In Indianapolis recently, I was staying at a hotel on the north side of town. I was looking at a couple different places to try - one was an Italian place that sounded interesting, the other a barbecue place. I was literally in between the two restaurants and both of them sounded good to me. So what did I do? I flipped a coin - heads Italian; tails barbecue. The coin came up tails and I took off toward Squealers Barbecue on the northwest side of Indianapolis.
Like most barbecue places that have popped up over the past 10 years or so, Squealers got their start on the competition trail. In the late 80's and early 90's, Ron Yater used to make ribs and sauce for neighbors and friends in the backyard of his Fort Wayne, IN home. He was talked into entering some competitions and he got help from his son, Jeff, who was home for the summer while studying criminal justice at Indiana University. When the World Pork Expo was in Indianapolis in 1994, the Yaters garnered a ninth place finish out of 60 entrants in a rib competition. They decided to head out and do a series of state and regional competitions.
After graduating from college, Jeff Yater knew that his love for barbecue was stronger than looking for entry level jobs in the criminal justice field. He decided to start up his own competition team, and after securing a $25,000 loan the Squealers Q Competition team was formed. Dubbed "a professional barbecue team", Yater and his team traveled around the region with a 30-foot customized trailer that had refrigeration, ovens, prep areas and a large smoker that could handle up to 500 lbs. of meat. They went to nearly 25 different competitions one year, garnering first place awards for both their ribs and sauce.
After two years on the road, Yater decided that he needed to be home more since his wife had just given birth to their first daughter. He had worked in restaurants off and on since he was 17 and all through the time he was going to school at Indiana, so he thought owning his own barbecue joint was the ticket for him. He found a steakhouse in the suburb of Mooresville, located about 20 miles southwest of downtown Indianapolis, that the owner was willing to sell. He was able to procure a $100,000 loan in order to buy out the owner of the steakhouse and to purchase a $12,500 smoker for the place. Squealers Barbecue in Mooresville opened in 2001.
Yater worked over 100 hours a week in the business, working well past closing time to do the books, ordering food and prepping for the next day. He'd get home, get about six hours of sleep and get up to go back into work at 7:30 a.m. six days a week. Yater got some help when he hired brothers Matt and Kevin Hein, who eventually took over the day-to-day operations at the Mooresville location. Most of the profit that Yater made the first couple of years went directly back into upgrading his restaurant with new signage and interior build-outs. He eventually bought all the land surrounding his restaurant in Mooresville with plans to develop the land into retail store space.
After a couple three years in business Yater was looking to expand, but he knew he'd have to get some more help in doing so. He enlisted a life-long friend - Jim Coldren - and they set their sights on a building on W. 86th St. in Indianapolis. After buying the building and a three month renovation, they opened the second Squealers in mid-2004.
Yater and Coldren have looked at franchising the Squealers concept. They've gotten inquiries from people in Alabama and Tennessee, but Yater is looking for a more local base for his first franchises. They've hired a consulting firm to help them with the logistics of franchising and are waiting for their first franchisee to come forward.
Barbecue competitions were still in Jeff Yater's bones, and a couple years ago he bought a stretch RV with a matching trailer and began to travel around the Midwest entering rib contests. He won a couple competitions and was eventually invited to the Super Bowl of rib competitions - the American Royal barbecue competition in Kansas City. In his first American Royal, Squealers scored in the top 10 percent of the open competition. They've since been invited back to the American Royal and also to the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, TN.
I found the Squealers Barbecue location just east of the intersection of Zionsville Road and W. 86th St., just down the street from the Trader's Point shopping center. (see map) As I walked in, I was greeted by a large display of trophys, ribbons and other awards that Squealers had garnered from their competitions in the past. They were certainly proud of their awards and I hoped their barbecue would back them up.
I got to the hostess stand and there was no one in sight. I took a look into the bar area to the right - there were some people eating in the booths, but the bartender was nowhere in sight. The lights to a room off the side of the bar - probably a party room - were off. I went back to the hostess area and looked around the dining room. There were some people eating in the booths, but no servers were around. I thought, "Uh oh. This is not a good sign."
A few moments later, a couple young ladies came out of the kitchen and down the hall toward the hostess stand. One of them asked if they could help me and I asked, "Are you guys still open for dinner?"
She said, "Yes sir, until 9 p.m. Would you like a table or a booth?" She took me over to a booth along the far wall and left off a menu for me to go through. Not long after that, a very outgoing server by the name of Jessica came by to greet me. She welcomed me to Squealers and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I ordered an Upland Brewery (a microbrewery out of Bloomington, IN) pale ale.
