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WRNL Eats: Cactus Bob's BBQ Corral & Woody's Smoke Shack

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The next two contenders for our BBQ crawl crown emerge from the side of the ring.

Our sample platter at Woody's Smoke Shack.
Our sample platter at Woody's Smoke Shack.

Next up from the grand journey that was the first-ever (and likely last-ever) WRNL BBQ crawl come our reviews for Cactus Bob's BBQ Corral in Johnston and Woody's Smoke Shack in Des Moines. In case you happened to miss our written hand job review for Kue'd Smokehouse, be sure to check it out as well.

Now for a little background on the two restaurants featured in this article...

Cactus Bob's opened in 2005 and is owned by friends Robert Prince and Craig DeDecker. According to their website, the former is a retired sheetmetal worker and self-taught gourmet, while the latter is a Certified Executive Chef and army veteran with 20+ years in the food service business.

Meanwhile, Woody's own Woody Wasson is the pitmaster of the joint while Cheryl Wasson works as the boss. They opened their restaurant in 2002 and even had to expand in 2008 after their barbecue became so popular following numerous championships at BBQ competitions around the midwest.

Just how good are these metro BBQ staples? Our staff put them to the test. Here's a collection of quotes from our staff on the experiences we had at Cactus Bob's and Woody's.

THE AMBIANCE

Cactus Bob's

"This place feels like a former Mexican restaurant that you'd find in a less than safe part of town and kind of smells vaguely of stale fried food. Takes me back to the days standing next to a fryer at Taco Bell for 6 hours. The seating area reminds me of an American Legion hall or church basement."

Woody's

"Reminds me of a tackle shop from the outside, but like if hipsters took that look and then applied it to a new construction. There's a really small indoor seating area, but a large patio (with a very friendly cat!) that offers picnic table seating and has a cool selection of art. The decorating gives a homey farm kitchen feel. Lots of distressed/weathered wood and signs. Cool place with friendly staff. The bathroom is outrageously nice. Like, it has fake plants and a rug on the floor, nice."

THE SIDES

Cactus Bob's

"The sides are definitely the star here and even those are incredibly average. The potato salad is on par or slightly below what you'd get from HyVee."

Woody's

"Woody's had delicious cornbread and it was the favorite of all the cornbreads I tasted that day. The cheesy grits are a worthy side."

"The cheese grits have a good level of heat to them, but it would probably start to get overpowering if you ate a whole serving of this side. The cornbread is a real winner—crumbly and not overly sweet."

"I liked that they offered Jambalaya."

THE MEATS

Cactus Bob's

"The sausage was the best meat we had at Cactus Bob's, but I still wasn't impressed. The other meats we sampled were supposed to be chicken, but I'm fairly confident they were just rubber."

"My initial thought was 'seriously?' I have a hard time seeing how this place has been around so long. It wasn't so much that it was outright disgusting, it just seemed extremely mediocre. The meat would have been satisfactory at a small town high school graduation reception, but to go out and pay for? Nah."

"The meat is what you'd expect to get from a funeral potluck. All the meats needed sauce and the different meats weren't really distinguishable from each other. Everything was dry. The sausage stood out has having a flavor that was somehow different than the other meats, but still wasn't anything worthy of a return trip."

Woody's

"The pulled pork is tender, but lacked flavor on its own. The brisket was also tender but also doesn't have much flavor on its own."

"I thought their pulled pork was average and none of the meats stood out."

"Love the pulled pork here. I was in no mood to eat at this point, but have always enjoyed previous trips to Woody's."

THE SAUCES

Cactus Bob's

"Apparently they're known for their sauces, and they were okay, but not near good enough to make me desire a return trip."

"The sauces were interesting and the sides were decent, but the cheap beer was far and away the most redeeming quality."

"Spice is the only flavor I get from any of their selection of sauces. The sauce "scale" doesn't seem to have any rhyme or reason to taste or level of heat. There were 9 sauces listed on a board in their lobby plus an additional 2 or 3 table sauces. 0/7, would not recommend."

Woody's

"Not the best sauce we had all day, but their sides were pretty good and made up for it."

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As you can tell, we weren't impressed at all by Cactus Bob's, but perhaps it's because we ordered the wrong platter (we got the Copper Canyon on their menu, seen below). No one really desires a return trip, but it might be necessary at some point to validate our first experience.

Cactus Bob's

Meanwhile, Woody's had a solid showing. At the point in the day we visited them, most of us were either full or dying a slow and painful death by food (CanAzn). We all appreciated their sides and if you're in the area on a nice day, we recommend dropping by to eat some BBQ on their patio.