The first of a five part series, a select group of WRNL staffers and hangers on went on a BBQ crawl through Des Moines a few weekends ago. These reviews will showcase some of the best (and not... uh... best) BBQ that Des Moines has to offer.
We began our assault on the barbecue of Des Moines at Kue'd, a new joint opened recently by Shad Kirton, winner of TLC's "BBQ Pitmasters" Season 2, and previously a co-owner at Smokey D's BBQ. He's a great guy and shared a bit of his philosophy with us: "It's about building trust in the customer base. I want people to trust that when they come in here, they're going to be served something good." He's all about trying new things and bringing different tastes from other parts of the country to central Iowa, and we thought that was a refreshing taste in a town where the food is really good, but a bit bland on diversity.
Shad welcomed us by presenting an impressive spread of every meat they serve, as well as an array of sides and house-made kettle chips.
I'll be honest, while I enjoy a good side item, I can deal with horrible sides if the meat is amazing, but even I was impressed with the side selection here. There was not a single disappointing side dish, but the highlights were definitely their version of baked beans called a pit casserole, the mac and cheese, and the watermelon salad. I'm a watermelon purist in that I believe people who even salt their watermelon are less quality human beings, so I listened to Shad's description of the salad with a hybrid look of caution and disgust. Of course, that just meant I was more shocked when their mixture of watermelon, mint, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar was such an insane and beautiful mashup of flavors that I'll probably try to unsuccessfully recreate the dish at home.
This is the section that you came for, and Kue'd didn't disappoint. Overall, the crew thought the sliced pork butt was the best cut of meat we had on this visit. The fat to muscle ratio was excellent and the cut was moist and flavorful, no sauce needed.
The sausage is produced locally by Ulrich's Meat Market in Pella and done so exclusively for Kue'd. While it didn't have the overwhelming flavor of either the sliced pork or brisket, it was solid in its own right.
While the sliced pork was the overwhelming choice as the standout of the visit, the rest of the selections were fantastic as well. One of my fellow gluttonous WRNLers said that the brisket was their favorite meat of the day, commenting that "the beef almost melted as you ate it, it was so tender." The brisket also retained its "beefy" flavor through the smoking process, which is something that less accomplished smokers have an issue with.
We should note that Kue'd is a lot like good BBQ joints: they smoke a specific amount of meat each day, and when it's gone, it's gone. They have favorable business hours and arriving at lunchtime was not a problem for us, and hasn't been for our other writers who have been there previously.
Kue'd isn't a place that over-complicates your saucing options. You have two choices: The Next Big Thing, which is a sweet and salty, more traditional style sauce, and the "$100,000 Hog Sauce", which is a more North Carolina, vinegar based style sauce that features a bit of heat. I personally preferred the latter of the options, but the gang was split on the choice, and all of us were agreed that while the sauces here are probably the weakest part of Kue'd game, of all the places on the crawl, this was likely the place where the sauces were least necessary to truly enjoy the meal.
Shad's joint was a real treat to visit, and all of us wouldn't hesitate to make ourselves repeat customers. Here's hoping that the quality of food doesn't go down as business grows for Kue'd, because after our visit we became convinced that this might be the best BBQ joint in Des Moines, and could go toe toe against any BBQ joint in the nation. Whether or not we crown them as winners of our crawl is something you'll have to come back to find out.