Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

BBQ at its best in Nelson, Wisconsin September 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:56 PM
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WISCONSIN MAY BE KNOWN for its cheese. But one small Wisconsin town is noted for both its cheese and BBQ. That would be Nelson, Wisconsin, across the Mississippi River from Wabasha, Minnesota.

Nelson Cheese Factory serves as a destination for Wisconsin and imported cheeses.

You can't miss the vibrant exterior of B & B Barbeque in Nelson, Wisconsin.

You can’t miss the vibrant exterior of B & B Barbecue in Nelson, Wisconsin.

And just down the street at 208 N. Main, you’ll find J & J Barbecue, a mom-and-pop restaurant serving Southern style BBQ that’s mouth-watering delicious.

Love this sign at the order counter.

Love this sign at the order counter.

Owners Jim and Laura Grandy, Minnesota natives who once lived in South Carolina, have perfected their smoked meats and their specialty mustard-based BBQ sauce.

J & J features hickory smoked meats.

J & J features hickory smoked meats.

The tantalizing smokey aroma will draw you off the highway into this one-of-a-kind joint as much as the BBQ and mustard hue exterior and signage promising the best ribs on the river.

My Southern BBQ Pork Sandwich served with savory baked beans and potato salad.

My generous Southern BBQ pork sandwich served with savory baked beans and potato salad.

While my husband and I didn’t try the ribs on a recent lunch stop, I ordered the Southern BBQ pork sandwich and found it simply superb. Randy chose a wrap—Carolina pulled pork with blue ribbon coleslaw tucked inside—a choice I found tasty, but he didn’t. I wondered why he was ordering a wrap because that isn’t his style and he doesn’t like coleslaw. But he felt pressured to order at the walk-up counter, the one negative part of our dining experience. When you’re new to a restaurant, you need time to study the posted menu.

I love the unique and kitschy interior.

I love the unique and kitschy interior.

On that particular Thursday, a steady steam of customers stopped to dine in or carry out Styrofoam trays packed with BBQed goodness.

You'll find more than BBQed meat here.

You’ll find more than BBQed meat here.

I’d highly recommend J & J BBQ. Just, please, don’t do as one grandma, overheard asking her grandson, “Would you like the chicken tenders or a hot dog?” I wish she’d encouraged him to try the fabulous BBQ.

Walk past this sign and into the next room to enter the bar area. On the other side of that you will find a gift shop, Laura's Place.

Walk past this sign and into the next room to enter the bar area. On the other side of that you will find a gift shop, Laura’s Place.

FYI: J & J Barbecue is open Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.; and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Fancy pheasant at the BBQ contest June 2, 2011

Members of The Q Crew from Waldorf set up their tent and competed recently at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. It is the first time the event has been held here.

HERE’S HOW MUCH LITTLE I know about fancy food. Once while dining out with my 23-year-old daughter, I mistook balsamic vinegar for chocolate. I wondered why chocolate had been drizzled across a plate and served to us with bread.

So when I saw bacon-wrapped pheasant fancily-plated at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault recently, I was beyond impressed. This could have been on any upscale restaurant menu. But this appetizer had been prepared on the grill by an Appleton, Wisconsin, team and sent to the judges in the open class competition.

The artfully displayed bacon-wrapped pheasant prepared by a team from eastern Wisconsin.

This crisscross of raspberry chipotle sauce, bacon-wrapped pheasant and several sprigs of whatever artfully arranged on a square white plate would have wowed even Chef Gordon Ramsay. I was wowed, by the presentation and the taste—love that raspberry chipotle.

My husband and I sampled several meats as we wandered the Rice County Fairgrounds competition site. Chicken. Pork. Ribs. Brisket. And then an apple-topped cheesecake.

Another Wisconsin team handed me a fork and told my husband and me to eat whatever we wanted. They had prepared 60 pounds of meat for the competition, were tired of eating it and didn't want to take any home. So we didn't hesitate to taste some mighty fine BBQ and dug right in.

I wanted to try the apple dumplings tended by Tom Mcintosh of the fancy pheasant team, but those were going to the judges.

Tempting apple dumplings.

All in all, even though I arrived too late to watch competitors grill (due to pouring rain) and prepare their entries, I saw enough to realize you can do a lot with a grill, knowledge, creativity and a love of cooking.

Left-over grilled meat prepared by a team from western Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From backyard barbecuing to competitive barbecuing May 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:39 AM
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An example of the barbecued meat prepared for the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest.

Tom Mcintosh of Appleton, Wisconsin, shows off bacon-wrapped pheasant with raspberry chipotle sauce for the open class division.

THEY START OUT innocently enough, barbecuing in the backyard.

Then, before they know it, they’re competing in barbecue competitions, driving all over the country with their gargantuan grills loaded into trailers.

Some have created their own rubs and sauces, while others doctor up purchased sauces.

They spend hundreds of dollars on meats, entry fees and travel expenses. Maybe, eventually, if they win enough contests, they’ll break even.

I met several of these die-hard barbecue contestants Saturday while walking the grounds at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault. By the time I arrived in the early afternoon, the teams had already turned in their mandatory entries—chicken, pork ribs, pork and brisket. Teams of judges evaluate the food on taste, tenderness and appearance in this Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event.

The competitors had been grilling for hours—under tents in pouring rain—when I got to the contest site at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Now they were relaxing, some of them kicking back with bottles of beer, others visiting with attendees and/or packing up.

