MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The smoke wafts through a rural Chisago County neighborhood, as racks and racks of ribs, pork shoulders, brisket are all being kissed by Minnesota oak and apple wood.
“My wife is maybe sick of the smell of smoke,” Chris Leibel said.
Liebel, his father-in-law J.T. Raymond, and Jeremy Huspek are all co-owners of Smoke’s Pub N’ Grill.
“My dog loves it,” Raymond said.
“Our influences heavily come from Memphis, my favorite barbecue comes from Memphis, Tennessee,” Leibel said.
The ribs are insanely good. The smoker is one of the only in the state that’s located entirely outside.
“This is where all the magic happens,” Leibel said.
The smoker is custom-made, a “Bubba Grill” from Macon, Georgia. These guys’ love for southern barbecue traditions combines with an almost Northwoods Minnesota perspective in the town of East Bethel (the neighborhood is called Coon Lake Beach).
“Everybody knows everybody, generations of families that are still here. You don’t see that too much, it’s really cool,” Huspek said.
Huspek and Leibel did every job at the old Holiday House restaurant and White Bear Bowl, starting as dishwashers at the age of 13.
“I was cooking when I was 16. Done almost every position in the restaurant business,” Huspek said, adding he didn’t really know anything about barbecue before they opened Smokey’s.
Leibel was the barbecue expert: his father was always by the smoker, his cousins did legendary hog roasts.
“It’s all about the quality of the meat, rub you put on it, and love you work into it,” he said.
In 2012, they had their chance. A former bar came up for sale. Leibel and Raymond were doing a catering business and were ready to open their own place. At the same time, the old Holiday House and White Bear Bowl was going out of business, so the guys bought the old bowling alley lanes, and turned the wood into the tables that fill Smokey’s.
“It’s mindblowing. We’re dining on tables made from the lanes we grew up bowling on,” Leibel said.
Respect for the past combined with forward-looking cooking has made this spot a hit. They make all their sauces in-house.
“We actually smoke the vegetables, bring to kitchen, puree, cook them down in bourbon and build the sauce around that,” Leibel said.
They take pork shoulder and pull it by hand, then put that smoked pork inside an egg roll mix. The brisket is smoked for anywhere between 10 and 12 hours, but the secret seasoning is where it’s at.
The barnyard sandwich is a 6-ounce burger or chicken breast, topped with smoked brisket or pulled pork. The hog melt is smoked pulled pork, bacon, and barbecue sauce stuffed inside a grilled cheese sandwich.
Clearly the business wouldn’t succeed if the only customers were from the area, and Smokey’s is drawing customers from all around the region.
“We get people saying they’re from Iowa, all over, it’s pretty crazy,” Huspek said.
The restaurant has more than 120 craft beers too, a point of pride for this group of owners who are living their dream.
“To me there’s nothing better than sitting down with good beer and good barbeque,” Leibel said.
Smokey’s Pub N’ Grill
552 Lincoln Drive
Coon Lake Beach/East Bethel, MN