Pulled pork has gone from a rotating special to a menu favorite at The Flying Elbow in Marshalltown. Now, the classic sandwich has earned statewide attention as the winner of the sixth-annual Pulled Pork Madness, a social media contest sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA).
The restaurant won the title after advancing through a bracket-style narrowing process similar to the NCAA’s college basketball tournament. The bracket was based on public nominations submitted earlier this month, and The Flying Elbow took down The Lucky Pig Pub & Grill, Ogden, in the final matchup.
“This contest is a way to attract new pork fans and encourages everyone to road trip around Iowa to try different restaurants that are serving up some of the best pork in the nation,” said Hannah Spurr, IPPA’s consumer outreach director.
Nearly 160 pork fans nominated 63 Iowa restaurants for the top honor. The two restaurants with the most votes in each of IPPA’s eight districts made up the “Sweet 16” bracket. Voters then decided which moved on to the “Elite Eight,” “Final Four,” and championship round, which wrapped up March 30.
“Gosh, what a cool honor,” said Garrett Goodman, owner of The Flying Elbow. “Barbecue was kind of a Sunday tradition when I was growing up, and I love serving people the best food I can.”
The Flying Elbow started in 2017 as a wrestling-themed food truck, selling hot dogs. Burgers were later added to the menu. When the restaurant opened in its current location in September 2021, Goodman purchased a residential-sized smoker and began offering limited barbecue specials. He recently upgraded to a 300-gallon wood-fired smoker, cooking pork shoulders “the traditional way, using old-school techniques” — low and slow over oak and cherry wood.
Prior to smoking, pork shoulders are rubbed heavily with salt, pepper, and garlic. Plus, a little brown sugar is sprinkled on to help ensure a good bark, the flavorful black crust that forms on the outside of the meat during the cooking process, which is about 11 hours.
“Classic Pulled Pork” is served with pickles and homemade barbecue sauce on a Hawaiian-style sesame seed burger bun or Texas toast. The meat is topped with coleslaw by request.
Pulled pork also is featured in “souped-up” versions of the Classic sandwich, Goodman noted. “Pig Show” includes cheddar and Havarti cheeses, macaroni and cheese, pulled pork, barbecue sauce, and green onion. “Razor’s Edge” is what Goodman calls “an upscale version of a Cuban,” with pulled pork, shaved pit ham, Havarti cheese, honey mustard barbecue sauce, dill pickles, and pickled red onion, served on cheddar jalapeño cornbread.
“Pulled pork is a versatile product — you just get such a great flavor and a nice juicy meat,” Goodman said. “We try to offer the classic versions of things for customers, but then also, I like to take classic ingredients and give them new life and use them different ways.”
The Flying Elbow is currently averaging about 120 pounds of pulled pork per week. Before starting the food truck business, Goodman spent 11 years in a corporate information technology position.
The Flying Elbow will receive $250 and a Pulled Pork Madness plaque.