like a science to me. It’s more of a form of art. Just how much smoke the oak is going to put out all boils down to its moisture content, and you can’t really measure that. You have to feel it. 

“Let me tell you about our three most popular sides. The first is baked beans, and they’re the one thing I did change after moving up here. Minnesotans just don’t like the pinto. We wound up making our beans a little sweeter for the northern palate, with brown sugar and Creole mustard. We smoke them right in the pit. We make a mean dirty rice with little pieces of ham and sausage, and potato salad with dill real Hellman’s mayonnaise. The potato salad is a real homage to Texas’s German roots.

“I’ll always remember what one of my first customers said to me: ‘You know you came to a land where black pepper is considered an exotic spice, don’t you?’ And at first I did have people tell me that the barbecue sauce we put on the tables was too spicy. But now that the Twin Cities have gotten more barbecue places and other ethnic restaurants that offer a broader range of flavors, I’ve found people around here have become a lot more accepting of a little spice.

“I do enjoy it up here. Minnesota is home now. But being an ambassador to my home state’s style of barbecue – the best style of barbecue, I might add – well, that’s always going to feel good.”

Naturally any restaurateur’s business has been changed dramatically by all the recent unpleasantness. Baker’s Ribs has managed to keep the smoke rising thanks to all the parties they cater for. Al says he cooks for an unbelievable number of graduations. And what better way to cap off an education by plowing through a rack of ribs? Business lunches have remained a mainstay of Al’s catering business, as have weddings and family reunions. 

Try and imagine a social occasion that couldn’t be improved by barbecue. Short of some sort of vegetarian shindig, it can’t be done.

As of August the dining room at Baker’s Ribs is operating at half capacity. It is well worth going there, as the place is an absolute shrine to generous brother pig. There you can see nearly three decades’ worth of pig decorations – photos, folk art, weathervanes, and of course coin receptacles in the shape of the happy pink creature. If you dine at Baker’s Ribs, you’ll walk out of the next hoity-toity restaurant you visit in disgust because they are so dismally lacking in charming pig paraphernalia.

The next time you feel the call of the wild that can only be remedied by smoke and meat and maybe a little side of baked beans, you need only pay a call to Baker’s Ribs. They are located at 8019 Glen Ln in Eden Prairie, and you may find out more about the authentic Texan joint at bakersribsmn.com.

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