Where and What to Eat

The Midwest BBQ Sauce Scene Exists, and it Ain't Bad

Judo Joel's, Local Folks, and Big John's Ol' West BBQ Sauces
Photo by Becca Sabot

You know how people get about barbecue sauce.

I’ve seen sane people devolve into a frothy rage when you suggest their favorite sauce isn’t, perhaps, as amazing as they think. I wish I had that loyalty to brand, but I’m still on the journey and am open to suggestions.

Trust me, I get the whole Texas/low country/Memphis pedigree thing, but that doesn’t preclude others with a passion from making some serious stuff. The Midwest should have its due. Locally I’ve always loved Wee Willy’s for its thin Carolina sauce and Judo Joel’s for his Jamaican Jerk Barbecue sauce with its hit of ginger and soy, which brings a depth of flavor that can stand up to the spice.

But on the journey I found Big John’s Ol’ West from South Dakota. This sauce is a rich, classic Western-style sweet bomb, big with brown sugar but also loaded with smoke and spice. This is one in which to dip things.

For a fresher touch I’m liking LocalFolks Foods Honey Bar-Bee-Q sauce. Made with all-natural ingredients and gluten-free, it brings forth a slight honey sweetness to balance the tart tomatoes and touch of spice.

But for an all-around sauce that brings it on a lot of levels, I have to hold up Bootleg BBQ Sauce made in Wabasha by a bunch of fire-fighting pals. It has a sweet-sour tang and just the right kick for ribs and brisket. It’s addictive and you’ll find yourself dipping in it all summer long.