Minnesota’s Most Iconic Foods

What makes up the state’s culinary canon? That’s in flux—as it should be.
Beef tater-tot hotdish (featuring a recipe by Molly Yeh) and Watergate Salad (featuring pistachio Jell-O, clementines, and marshmallows)
Beef tater-tot hotdish (featuring a recipe by Molly Yeh) and Watergate Salad (featuring pistachio Jell-O, clementines, and marshmallows)

Photo by Janelle Olson // Food Styling by Beth Emmons // Art Direction by Tonya Sutfin

My next assignment would be to namecheck some of Minnesota’s “iconic foods,” and this sounded like an endeavor to annoy many.

An often hyperbolic word like “iconic” is annoying by itself. How do you decide the state’s gastronomic superstars, especially when it means you could be setting lye-fortified cod next to pasta-fied chapati? To use a wedding-speech trope, Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “icon” reads as follows: “a person or thing widely admired, especially for having great influence or significance in a particular sphere.” Not helpful. “Significance” is too vague. How about a lower-down definition? Citing Eastern Orthodox Christianity, it  also refers to a mural, or a painting, or a mosaic that depicts somebody—or something (such as a Totino’s made-in-Minnesota pizza roll?!)—held as sacred. Here, the icon is “an object of veneration or a tool for instruction.” And maybe that’s my approach.

Because as cozy as food is, it is also political (to crib an Anthony Bourdain quote). Who gets to cook what? How? Where? If “icon” suggests a saint in stained glass, and the very mention of “Minnesota” cross-links Scandi and middle-American references in the outdated imagination—then cut to St. Honoré swapped with lefse, or St. Bartholomew subbed out for a beef patty that gushes cheese.

As you already know, the best-known Minnesota chefs of today pull from Hmong, Indigenous, African, Southeast Asian, and plenty of other culinary traditions. Neophytes should appreciate the hotdish but also pull themselves over its rim. While this is not a full canon, everything herein may enlighten, from the specific inventions—a few of them chef-stamped—to the mythic, authorless classics. Certainly, all could be called objects of veneration.

The Bundt cake (made with a Nordic Ware pan, Berry Crocker Lemon Cake Mix, glaze, and lemon zest)
The Bundt cake, made using a Nordic Ware pan with Berry Crocker Lemon Cake Mix, glaze, and lemon zest

Photo by Janelle Olson // Food Styling by Beth Emmons // Art Direction by Tonya Sutfin

Bundt Cake

They wanted a modern-age “kugelhupf.” And so, in 1950, the women of Minneapolis’ Hadassah club, a Jewish volunteer group, approached the owner of a company that created aluminum products. They asked H. David Dahlquist if he could fashion an aluminum version of what, in Europe, was a common cast-iron pan. He did, as told in “The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century.” Today, we know that local company as Nordic Ware, which initially specialized in Scandinavian cooking equipment.

This was the start of the Bundt cake—of whatever flavor, but always in that distinctive shape: like a stately home with a central courtyard, or like a big donut. It didn’t become a phenomenon until Pillsbury’s 1966 Bake-Off Contest, when a nutty version known as the Tunnel of Fudge made the finals. This may be more of a product than a food, but a Bundt pan makes any dessert, in terms of trademark, at least a little Minneapolitan.


A cookbook historian was sifting through recipes to find the first instance of the term “hotdish”—and found it in 1930’s “Grace Lutheran Ladies Aid Cookbook.” That’s reported by Food & Wine and backed up by John Odegard, pastor of the Mankato-based Grace Lutheran Church. Thus, Minnesota lays claim to this bit of Midwestern culinary history. Although the meal itself is harder to own.

That’s because a hotdish—a layered meat-and-veggies melange baked in a metal or ceramic dish—may look an awful lot like a casserole to the rest of the country. Essentially, it’s sedimentary square footage that’s soupy and crusty and igneous and heartwarming. Minnesotans are pretentious about how unpretentious they are about it. Neat, with no space, just one word: hotdish.

Really, it’s a deeply humble creation. “Around the 1950s, we saw canned soup come into play and more and more convenience foods being sold,” says author and Nordic food expert Patrice Johnson. “Hotdish took off from that because of convenience and easy access and feeding a lot of people for a little bit of cost, right? It’s really the perfect food for a Minnesota winter.”

