I'm a Texan, so it has taken me a few days to get up the courage to write this.
The best pork ribs I've ever eaten weren't cooked in the Lone Star State. No, they were cooked about 950 miles north of ATX in Des Moines, Iowa, at a place called Smokey D's BBQ.
Sherry Jacobson and I stopped there in the middle of a recent Monday afternoon while driving to Minnesota.
"Oh, yeah," I said after taking a bite of a wonderfully seasoned, perfectly cooked and cut rib. "That's just a damn good looking, good tasting rib, isn't it?"
"It is," Sherry said. "It looks solid. You don't know it's going to melt in your mouth until you get it up there."
We had a pretty good idea the ribs would be good at Smokey D's, a joint run by barbecue competition wizards Darren and Sherry Warth. They won best ribs and were grand champs at the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in March, beating about 250 other teams.
After the contest, I read several news stories about the Warths and their big win. The best quote came from a press release issued by Smithfield, which sponsors Smokey D's competition team.
"That wasn’t a $100 rack of ribs that won in Houston," Darren Warth said, "that was the same rack of ribs that any backyarder can buy day in and day out at their local grocery stores or at Walmart."
The Warths started Smokey D’s a decade ago in a trailer in their driveway. They now have three locations in Iowa's capital city. We ate at the main joint in northern Des Moines, about a block off I-35. The place is filled with trophies and ribbons from many of the 800 category awards and 75 state competitions the couple has won.
My favorite: An entire show window of hardware from the Praise the Lard contest in Murphysboro, Ill. As barbecue contest names go, that just might be the best ever.
While we were impressed by the ribs, we weren't so much by the brisket, turkey and sausage that we ordered. Just average taste and texture.
"You know, after you taste the ribs, why bother with anything else," Sherry Jacobson said. "I'm going back to the ribs."
So did I.