EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth story in the 2022 Battle of the Eats series, which features the best small town restaurants as voted by Mitchell Republic readers. The series will appear from Saturday to August 27 this summer.
HUMBOLDT, SD — It’s not hard to imagine a world where Big J’s Roadhouse BBQ & Grill doesn’t exist.
No, don’t blame the meat, of which Big J’s has plenty. There’s slow-smoked brisket, ribs and jaw-dropping smoked chicken wings at this low-key joint located where the gravel road meets the sidewalk off Interstate 90 Exit 379.
But without a lot of effort and timing, there may not be a Big J. Just consider this story, relayed by co-owner Justin Kjellsen: Years ago now, he and his wife and co-owner Tina started just getting started in the business, putting together a trailer and equipment to make and sell barbecues at events. .
“We borrowed trucks to get to where we’re going, we took the fridge out of our house, just so we had refrigeration…we just used little grills. We did whatever it takes” , did he declare. “God put a lot of great people in my life to get us where we’re going. I firmly believe He can do anything as long as you put the work into it.”
1/seven: Vinsinte Weinandt cuts brisket into smaller portions at Big J’s Roadhouse in Humboldt.
2/seven: The exterior of Big J’s Roadhouse in Humboldt.
3/seven: Tina and Justin Kjellsen, owners of Big J’s Roadhouse, which has two locations, in Humboldt and Harrisburg, South Dakota.
4/seven: Two of the smokers at Big J’s Roadhouse in Humboldt.
5/seven: Inside Big J’s Roadhouse in Humboldt.
6/seven: The Diablo sandwich at Big J’s Roadhouse in Humboldt, South Dakota features smoked brisket, pork or chicken topped with pepperjack cheese and thick jalapeno bacon on a bun. Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum Press Office
seven/seven: Smoked chicken wings are an award-winning favorite with customers at Big J’s Roadhouse in Humboldt, South Dakota. Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum Press Office
That’s the secret to Big J’s Roadhouse’s success, Kjellsen said: lots of hustle and bustle, scrapping, and a heart to serve others. And smoked meats, of course. Think brisket, pork and chicken smoked for hours.
It’s a recipe that has fueled the success of the Kjellsens. They opened Big J’s Road House in Humboldt in October 2014, as the Kjellsens transformed their business into a primarily brick-and-mortar operation.
They added a second location in growing Harrisburg south of Sioux Falls in mid-2018, and they purchased the South Bar in Hartford. They now employ around 30 to 40 people.
The Kjellsens started out with borrowed gear, preparing food for events across the Midwest, including the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and numerous powwows (Kjellsen is a registered member of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin).
Their meat smoking started with a small vertical bullet-shaped smoker. As the business grew and they opened their restaurants, so did their equipment. Big J’s now has huge smokers at its Humboldt and Harrisburg locations — rigs that smoke hundreds and hundreds of pounds of meat at once.
Diablo sandwich, smoked wings are favorite
The Big J’s menu includes a wide variety of staple appetizers, including nachos, chicken tenders, loaded toddlers, and buffalo shrimp. Stars include poutine (add smoked brisket, pork or chicken) and wings.
Oh, the wings. Sauces include Greek, BBQ, Bourbon, Buffalo, Carolina, Carolina Heat, Garlic Parmesan, Sriracha, Thai, Teriyaki, Mango Habanero, and Spicy Garlic. Kjellsen recommends (and this reviewer confirms) getting the smoked wings, as they are. No sauce required for tons of flavor.
Even Kjellsen’s description of the food comes with a little extra pizzazz.
“We use premium brisket – we smoke it until 8 p.m. When you come get us a cheeseburger, man, it’s an 80/20 hand-pat ground chuck, half a pound, that n ain’t a frozen b****t…. people trying to sell that paper-thin b******t bacon. We put that Black Label, thick Hormel bacon on our stuff, you know, real cheese,” he said. “At the end of the day, I believe people want to go out for quality, and eating for everyone is an experience.”
The Diablo sandwich is a favorite of sandwich board customers: a slow-smoked barbecue topped with pepperjack cheese and thick jalapeno bacon. It’s $17.99 for the brisket version and a few dollars less for the smoked pork or chicken. Burgers and baskets include the Big J burger ($13.99), with cheddar and Swiss cheese, lettuce, pickles, onions and a Thousand Island dressing.
Appetizers include a surf and turf for $23.99, various sized ribs (half rack for $16.99), and pork or brisket platters, or get two-meat combo dishes for $21 at $22, with your choice of smoked meats: ribs, pork, brisket, smoked chicken or smoked wings, and you can add grilled shrimp for an additional charge.
Dinner options include Grandma’s Smoked Meatloaf ($13.99) with seasoned and smoked ground chuck, served with mashed potatoes and gravy. There are salads on the menu, including a barbecue salad topped with brisket, pork or chicken. There’s also a kids’ menu with grilled cheese, chicken strips, mini corn dogs, and mac and cheese.
A national brand, based on service
They’re not done building the business, Kjellsen said. He said he hoped to make Big J’s a national brand.
“We want to keep growing. But the most important thing for me is the love of food and serving others,” he said. “When I say to serve others, I believe God put us here to do one thing, and that is truly to serve others. To get to know Him is to serve others in whatever way He sees fit. And it’s up to us to be the humble servants to do his job.
This includes taking care of customers, employees, and even, at times, random strangers.
Everything is service, he says.
“Literally. It’s a strange metaphor, given that we serve people in the restaurant ministry, but life is really about serving others – serving others one plate at a time,” he said. declared.