It’s also an easy template. In her book “Land of 10,000 Plates,” Johnson names the four hotdish elements necessary to achieve oozy equilibrium: a protein, a starch, usually a vegetable, and a binder of some kind, like canned “cream-of-something” soup. In one popular version, a tater-tot turf coats beef and veggies. “What I have really, really enjoyed is seeing how hotdish embraces all aspects of being a Minnesotan, regardless of where your people came from,” Johnson says, referring to the time she judged a hotdish competition in D.C., where Minnesota’s lawmakers riffed on the basic premise. Betty McCollum came in first with a Hmong-inspired version, an “eggroll take.”

Chef Molly Yeh, a Food Network star and East Grand Forks restaurateur, has devised her own twist: a beef tater-tot hotdish “with a great bechamel and a little beer for acidity.” The key to this recipe, she says, was restraint. Otherwise, anything goes. “The names are my favorite part—Chinese Hotdish, Busy Day Hotdish,” Yeh says. “If ever I was in a Spice Girls cover band, we’d be the Hotdish Girls, and I’d be Chinese Hotdish, naturally.”

Hot Dago

For the uninitiated, picture a pork sausage removed from its casing and smashed between bread slices, then doused in red sauce and blanketed with cheese. This sandwich (whose name is controversial) is one you’ll want to eat with a fork and knife. That’s per Jason Tschida, a co-owner of DeGidio’s, the Italian restaurant in St. Paul. He says this saucy little number’s local origins are somewhat obscure. “I don’t know a whole lot—I mean, this has been here a long time, since the ’30s.” Tschida isn’t Italian himself, but he married into the legacy of DeGidio’s, which buttresses West Seventh’s reputation as the metro area’s “Little Italy.” “It’s certainly a top-selling item. It’s something we’ve been known for.”

The DeGidio’s version—rather spicy, with crusty Vienna bread—is one of at least half a dozen variations spanning the Twin Cities area, although Cossetta, in St. Paul, has named its sausage-patty ’wich after itself (the Cossetta Sandwich).

The sandwich’s name is not to everyone’s taste, after all. Appearing around the midcentury, it uses a slur for Italian Americans and, based on what’s recorded in “Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Banh Mi,” also could have made some kind of move to reclaim it, since the state’s Italians created and ate this lunch item themselves. The term originally shortened the name Diego, referring to Spanish or Portuguese deckhands in the early 1800s, according to “Minnesota Lunch.”

That word still appears on menus at St. Paul’s Yarusso-Bros., Minneapolis’ Dusty’s Bar, and elsewhere. But some oppose its use, with one local co-owner of an Italian restaurant—who didn’t want to be named, so as not to be associated with the sandwich—viewing acceptance of the term as evidence of a double standard. Tschida says locals don’t find the word offensive, hearing it as synonymous with the sandwich. Still, he adds, “Out east, I think it’s highly offensive.”

If it gets people talking and remembering, perhaps that’s a good thing. Eating it, at least, can count as a celebration of Minnesota’s Italian immigrant story.

Hmong sausage with purple sticky rice and hot sauce, provided by Union Hmong Kitchen
Hmong sausage with purple sticky rice and hot sauce, provided by Union Hmong Kitchen

Photo by Janelle Olson // Food Styling by Beth Emmons // Art Direction by Tonya Sutfin

Hmong Sausage

It has long been a point of pride that the Twin Cities house one of the world’s largest urban Hmong populations. And so, the Hmong sausage—a pick for this list by local chef Yia Vang, who was born in a Thai refugee camp before his family resettled in Wisconsin—contains more than just the coarse-ground pork and Krunchy Chili Oil (made with Thai chilis) that flavored its Minnesota State Fair debut last summer. It also holds the stuff of iconography. “So many cultures have their own way of making an iconic sausage,” Vang says, “and over the last 48 years, we as a people have finally solidified our space here in Minnesota with our own recipe and flavor for our sausage.”

Served at Union Hmong Kitchen, Vang’s Minneapolis restaurant in the Graze food hall, this sausage uses an old recipe Vang learned from years observing his father’s preparations. Starting this summer, you can find them in a Target Field stand during Twins games. And Kramarczuk’s, the landmark northeast Minneapolis sausage company, is helping Vang pump them out on a larger scale as of this year, to “bring this food and our story to more people.”

Hot Beef Commercial

Here’s a sandwich that’s open-faced in a bold, “I am what I am” kind of way: roast beef and mashed potatoes seated on a courageous slice of bread and deluged in brown gravy. The basic idea: Stack easy eats on top of each other until they’re extravagant. You can find it across the Midwest, called a “commercial” here in Minnesota. It’s often reported that “commercial” travelers (as in, business travelers) ingested these calorie bombs during downtime. Gravy-drenched destinations include Bump’s Family Restaurant, in Glencoe; Keys Cafe, at various Twin Cities metro locations; and Hi-Lo Diner, in Minneapolis.

