When you think about it, ribs are an intimidating prospect—stacked with bones, awkward to maneuver and skimpy on meat. But what other food lets us indulge our inner Neanderthal, has a built-in handle and leaves a good gnaw for the dog? Like any popular dish, there is much contention about what constitutes the “best” rib: pork or beef? Dry rub or wet mop? Slow-cooked or grilled? Depends on whom you ask and where you are: Kansas City, Memphis, Texas and the Carolinas all boast righteously different opinions.
In the Upper Midwest, we are more casual in our rib rating—after all, more kinds of ribs means more ribs to love, and we love them all! Whether getting them to-go for a lazy picnic or indulging at your local eatery, barbecued ribs are the quintessential summertime fare. Here is a splattering—uh, smattering—of the best finger-licking ribs around. Don’t forget the wet naps!
Memphis-style Barbecue Ribs
CG Hooks and Eatery
Pork ribs win the popularity contest in barbecue land, prized for their tenderness, high ratio of meat to bone and inimitable porky tang. Head over to CG Hooks, a veritable mecca for barbecue, for some Memphis-style, Minnesota-grown pork ribs. Breathe in the heavenly aroma as you approach—this place is both smokehouse and restaurant. Slow cooking produces a juicy, meat falling-off-the-bone rib, and the choice of different sauces—Memphis Ghost Sauce, Carolina Gold and Kansas City—are a pleasure to mix and match. What goes with ribs? We like to balance smoke and char with creamy and cooling: here, it’s a side of home made red cabbage coleslaw and foamy 1919 root beer on tap. Full order, $21.95. 4441 S. Lake Ave., White Bear Lake; 651.493.6763.
Korean-style Beef Short Ribs
Red Lantern Sushi
Kitchens around the world have succumbed to the siren call of the rib, and Korean short are one of the best sticky-finger versions going, especially at Red Lantern Sushi. Also known as kalbi or galbi, they are marinated overnight in a pungent combination of soy sauce, sake, applesauce, chili and doenjang, a salty fermented bean paste similar to miso. The meat sizzles on a super-hot grill, releasing the sugars in the marinade and melting the fat around the bones to create the most succulent, flavorful mouthful of meat imaginable. One order has six pieces, which is best enjoyed on the beautiful patio. Market price. 2125 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 612.281.3080.
Mike's Barbecue Racing Ribs
Gearheads Saloon and Grill
Mike Baker is the eponymous gearhead at this convivial joint; the former Ford technician worked on perfecting the ribs with the same care he used to rebuild a 1965 Mustang. It took two years to arrive at the ribs of his dreams, adjusting rubs, sauces, cooking times and techniques. It’s a brawny, meaty, manly meal, but the sauce is “sweet and sassy with a little kick to it,” according to Baker. Rib spelled backwards is beer, kind of—a tall frosty one tastes mighty fine with a rack. $15.99. 1350 Highway 96, White Bear Lake; 651.447.4033.
67th Street and Michelbob's Heat-and-Eat Ribs
DIY’ers, get your own ribs from the marvelous butcher at Kowalski’s, our homegrown purveyor of all that’s worth eating. You’ll find hardwood-smoked, barbecued meat (Prairie Fresh premium pork!) from the storied 67th Street Barbecue to heat and serve at home; the market also carries Michelbob’s, another award-winning rib joint in Florida. They’re easy to cook—just follow the directions on the label: Douse with sauce, bake and douse some more. If you’d rather not bake and douse, grab some hot ones from the prepared food case for an impromptu, if messy, picnic. 67th Street, $11.99/pound. Michelbob’s, $13.99/pound. 4391 Lake Ave. S., White Bear Lake; 651.429.5913.
Washington Square Bar & Grill
Kitchen manager Hector Arias, admitted rib snob and perfectionist, slow-roasts a full rack of pork ribs seasoned with a dry rub and finishes with house-made barbecue sauce. Get your fingers busy with an intriguingly complex pork experience: smoky, peppery and aromatic with spice. These ribs command a set of loyal followers, which Arias rates a six on the Minnesota scale of not-too-spicy. Full rack, $19.25. 4736 Washington Square, White Bear Lake; 651.407.7162.
Slow-roasted Country-style Ribs
Jethro’s Char-House & Pub
With a name like Jethro’s Char-House, you know you’re in the right place for some tasty and delectable barbecued ribs. Jethro’s special cut ribs are roasted just how they should be—low and slow—and are expertly basted in the chef’s special barbecue sauce. Pair with one of the many tempting sides and, yep, you’ve got yourself a rib-ticklin’ meal. $13.95. 3140 Century Ave. N., Mahtomedi; 651.770.2443.
Big Mike's Barbecue Baby Back Ribs
Bierstube Steakhouse and Grill
When the menu reads “While They Last!” It’s a not-so-subtle code to get on that stuff stat! The Bierstube’s supremely chowable baby back ribs hail from the top of the rib cage between the spine and below the loin muscle, which makes them oh-so-tender. The only question is whether to get a half or a full rack. A hearty appetite makes quick work of a half; a whole one is sure to sate the hungriest of lumberjacks. Half rack, $13.99; full rack, $18.99. 2670 E. County Road E, White Bear Lake; 651.773.5854.