Right off the bat, I have to put a disclaimer on this post. The owner of Creekside Bar and Grill - Randy Adams - is a nearly lifelong friend. We've known each other for almost 40 years. And I've already written about the Creekside Bar and Grill here and here. It is one of the biggest good food secrets in the Quad Cities. They have great burgers, an outrageously great 10 oz. foot long hot dog and great chili. And now they are doing pork ribs. Good ribs. No, great ribs. I'm almost afraid to let the secret out because I'm afraid that they'll be overrun with people wanting their pork ribs.
But let me tell you the story anyway...
Randy Adams and Randy Brekke met while in an apprenticeship program at the Rock Island Arsenal nearly 20 years ago. They stayed close friends as Randy B. moved to Florida for about 10 years and then came back about four years ago to go back to work at the Arsenal. In the meantime, Randy A. had opened Creekside Bar and Grill and eventually took it over from his ex-wife a couple years after their divorce. Enter Lorrie Brekke, Randy B's oldest child. She and Randy hooked up after Randy B. moved back and they eventually got married last year. So for the sake of painting the picture, Randy B. is Randy A's father-in-law.
Randy B. is also what I would call an accomplished barbecue enthusiast. I've learned a few things from Randy B. over the years and have incorporated it into my barbecue world. A little over a year ago, Randy B. got to thinking that he could take an old conventional kitchen oven and turn it into a smoker. He could put the rack of ribs in the oven like you would with any other food, but use the bottom drawer that usually is used to store pans and such as the smoking chamber. He put it up on cinder blocks in his back yard and it worked great. He could get about 8 to 10 racks of ribs in the oven, the smoke would permeate the oven through the internal vents, and he could get a nice even temperature around the ribs. He'd cook the ribs for 4 hours, then take them inside to his real oven in the kitchen and cook them for another 4 hours. It worked slick and the ribs were delicious. He called it his "Redneck Smoker".
Randy B. began to provide Creekside Bar and Grill with his ribs and the initial reaction among the few who tried them was overly positive. He also made a wonderful homemade barbecue sauce that I have to say is one of the best homemade barbecue sauces I've ever had. It has a sweet and smoky flavor to it with just a small bite of spicy flavor at the end. I like it on French fries when I have them as a side at Creekside.
Randy also has his own homemade rub that he uses on the ribs. He cooks his ribs dry - something that I like to do with my barbecue, rather than slather the meat in sauce which will burn and detract from the taste of the meat. I've been trying to get him to give me the recipe for both his rub and the barbecue sauce, but that's a closely guarded secret.
As demand grew for Randy B's pork ribs, he had to figure out how to make a bigger smoker, one that he could use behind Creekside or take to other places if they asked for Creekside barbecue catering. A lady who frequents Creekside told Randy that she had a line on an old fuel oil storage tank - something that Randy B. was looking for when he started to draw out his design for a smoker. With the help of a welder in Bettendorf, Randy B. transformed this fuel tank into a portable smoker, complete with a trailer and hitch. They were able to fashion some racks attached to a rod that went to an electric motor that acted like a Ferris wheel inside, turning the racks of ribs to even out the heat and smoke while cooking. He also got an old top from a gas grill to act as the smoke box that he put off to the side and used a fan to push the smoke into the cooking chamber.
On paper, it was rather ingenious on Randy B's part. But in real life, he had some problems from the start. The fan melted because it got too hot near the wood box. The motor to run the racks was too small. The rod they used to attach the racks turned out that it was also too small and needed to be larger in diameter. There was heating problems and a handful of other things that he had to sort out before he could really get into smoking ribs and other meat in his smoker. Being a resourceful guy, Randy B. got things sorted out and the smoker is up and running on a regular basis just off the beer garden at Creekside. In addition to ribs, Randy B. can take out the racks and use a spit for doing a pig in the smoker. He's done that a couple times. He can also put a wire rack on top and be able to smoke pork butts or brisket if he wants.
Randy B. (pictured above right) cooks the ribs for about 4 hours at 350 degrees, then transfers them to a table top steam cooker in the kitchen at Creekside for another 4 hours. After the ribs are cooked, they put them in the refrigerator and then re-heat them when ordered. More and more rib joints are doing this - Cactus Bob's in Des Moines is one - and I'm beginning to believe this is a great way to do barbecue because the taste of the rub and the smoke flavor gets all through the meat and it's just wonderful. Some barbecue purists say that's cheating, but after having some good barbecue at both Creekside and at Cactus Bob's, I'm starting to think that it may be the way to go.
I went into Creekside a while back just to try some of the ribs from the new smoker. You can order the ribs either in 1/4 slab, 1/2 slab (Randy B. cooks 'em half slab as shown above) and full slabs. Hand-cut French fries come with the ribs. Oh, and Randy B's homemade barbecue sauce. I can't forget about that great stuff.
I ordered a 1/4 slab of ribs. I asked for some extra Randy B's barbecue sauce so I can dip my fries in it, as well. After a bit, Stephen brought me out a platter of ribs and hand-cut fries. I'm sure that he threw a couple extra bones on there for good measure just because I eat there a lot. The ribs were meaty, juicy and literally falling off the bone. There was a nice smoke ring deep into the meat and the overall taste was just wonderful.
In order to get fall off the bone ribs, you can do it two ways - the correct way of cooking the meat low and slow, or the wrong way of parboiling the meat before you stick it on a grill. There are two rather well-known places in the Quad Cities who are famous for their ribs who will parboil the meat before they cook it on a grill, then they slather the meat with a sweet sauce to try and bring back the taste of the meat that they cook out in the boiling process. Randy B's ribs were the former - he cooks his at a little higher temperature than I would cook the ribs, but these were far from dried out or overdone. They were damn fine ribs.
Randy and Lorrie Adams are always looking for ways to improve on the food at Creekside Bar and Grill. Between the great burgers and now the great barbecue, Creekside Bar continues to be one of the best kept secret for food in the Quad Cities. The ribs are just fantastic and for a homemade barbecue sauce, I've not had one that is finer. But please don't tell anyone because I don't want the place to be overrun with people who will buy all the ribs up before I can get more. Let's just keep it our little secret.
(Update - Creekside Bar and Grill was sold to a group in February of 2015 and they are planning on turning it into a sports bar. They are planning on changing the menu and revamping the building to be more of a sports bar/restaurant. Meanwhile, Randy Brekke has informed me that he is looking for another location - or possibly his own spot - in which to do barbecue.)