Minnesota's Best New-School Barbecue

OMC Smokehouse in Duluth respectfully updates the classics

OMC Smokehouse's pork n' grits and ribs with potato salad.
OMC’s pork n’ grits & ribs with potato salad

OMC Smokehouse

If Minnesota is an unlikely home for next-level barbecue, literally no one would have looked to the Duluth owners of a farm-to-table restaurant to lead the way.

“How can we bring the culture of barbecue back to Minnesota?” asks Louis Hanson, chef and co-owner of his family’s OMC Smokehouse. “We had the skill set for the cooking and the drive, but how do we bring a culture here?”

OMC stands for “Oink, Moo, Cluck” because Hanson is smoking pig, cow, and chicken—among other things. The name comes with a wink and a smile, because these are the first ingredients to Hanson’s new-school, Minnesota barbecue.

“It’s about a friendly openness: If someone asks you a question, you invite them into the kitchen,” he says. “You’re sharing recipes. It’s not the old-school, ‘This is my secret recipe and we can’t share it with you.’ ”

Creating a barbecue culture out of nothing is a challenge, because barbecue cultures are inexorably linked to specific locations: Kansas City, Nashville, Waco, the Carolinas. He has been to all of those spots, studied and chatted with the masters, and wondered, ‘How do we make this authentic to Duluth?’ “Barbecue has very deep roots. It’s almost a religious experience for people, so how far do you take that?” he says.

He takes it just far enough. Instead of pecan, he smokes over Minnesota sugar maple. (“It’s a hard wood with a light smoke, and feels right.”) Instead of apricot or peach preserves, he uses rhubarb—which grows like a weed in Minnesota—for a tangy chipotle barbecue sauce. His mustard sauce relies upon Bent Paddle’s ESB beer, sourced from the brewery across the street.

But Hanson knows that a successful new-school approach means knowing when to honor the classic. Take his ribs: Each bite of these antibiotic- and hormone-free, dry-rubbed pork beauties has obvious smoke and chew. “I lost a ridiculous amount of sleep thinking about doing a dry rub rib in Minnesota,” he says. “Since I was a kid you expect a rib to be saucy, fall-off-the-bone.” OMC’s ribs are bite-off-the bone.

The beauty of creating a culture is that there are no real rules. OMC serves smoked pork with cheesy, polenta grits that are a revelation (especially this far north). Don’t miss the roasted jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese that’s seasoned with the rib dry rub and combined with hunks of brisket, then topped with a very Minnesotan rhubarb and cranberry jam.

Ultimately, Hanson is trying to make a connection with friends, an environment where people feel good about their city, their state, and their meal. “What’s more connecting than wood, fire, smoke and meat?” he says. “I’ve had to teach myself that people are just having fun.” -J.D.

1909 W. Superior St., Duluth | 218-606-1611 | omcsmokehouse.com

StormKing Barbecue

[Editor’s note: Alas, since we went to press, StormKing has closed.]

Chef Jordan Smith used his experience with fire and coal at Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza to start StormKing. Everything here is intensely smoked, and it’s especially pronounced on the juicy chicken. The brisket has a thick, peppery bark, the hot link is perfection, and don’t miss the collard greens. You can only get it on Saturdays, but after one taste, you’ll spend the week pining to go back. -J.D.

16 1/2 W. 26th St., Minneapolis | 612-353-5525 | stormkingbarbecue.com

Handsome Hog's Carolina BBQ Sandwich
Handsome Hog’s Carolina BBQ Sandwich

Handsome Hog

Chef Justin Sutherland attended culinary school in Atlanta and had family in Louisiana. Those divergent histories met on the menu at his first restaurant, Handsome Hog. Dishes include an entrée of chicken wings on waffles that are served with rosemary-poached pears and a honey cayenne pepper. Many of his dishes balance both fine dining and country comforts for an entirely new experience. -J.S.

203 E. Sixth St., St. Paul | 651-340-7710 | handsomehog.com

Erik the Red Nordic BBQ & Barbarian Bar

There’s plenty of flannel and Paul Bunyan types inside this restaurant at the foot of the Viking ship outside U.S. Bank Stadium. New-school barbecue here means a blend of Nordic spices steeped in the slow-and-low smoked meats. It’s a bold menu that includes lefse, elk sausage, lingonberry barbecue sauce, and brisket. -J.S. 

601 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis | 612-249-5999 | eriktheredbar.com

Digital Extra: Oink, Moo, Cluck

Food critic Jason DeRusha goes behind the scenes of OMC Smokehouse in Duluth, part of our lineup this month of the best Minnesota barbecue.

Coming Soon

The Minnesota barbecue buzz continues later this year. Keep an eye out for these new restaurants around the Twin Cities.


5400 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis

Lipstick Pig

825 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis | 612-825-3400 | lipstickpig.com

Minnesota Barbecue Co.

763-535-1331 | minnesotabbqco.com