I took a look through the menu and I immediately looked for the sampler platters. They had baby back ribs or St. Louis style ribs on the menu. They also had rib tips, Texas-style brisket, pulled pork and smoked half chickens. They also had a number of barbecued meat sandwiches on the menu, as well as a number of specialty sandwiches including burgers, pork tenderloins, and a ground pork burger.
By the time Jessica brought back my beer, I figured out that I wanted to do the three meat sampler - brisket, pulled pork and baby back ribs. (It was a $2.95 upcharge above the regular $18.95 sampler plate for the ribs.) She asked me what kind of sauce I wanted with the barbecue, "Mild, hot or a mixture?" I told her a mixture would be fine. Then she asked what kind of sides that I wanted with the barbecue. They had over a dozen different sides to choose from including mac and cheese, Amish-style potato salad, steak fries, a sweet potato, and home style green beans. I saw the barbecued beans and took those, but was sort of stumped as to what I wanted for my other side. I asked Jessica what she recommended and she said, "I really like the cole slaw. It's a creamy Amish-style cole slaw." I signed up for that.
By the time I finished my first beer, Jessica brought my barbecue platter out to me. There was a lot of food on the plate. The baby back ribs had to be almost or right at half a rack. There was a lot of pulled pork and sliced brisket, as well as good sized sides of the barbecue baked beans and cole slaw. A couple biscuits were on the plate as well. (More on the biscuits later.)
The meat was slathered with a mixture of Squealers sweet and smoky sauce and their hot barbecue sauce. It had a little bit of spiciness to the taste, but it wasn't over the top. I also found a hint of honey and what I thought were apples in the taste of the sauce. I found out later on that they use concentrated apple juice in their sweet and smoky sauce. I'm usually not big on the taste of apple, but it was still all right. I almost asked for a couple sides of just the hot sauce, but decided to trudge on with what I had.
The meat on the baby back ribs pulled away easily from the bone. The taste of the meat was very good with a lot of moisture and tenderness in each bite. The bark on the outer part of the rib meat had a great flavor to it, as well.
The brisket flaked apart when I went to cut it with my fork. It, too, was very tender and juicy with a lot of great flavor to it. It was one of the better smoked briskets I've had at a barbecue joint. It also reminded me that I needed to smoke a brisket at home sometime in the near future.
And the pulled pork was wonderful, as well. Chunky and stringy, the pulled pork was very tender and tasted great. It was probably number three on my list of what I Iiked of the meats I ordered, but it would have been very difficult to rate them 1, 2 or 3. It was more like 1A, 1B and 1C.
The sides were not as good as the meat, but that's usually the case at most barbecue places I've been to. The barbecue baked beans were all right, but the did taste a little better when I added some of the sweat and smoky, and hot barbecue sauce to them. But Jessica steered me wrong on the cole slaw - it was pretty bland in taste. I only had a couple bites and said, "Eh!"
But the most surprising aspect of the meal were the biscuits, actually they were more like rolls. I don't care for bisquits all that much, but something caught my attention with these. First of all, there was a small container of some sort of a sauce sitting between the two biscuits. I dabbed my fork into the sauce to taste it and found that it was an apple sauce that tasted like it had some brown sugar in it. (I found out later it was Squealers homemade apple butter.) Something made me pull apart one of the biscuits and I dipped it in the sauce. Oh, man! Was it good! There was something on the outer skin of the roll that was sweet, like they had brushed it with a sugar/butter concoction before they were baked. Only they weren't baked - they were deep fried. It gave the outer shell a crunchy texture with a light and fluffy inside. The biscuits were just outstanding.
As I was finishing up, Jessica was talking with a couple guys sitting at a table waiting for a couple more people to show up. She was asking them if they wanted to start out with any appetizers such as their fried ribs. I couldn't help myself. I turned to her talking to the guys and said, "Excuse me. Did you say fried ribs?"
One of the guys said, "Yeah, I want to hear about these, too!"
She explained that they take their ribs, batter them up and then deep fry them for a minute. She said, "They're really good!" Well, she also told me that the cole slaw was really good, so I had to take that with a grain of salt, as well. So did the guys. They passed on the fried ribs.
I was stuffed when I finished my meal at Squealers Barbecue. The food was excellent for a barbecue joint. I wasn't overly enamored with the sauces and I should have ordered the hot sauce on everything. Jessica had a wonderful personality and made me feel welcome and comfortable during my visit. She was on top of every request I had and she got a nice tip in return. Squealers were more than worthy of the awards they've garnered for their barbecue. And this barbecue aficionado gives two enthusiastic "thumbs up" for the barbecue at Squealers.