Skinny's Barbeque in Muscatine Wins Best Pulled Pork in Iowa

March 29, 2024

A Texas-style barbecue restaurant in Muscatine is where you’ll find the best pulled pork in Iowa, according to barbecue aficionados in a recent social media contest sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA).

Voting ended this morning for one of the closest final matches in the seven-year history of Pulled Pork Madness, with Skinny’s Barbeque holding off Barrel Smoke BBQ of Templeton to claim the top prize. The bracket-style competition started with 16 Iowa restaurants and followed a narrowing process similar to the men's and women's NCAA Tournament. Each round, IPPA asked the public to vote for their favorite to determine which contenders advanced.

For his pulled pork, Skinny’s Barbeque owner Cord Kleist uses pork butts coated in mustard with a mix of salt and thick-cut pepper to grow a bark, the flavorful black crust that forms on the outside of the meat as it cooks over oak wood. He only recently began adding a special blend of seasonings.

Kleist slow cooks the pork for 14 to 15 hours over low heat on a gas-powered rotisserie smoker, wrapping the meat for the last couple of hours to seal in moisture and juices.

The sandwiches come on a toasted brioche bun, with house-made pickles and onions served on the side. Kleist offers three kinds of barbecue sauce — sweet, spicy, or a mustard-based blend inspired by Cattlemen's® Carolina Tangy Gold™.

Pulled pork sandwiches start at $9 and include one side, such as creamed corn, cornbread, sidewinder fries, or potato salad.

Among other sandwich options are the Grilled Mac Daddy, which piles macaroni and cheese, pork, white cheddar, and smoked gouda on sourdough bread; the Noname Big Boy with pork and brisket topped with a split armadillo egg and cheese sauce; and The Sammitch featuring pork, brisket, and cheese sauce.

Skinny’s Barbeque goes through 250 to 350 pounds of pork each week. The pulled pork tops everything from nachos to tacos. Diners can buy it by the pound, as well. 

The starting Pulled Pork Madness bracket was based on public nominations submitted earlier this month, and IPPA received about 850 nominations representing nearly 70 Iowa restaurants. The two restaurants with the most votes in each of IPPA’s eight districts made up the initial lineup.

Kleist, 29, opened Skinny’s Barbeque in September 2019. The Muscatine native got started cooking meat on a Traeger grill his parents gave him for his 21st birthday, and he became inspired by Texas techniques after visiting a friend in Austin. He previously worked at his family’s restaurant and sports bar, Boonie’s on the Avenue in downtown Muscatine. Skinny’s is located about two blocks away, along the Mississippi River.

Winning the title “brings a tear to my eye,” says Kleist, who will receive $250 and a Pulled Pork Madness plaque. “It’s crazy to see how far we’ve come and adapted and changed.”

Previous winners include The Flying Elbow, Marshalltown (2023); Starbeck's Smokehouse, which has since relocated to Waterloo (2022); Smokin’ Butt Barbeque, Davenport (2021); Whatcha Smokin? BBQ + Brew, Luther (2020); Warehouse Barbecue Co. + Brewhouse, Ottumwa (2019); and the now-closed Moo’s BBQ, Newton (2018).