Skinny's Barbeque wins best pulled pork in Iowa

IPPPA Pulled Pork Madness starts with 16 contenders and follows a narrowing process similar to the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament.

April 1, 2024

2 Min Read

A Texas-style barbecue restaurant in Muscatine is where you’ll find the best pulled pork in Iowa, according to voters in a recent social media contest sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Voting closed this morning on one of the tightest final matches in Pulled Pork Madness history, with Skinny’s Barbeque holding off Barrel Smoke BBQ of Templeton. The bracket-style competition, in its seventh year, starts with 16 contenders and follows a narrowing process similar to the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. The public determines which restaurants advance to the next round.

At Skinny’s, pork butts are traditionally slathered with mustard to bind an equal mix of salt and pepper. Owner Cord Kleist uses a thick-cut pepper to grow a bark, the flavorful black crust that forms on the outside of the meat during the cooking process. He only recently began adding a special blend of seasonings.

The pork is then cooked on a gas-powered rotisserie smoker at a low temperature for about 14 to 15 hours, and gets wrapped for the last couple of hours to seal in the moisture and juices. Oak wood is added as the meat cooks, to enhance the taste.

Each sandwich is served on a shiny brioche toasted bun, with house-made pickles and onions on the side, along with a choice of one homemade side dish. Three flavors of house-made sauces are available — sweet, spicy, or Carolina tangy gold.

Customers will find pulled pork featured in other menu items, including the Grilled Mac Daddy, a sandwich that piles macaroni and cheese, pork, white cheddar, and smoked gouda on sourdough bread. Pulled pork is among the protein options for tacos, quesadillas, and nachos, and is available for purchase by the pound. Skinny’s, which offers catering, as well, goes through 250 to 350 pounds of pork each week.

The starting Pulled Pork Madness bracket was based on public nominations submitted earlier this month, and about 850 pork fans nominated nearly 70 Iowa restaurants for the top honor. The two restaurants with the most votes in each of IPPA’s eight districts made up the initial lineup.

Kleist, 29, opened Skinny’s in September 2019. The Muscatine native got started cooking meat on a Traeger grill his parents gave him for his 21st birthday, and he became inspired by Texas techniques after visiting a friend in Austin. He previously worked at his family’s restaurant and sports bar, Boonie’s on the Avenue in downtown Muscatine. Skinny’s is located about two blocks away, along the Mississippi River.

Winning the title “brings a tear to my eye,” says Kleist, who will receive $250 and a Pulled Pork Madness plaque. “It’s crazy to see how far we’ve come and adapted and changed.”

Previous winners include The Flying Elbow, Marshalltown (2023); Starbeck's Smokehouse, which has since relocated to Waterloo (2022); Smokin’ Butt Barbeque, Davenport (2021); Whatcha Smokin? BBQ + Brew, Luther (2020); Warehouse Barbecue Co. + Brewhouse, Ottumwa (2019); and the now-closed Moo’s BBQ, Newton (2018).

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