Iron Range Porketta

Thank Italian immigrants of the Iron Range for this economical, deep-flavored cut. Specifically, Leo Fraboni, of Fraboni’s, is credited for popularizing it outside of Italian enclaves. It’s not quite “porchetta,” Italy’s deboned, slow-roasted, and herbaceous pig. Up north, there’s a “k.” “Properly seasoning a porketta is important; getting the herbs and spices deep into all nooks and crannies is key, so boning the roast is essential—and never, ever trim any of the fat,” B.J. Carpenter writes in the immigrant-centered book “Come, You Taste: Family Recipes From the Iron Range.” Think fennel, garlic, and parsley. Along with Fraboni’s and Cobb Cook, both in Hibbing, you can pick up porketta at Northern Waters Smokehaus and Old World Meats, both in Duluth; Ready Meats, in Minneapolis; and other thoroughly Minnesotan grocery stores.

Jell-O Salad

Almost imperceptibly, it oozes, or it trembles—depending on whether it’s cream-based, and depending on whether it’s upright after having chilled in a cathedral-esque mold. Jell-O salad can be whatever Midwesterners want it to be. But it’s probably for dessert. Decidedly, in other words, not for dinner, as envisioned in the mid-20th century.

For reference, it may resemble ambrosia, that whipped-dairy treat of the South. Here, Jell-O stars (unless it’s instant pudding). Cryogenically floating in it may be marshmallows or fruits or pre-made treats and candies, or savory things, like julienned carrots (but let’s not talk about aspic).

It’s also inseparable from Minnesota. Why? That’s as unclear as the “salad” itself. Like lutefisk, it has been a favorite of gelatin-tolerant church gatherers, Johnson notes in “Land of 10,000 Plates”—easy and cheap to make by the tub, which makes it potluck perfection, even if it goes down with a light chemical burn.

Juicy (“Jucy”) Lucy

You know Minnesota has done something right when New York copies it, and there’s been news over the years of East Coast chefs taking inspiration from this peculiar Minneapolis burger. Sink your teeth in, and it spills the cheese—a volcanic pocket bursting from beef in an inverted cheeseburger effect. In New York, that’s a novelty. Here, it’s a point of contention, with two taverns claiming to have the “original.” Both are in Minneapolis, and both are diplomatic about it: the 5-8 Club and Matt’s Bar.

In 1928, the 5-8 Club opened as a speakeasy. Jill Skogheim, president of Food Services Inc., the bar and grill’s parent company, says the burger began, bizarrely, as a customer request. Today, the 5-8 Lucy has some characterful siblings, like the Montana Jack (stuffed with blue cheese) and the Buffalo Chicken Juicy (a blend of ground chicken, plump with pepper jack).

In 1954, Matt’s Bar started under Matt and Donna Bristol. Matt and a regular customer created the “Jucy” Lucy, says general manager Amy Feriancek, by folding a slice of American cheese and sealing it between two burger patties. “They did puncture a hole after the second flip to allow a pressure release and to avoid an explosion,” she says. The printer misspelled “Jucy” on the menu.

Supposed rivalry aside, can each say something nice about the other? We’ll start with Skogheim: “I like that [the Matt’s Bar] burger isn’t as big. Ours is a half-pound, so it’s a bigger burger, and theirs is a third-pound.” Next, Feriancek: “The main difference is the [5-8 Club] burger is thicker, and the cheese is thicker. Still a very good stuffed burger. Matt’s Bar is very genuinely happy for the business down the road.”

Chapati wraps provided by Afro Deli (upper left) and Ke'Ke made by Jamal Hashi
Chapati wraps provided by Afro Deli (upper left) and Ke’Ke made by Jamal Hashi

Photo by Janelle Olson // Food Styling by Beth Emmons // Art Direction by Tonya Sutfin


Start by imagining chapati, the unleavened flatbread popular in East Africa. Then, transport yourself to Minneapolis circa 1997, where Somali Minnesotans are making new homes amid that decade’s currents of immigration. Somali cab drivers crave quick and portable lunches while they work, and chapati isn’t really suited to that. Usually, it’s used as a utensil, for scooping. So, why not cut the chapati into strips, like noodles, and toss them in a stew?

That’s what happened at Safari Restaurant, says Jamal Hashi, whose parents opened the Somali eatery in ’95 in downtown Minneapolis and ran it until 2012. (It has since closed.) “The restaurant was located off of Nicollet Avenue,” he recalls—near hotels where cabs congregated. “So, the first name for it was Kati Kati … like, ‘cut,’” as in “cutting up” chapati, he explains. Or, for short: Ke’Ke (sometimes spelled “Kay Kay” or “K.K.”).

And so, Ke’Ke was born. “It became a hit with the cabbies because they were like, ‘Hey, give me a Ke’Ke.’ It was easy, it was fast, and they would get it to-go and eat it with a fork,” Hashi says. “That’s how it became synonymous with the cabbies first. Then, later on, young people were having it.” In 2000, the $5 dish appeared on Safari’s menu, drawing in nearby students. Now, East African restaurants across the Twin Cities serve Ke’Ke, and the dish has even migrated to Somalia and other countries, Hashi says.

You might remember Hashi as the chef behind Safari Express, the Midtown Global Market restaurant in south Minneapolis that brought camel-on-a-stick to the State Fair over a decade ago. It has since closed, and Hashi now oversees a Twin Cities consulting company. For Ke’Ke noodles in Minneapolis, he especially recommends “Mama Wiilo,” which “still uses the spices we used previously.” It’s probably the most authentic, he notes. Paired with a banana, Somalia’s perfect starchy accompaniment, it’s also a Minneapolis original. Find Wiilo Restaurant & Bakery in the Whittier neighborhood’s Karmel Mall.


Lefse was a communal affair. Into the evening, Norwegian women made sheaves upon sheaves—up to a year’s supply—of these big, floppy pancakes, cooking over the course of three or four days, according to food and culture writer Bob Brooke. Removed from the fire-licked griddle and laid in barrels, or in sea chests and steamer trunks for fishing voyages, lefse is one culture’s take on the globally ubiquitous flatbread. Mexico has tortillas. Ethiopia has injera. Scandinavian immigrants made lefse a common citation for Minnesota—and just as it is in Nordic lands these days, it’s more a holiday classic than an everyday staple, Johnson says. “The food that we encapsulate here as Swedish or Norwegian is trapped in that time capsule of what folks brought with them 120 years ago, versus what’s still eaten there now,” she says. That makes lefse more or less as iconic here as it is over there. “That’s what I think is really fun now, to look at immigrant food that we think of as Minnesotan. Especially with our huge Hmong population, I think it’s going to be fascinating to think, in 50 years, what’s going to be considered Minnesota food.”


How do you prefer lutefisk? Neutralized with butter? Cuddled up to potatoes? Subsumed beneath a creamy white sauce? Atop rye bread? Inside lefse? Dusted with allspice? Not at all, if you can help it? Haters denigrate Scandinavia’s rehydrated whitefish—dried and leathery cod stashed in a lye bath until it becomes a jiggling ectoplasm of its former self—as the sort of aquatic sludge only Gollum would crave, befouling Lutheran church basements statewide. Like other delicacies, this one has some outlandish origin myths: Did a fishermen’s bounty catch flame, then soak in an ashy puddle? Did a poisoning attempt take a turn for the gastronomic?

Archeologist Terje Birkedal, reporting for the Norwegian American, a Norsk news outlet based in Minneapolis, imputes lutefisk’s emergence to something simpler: food preservation—in this case, by dehydration. The lye, he writes, would have essentially (and queasily) pre-digested it. An alkaline compound used for curing, lye breaks apart the fish proteins, making the nutrients easier to absorb. Later on, eating something considered so off-putting would have signaled willful pride in Scandinavian American heritage: It smells bad, but this is us.

Scandinavians don’t really eat lutefisk anymore, Johnson says. But it’s something American descendants celebrate, and Johnson, a Minnesota native, is one of its loudest stateside champions. “Lutefisk gets a bad rap,” she says, noting it’s pronounced “lutfisk” in her ancestral Swedish. Growing up, she bound up its taste and smell with a sense of community. “I love going to the churches and community places, and now, of course, at the American Swedish Institute, we have our annual lutefisk.”

Still hate it? You may be eating a misfire. Because positive adjectives can describe lutefisk, too: “If it’s made correctly, it can taste just as mild, and it can be just as flaky, as walleye fresh out of a lake,” she says. “If it’s made incorrectly, then you get that weird, gelatinous, goopy stuff that nobody really wants.” (Johnson also thinks lutefisk smells good, “like brown butter with a hint of fishy.”) Her recommendation is to follow Beatrice Ojakangas’s recipe “to the letter.” Press extra water out of the lutefisk using a paper towel. Cook with an arsenal of allspice and mustard. And what’s her position on butter or cream sauce? “Yes.” How much? “Keep going.”