As I wandered the soggy grounds with my husband, sidestepping puddles, I spied grills that looked more like space age inventions than grills. Mighty impressive. The Q Crew from Waldorf has even appropriately named its grill “the pig casket.”

Since I’m a word person, I noticed the creative names these teams of barbecue enthusiasts have given themselves: BurntOut Smokers, Rebel Fire Que’n Company, The Monkeys’ Uncles Competition BBQ Team… I didn’t pause to ask the stories behind the names and logos; I simply snapped photos.

At least one group of guys, from western Wisconsin, had time to talk. Not about their team name, which I don’t remember, but about the reason they do this: “To get a break from the wives and kids.” Not that they don’t love their families, but…

These buddies especially enjoy the fun of small town BBQ contests, like the one in Gilmanton, Wisconsin, where they start the day with Bloody Marys.

They’re an easy-going, laid-back bunch, these barbecuing fanatics. Or at least they are once the meats are turned into judges. Before that, I’d guess the atmosphere under those team tents rates as tense. After all, they’re in it to win it.

BBQ sauces and rubs were for sale.

Contestants arrived with mega-sized grills.

Creative team names were posted on tents and trailers and vehicles.

The Q Crew from Waldorf appropriately calls their grill, in the background, the "pig casket."

The team trailer for spitfire, one of many creative BBQ team names.

WATCH FOR MORE BBQ images in one more blog post.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Iowegians bring their barbecuing passion to Minnesota May 22, 2011

Bubba'Q's logo and slogan on the side of their BBQ trailer.


They’re from Ottumwa, Iowa. That’s “A-ttum-wa (short “a”), not “Oh-ttum-wa (Minnesota long “o”).

They’re about as cheerful and friendly a couple as I’ve met. Talkative with a definite accent that I would have placed as more southern Missouri than southeastern Iowa. They set me straight, in a kindly way, on the pronunciation of Ottumwa, a community of 25,000 along the Des Moines River.

Big smiles accompanied their language lesson and an intro to barbecuing at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault Saturday. Nearly 60 teams competed for about $10,000 in prizes in the two-day Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event.

While Bubba and Sabrina didn’t win a prize this time—they have taken grand champion honors in other competitions—they seem content simply to barbecue, win or not. Clearly, this is their passion.

They own Bubba-Q’s, a restaurant and catering business in Ottumwa that features traditional pit style barbecued meats. The dessert menu of scratch made pies, triple chocolate fudge espresso brownies, banana delight pudding and more sounds mighty tasty too.

I wasn’t able to sample any of Bubba-Q’s meats, but Bubba tells me their style is “a little sweet, a little heat.”

I’ll take his word for it.

The ribs they prepare for competitions differ, they say, from the ribs prepared in their restaurant, where customers prefer them falling-off-the-bone tender. The judges, want tender, but chewable, still on the bone ribs.

The two agree that no matter how often and where they compete, and they’ve traveled to many competitions as far away as New Mexico and Las Vegas, they never quite know what will please the judges. Bubba says that’s OK. Then he smiles. Again. He’s just that kind of guy—with a face that shows he’s happy to be barbecuing, whether in Iowa or Minn-e-soooooo-ta.

Bubba and Sabrina's home on wheels and traveling BBQ central.

Even their pick-up truck advertises their barbecuing passion.

WATCH FOR MORE photos from the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in future blog posts.

For the first time ever, Faribault hosted the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Barbecue heaven July 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:13 PM
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IF YOU’RE GONNA BARBECUE, you better have beer.

And, if you’re a novice at barbecuing ribs, then the bible helps too.

Not that my husband turned to God’s Word Saturday night during his first-ever attempt to make barbecued ribs. But he did refer to The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen.

My husband checked out The Barbecue! Bible from the local library to find a recipe for grilled ribs. I don't know why he chose a Memphis recipe.

Flipping to the Book of High on Hog, the second to last chapter, “Memphis-Style Ribs,” he read not of sweet, flowing honey, but of cumin and cayenne, pepper and paprika. Apparently the tribe of Memphis prefers spicy to sweet.

Following the written word, he mixed a dry rub of mostly spicy spices with a bit of brown sugar tossed in for a touch of sweetness. But because we were missing an ingredient for the mop sauce—namely yellow mustard—he substituted Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce for the homemade sauce. What can I say? Sometime we obey; sometimes we commit sins of omission.

But he certainly didn’t omit the beer. Apparently when you barbecue, you need beer, so says the Book of, well, uh…

While my husband grilled, he drank beer and did a sudoku puzzle.

After fueling up the Weber grill with charcoal, he grabbed a slab of wood from an oak pallet and axed the piece into wood chips. I watched and uttered, “Thou shalt not cut off thy fingers,” or something similar.

Next he baptized the wood—total immersion style—and later tossed the sticks inside the hot-as-you-know-where grill.

Flipping the ribs, adding wood for a smoked flavor...

Some two hours later, after more stoking of the fire, tending of the pork and imbibing of beer (for me a strawberry margarita) we feasted on savory ribs, fresh baby red potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, in a meal fit for royalty.

And if gluttony is a sin, then on Saturday I sinned grievously.

Grilling pork ribs over charcoal and wood made for a savory meat.

Fresh baby red potatoes and sweetcorn, purchased at the Faribault Farmers' Market, rounded out the meal.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling