For five years in a row, a Cedar Falls restaurant has been a bracket contender for Pulled Pork Madness. This year, Starbeck's Smokehouse finally earned the sweet taste of victory for receiving the most votes in the social media contest, presented by the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
Pulled Pork Madness is an annual quest to find Iowa's best pulled pork sandwich. The contest follows a bracket-style narrowing process that mimics the NCAA's college basketball tournament.
Starbeck's beat The Roadhouse in Orange City in the championship round.
"The competition really heats up during Pulled Pork Madness," says Hannah Spurr, IPPA's consumer outreach director. "We love the friendly camaraderie and watching restaurants get creative to rally the most votes."
Last month, 622 pork fans nominated 62 Iowa restaurants for the top honor. The two restaurants with the most votes in each of IPPA's eight districts made up the starting "Sweet 16" bracket. Voters then decided which advanced to the "Elite Eight," "Final Four," and championship round, which wrapped up March 31.
"Pork is Iowa, so what an honor for us to be part of one of the greatest things in the state," says Jeff Starbeck, who owns the business with Cindy Herman. "It means a lot to us. It means a lot to our employees. And it means a lot to the farmers who provide us with the meat."
Each week Starbeck's goes through 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of pork shoulders (commonly referred to as pork butts). The meat is thoroughly rubbed with a house blend of seasonings that include salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, cumin, granulated garlic, onion and cocoa powder. The butts are then slow-roasted over cherry, hickory or oak wood for about 12 hours, until they reach 195 degrees Fahrenheit.
The meat is served between two slices of authentic San Francisco sourdough bread, a recipe the owners developed with Hy-Vee. Homemade barbecue sauces are available on the side.
Starbeck's pulled pork also is sold in quarter-pound quantities, as well as featured in other menu items. "J Moe's Loaded Fries" offers pulled pork and cheese sauce over a bed of hand-cut French fries; "Alex's Iowa Philly" features pulled pork on a hoagie bun, smothered in cheese sauce and topped with jalapenos; and "Ever's Sassy BBQ salad" includes pulled pork as a meat option.
Starbeck and Herman opened the original Starbeck's location, with a seating capacity of just 25, in August 2017. Last fall they moved to a much larger space nearby.
Prior to Starbeck's, Starbeck had about 30 years of experience running restaurants in California, while Herman had been a waitress at a local chain restaurant. Neither knew much about barbecue, so they turned to Internet tutorials and tips from family.
Along with bragging rights, Starbeck's will receive $250 and a Pulled Pork Madness plaque.
See full list of the 2022 Pulled Pork Madness restaurants that competed in the bracket rounds here.
Past winners are Smokin' Butt Barbeque in Davenport (2021); Whatcha Smokin’? BBQ + Brew in Luther (2020); Warehouse Barbecue Co. + Brewhouse in Ottumwa (2019); and Moo's BBQ in Newton (2018).
Source: Iowa Pork Producers Association, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.