Wild rice provided by Owamni, along with walleye, green beans, and a Bootleg cocktail
Wild rice provided by Owamni, along with walleye, green beans, and a Bootleg cocktail

Photo by Janelle Olson // Food Styling by Beth Emmons // Art Direction by Tonya Sutfin


Far beneath the surface of wind-scoured lakes, the walleye is a sleek, camouflaged survivor, a creature of North America’s gravelly depths—as well as Minnesota’s state fish and its most sought-after, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Indigenous peoples caught walleye using barbed spears, woven grass nets, and elaborate traps. As a meal, it’s flaky, with a subtly sweet, not-too-fishy flavor. You can cook a fillet just about any way: breadcrumbed, baked, broiled, deep-fried, chowdered. But the walleye has been overfished. The DNR has blamed “ever-increasing walleye mania and the lure of tourism bucks” for the consistent stocking of lakes with this species, although evidence shows stocking is far from effective, with only 5% of caught walleye coming from a hatchery. For sustainability, the department recommends regulations against water pollution, checks on agricultural run-off, and size limits on walleye fishing, among other protocols. That said, the DNR has opened walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake all summer this year due to population growth.

Wild Rice

It’s actually the kernel of a wild grass, the product of a good spring thaw. It’s also the only cereal native to North America with well-known food uses, according to “Wild Rice and the Ojibway People.” Wild rice has a profound Indigenous history, and that book, by Thomas Vennum, calls out Minnesota for appropriating it as the state grain. For this list, there isn’t a more sensitive or significant food, important for ceremonies as well as for sustenance. The commercialization of wild rice lands us here, with this article.

Joining past and present, one of the nation’s biggest-deal chefs, Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota), has made Indigenous cooking into a blockbuster dining experience in Minneapolis at Owamni, with help from his team, including co-owner Dana Thompson (Mdewakanton Dakota, Wahpeton-Sisseton). Bison, corn, and other purely Native foods star. The James Beard Foundation named it the country’s best new restaurant last year.

Thinking about how wild rice fits on the Owamni menu, Sherman relays an Anishinaabe story: “They migrated here to find where the food grows on the water.” It’s a pilaf, a seasonal dish centered on wild rice that suits a trendy format: the bowl. It may contain cedar-braised bison, vegetables (like burdock, onions, or ramps), dried berries, seeds, fresh greens (like watercress or dandelion), and berry sauce (like a blueberry wojapi). And Sherman says it’s soon slated for the Indigenous Food Lab, a Native-focused kitchen and training center launched through a nonprofit he co-founded.

The bowl also has a deeply Minnesotan backstory. Shortly before the pandemic, the Indigenous Food Lab moved into Midtown Global Market, Lake Street’s bustling food hall in south Minneapolis. “We kind of got stuck, like all food businesses, just trying to figure out what next steps were,” Sherman says. Then, not far away, George Floyd was murdered. Uprisings exacerbated existing food deserts. The Lab made wild rice bowls for hundreds of unhoused people in the area, plus 9 of 11 tribal communities, Sherman says. He recalls riding a bike cart down the Greenway and walking through Powderhorn Park, passing out bowls.

“It points to the Indigenous cultures of Minnesota, which are the first cultures,” he says. “Typically, American history just starts at colonial history because that’s what they know how to celebrate the most, right? And for something like the wild rice bowl, it points to all these Indigenous pieces that were here long before colonialism showed up, and showcases these foods that are still highly favored by the Indigenous communities that are still out there today—which is a lot.”

As far as fads are concerned, Sherman notes that the bowl predates millennial preferences: “I have friends in Ho-Chunk Nation, and they culturally just carry bowls around with them. So, when they have big feasts, everybody has their own bowl, and they just put everything in it.”

Honorable Mentions:

Basil Wings

A star among local apps, chef Ann Ahmed’s basil chicken wings are the only thing she has served at all of her Twin Cities restaurants (Lat14, Khâluna, and the recently closed Lemon Grass). It’s also set to appear at her new restaurant, which just opened in Minneapolis’ Loring Park neighborhood, Gai Noi.

Like many an icon, this one is deceptively simple. The James Beard Award semifinalist uses a top-secret dry rub that she says defies categorization. “I don’t think there’s an exact place or person that the recipe came from.” She has mixed and matched: There’s some of her family’s method for cooking chicken wings, plus Thai basil, plus more than 20 spices blending impressions from her travels, “from the West Coast to the East Coast, or from the spices that I’ve had in India. It’s just a collection of everything.” That makes it a distinctive, dusty thumbprint on the culinary scene. “I hear from my guests, it’s the one thing they tell all their friends about.”

Bootleg Cocktail

Of fabled country-club, Prohibition-era origins, this locally derived and disarming cocktail contains vodka, citrus, and fresh mint. Courtesy of Lunds & Byerlys, here’s a simple-ish recipe.

For the Bootleg mix:

  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice (timesaver: use bottled fresh lime juice)
  • 20 fresh mint leaves

For each cocktail:

  • 2 ounces Bootleg mix
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 2 ounces club soda
  • Mint sprigs and lime slices, for garnish


  1. In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves to make a simple syrup. Remove from heat.
  2. In a blender, add simple syrup, 3 cups of water, lime juice and mint leaves. Blend until combined and mint leaves are broken down.
  3. To serve, add 2 ounces Bootleg mix and 2 ounces vodka to a glass. Top with 2 ounces club soda. Garnish with a mint sprig and a slice of lime.


Gather round, football fans. This soup stocked with beef and chicken and cabbage and celery and onions and oxtails and soup bones and oyster crackers—and whatever else you might toss in there—is piping hot for the tailgate. Does Wisconsin have a stronger claim to the Midwest’s heartiest homemade stew, which may have originated with Belgian immigrants and whose name may stem from the word “bouillon,” according to the Green Bay Press Gazette? Perhaps. But it’s meant to bubble in cauldrons and fill the bellies of legions, Minnesotans included.

Chapati Wraps

The chapati wrap—developed at Afro Deli, which has locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, including a spot near the University of Minnesota—presents East Africa’s unleavened flatbread in a new way. “The chapati is not necessarily made into a wrap traditionally,” says marketing manager Mohamed Mohamed. “It was kind of our take on a burrito.” But chapati is thicker than a tortilla, and Somali rice forms the wrap’s base while turmeric, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon evoke East Africa. The idea was to make something familiar-looking for those unfamiliar with the cuisine. “We see, all the time, people taking half for lunch and half for dinner,” says owner Abdirahman Kahin. “We sell a lot of chapatis—and students love wraps.”


The national dish of Cornwall, the pasty is an old-timey Hot Pocket, and it’s perhaps better associated with Michigan. There, Cornish immigrants toted these humble, meaty, neatly pastry-enfolded lunches down mines in the mid-19th century. Iron Range ore drew laborers in from Michigan’s oversaturated scene, and they brought the pasty with them. Rhyming with “nasty,” it’s anything but, stuffed with beef or pork, and onions or carrots, and rutabaga or potatoes—enough for a grueling workday.

Also: Barbecue?

Minnesota isn’t known for barbecue. And maybe that’s why it should be. Unlike in the storied and impassioned scenes of Texas, St. Louis, and other BBQ big-timers, in Minnesota there’s no branding-ironed dogma. No slow-roasted tradition. No grillkeepers. You can theoretically do whatever and not worry about getting chased out of town.

“These new smokers in restaurants pop up, and they’re all kind of borrowing from different traditions around the country and adding their own style,” says Justin Sutherland, the famed chef behind several metro restaurants, including St. Paul’s Handsome Hog.

A Texas Monthly article recently spotlighted must-visits in what it described as the Twin Cities’ surprisingly sumptuous barbecue situation. It showed love to Boomin BBQ and Animales Barbeque Co., both in Minneapolis. “Boomin BBQ has been one of my favorite stories to watch,” Sutherland says. “Everything from the beef cheeks to the smoked Juicy Lucys—a lot of very original things that are coming out of the smokers. That and Animales are absolutely fantastic.” The article praises Sutherland’s own Handsome Hog as well as a Northfield pop-up called Scotty’s Whole Hog Barbecue.

So, a tradition could emerge from the lack thereof. Of course, there is some history: The Iron Range, for instance, had Ting Town, a drive-in restaurant between Hibbing and Chisholm, open from the 1930s to the ’70s and serving secret-sauced meats nestled in Master Bread buns, B.J. Carpenter recalls in “Come, You Taste.” That place burned down. But barbecue rises again. Like flatbread, it’s ideal for innovation. Just look at James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim’s Korean “neo-Neapolitan” pizzas topped with Korean barbecue.

Will Minnesota’s freedom from expectation result in BBQ that’s prototypically MN? Remains to be tasted.